Last year, I spent a fair bit of money on a 51" Sony TV (stupid me, buying it right after the Super Bowl). It was very nice, and I've spent many happy hours watching DVD's on it. Lately, we've noticed that the colors are off - it's been flashing a lot of green. Well, this takes me back to the warranty information - yes, less than a year old, should be covered. Thus began another saga of "offshore and clueless support staff" lotto.
I call Best Buy, where I bought it. This, at least, was efficient. No extended warranty, I have to call Sony. Off the phone quickly, look up the Sony phone numbers, and call. After way too long navigating an automated system who's "options had just changed" (do any options ever stay static? For any automated system?) I get a real person. This is where the trouble starts
I explain the problem, give the tv's serial number and model number. He asks for the purchase date, I give him that. He tells me that I should get a call or email back within a few days with information. I grab his call center ID so that I have some evidence of the call.
Day 2, three days later
I call support again, wandering through the automated system again. Finally I get a person. After re-explaining the problem in depth, I'm told that I have to haul the 51" tv off to a service center. I explain that
- I paid a large amount of money for this TV
- If I move it, there's a really good chance I'll do additional harm
- I don't have a truck, so hauling it will cost me a truck rental (2 actually, for the round trip)
This gets me nowehere, as this guy is clearly just following a script. I ask for a superviser. His response to this is interesting - he marks my case critical and says I'll get a response in 24 hours by phone or email. I grab his call center ID as the call ends
Day 3, next day
I get a call from Andy at Sony. He actually sounds like he wants to solve my problem - after I start explaining that I don't think I should haul my tv to a service center, he tells me there's no need - this tv qualifies for in-home service. Remembering that I have someone helpful, I don't explode. He gives me the names and phone numbers for 3 local service centers which will be able to help me out, so long as I have a receipt to show them. Having that, I thank him - but I also point out that the call centers I got did not even hint at the possibility of in-home service. He tells me that he'll follow up on that, and the call ends.
I immediately call the first place on the list - and they tell me that no, they only service TV's sold by them directly, and that they will be calling Sony to remind them of this. Gritting my teeth now, I call the second place on the list. Finally - a place that wants to help. They take the purchase date, model number and serial number - and tell me oh, that's a known problem - we'll order parts, and call back with a service date. I thank them, thinking - known problem??
With a car, a known problem gets me a recall. I would be much more disposed towards another Sony purchase if I'd been notified of this known problem. I'd also be more disposed to buy Sony again if the call centers I'd gotten had had accurate information - instead of lots of go away so we can close this call information
And there's the problem, I'd warrant - Sony sent their call centers offshore to save money - the first two I spoke to had those hard to place accents typical of the genre. These call centers likely have some incentive to close cases quickly - probably as part of their basic contract. Now here comes the kicker - do those policies and contracts lead to better service for the customer? No, not at all. I went through the same exact crap with ReplayTV last year. The problem with outsourcing support is not that the function goes overseas - it's that the function goes to an outside vendor who's incentives are all set by the contract you sign with them - and not by actual care or concern about the actual problems of the customer. This becomes abundantly clear whenever you have to be the end consumer of outsourced support - you have to push up at least one (sometimes two) levels before you can get anything that resembles support. Sometimes, as with Sony above - you don't even get accurate data. What you do get is an attempted brush off, as quickly as possible.
I'm going to start asking more support questions when I buy higher end products. I'll happily pay extra if support is provided by the same company that sells the product. Why? Because the employees will have a stake in the customer's problem. I understand outsourced phone support from a business perspective - it looks like it saves money. The question to ask is, just how many future customers are you ticking off and losing that way? Sony, take note - you'll be last in line next time I look into an audio-visual component.