Sony – The End of a 20 Year Love Affair

Sony logo

Sony and The Affs – the end of an era.

Those who know me will be aware that I’ve always been a massive proponent of Sony technology, so you may be surprised to hear that myself and Sony could well be over.

My relationship with the brand began when I inherited my mum’s stereo. It was a turntable-topped, double tape deck, CD drive-based beast. I used it constantly, stunned by the sound from those great speakers, and forever showing off its monolithic appearance to my circle of friends.

It wasn’t long before everyone started getting Walkmans (Walkmen?) so I just HAD to seek one out (with a radio on it too) to keep me occupied on those long car journeys to far flung parts of England on the annual family holiday. A massive supply of tape-recorded albums and mix-ups courtesy of my friends would be a god-send, along with cassettes of some gigs recorded directly from the radio (swearing usually included due to sluggish broadcast-delay editing).

A Sony Discman soon entered into my Sony-stash, a good £100’s worth of prime tech, pumping pristine shiny disc music into my ears wherever I went. It may have been bulky and it certainly skipped every time you moved too quickly, but it was still a revelation in portable music technology.

When the offer of a new stereo came with my 18th Birthday, I had no hesitation in picking out a magical neon-lit five-CD changing behemoth from the company I knew I could rely on for quality and for design spectacle.

Mini-disc arrived next, and I bought a little silver Sony machine with great build quality and an (admittedly now misplaced) view that I was staring at the future of portable music.

When I went off to University I took my Sony kit with me and added a Sony dictaphone to my stash. A staple requirement on any journalism course, I was once again unconcerned with paying that little bit extra for a trusted bit of tech.

After finishing University, I treated myself to the hugely impressive PlayStation 2, finally getting a DVD player in my life along with a whole world of possibilities. I’d skipped the original PlayStation as I’d previously been a Sega fanboy, but as they slipped away from the video game hardware world, I defected to the new Japanese pretenders.

When portable music took a new turn, this time towards a digital future, I bought one of the first Sony MP3 players that saw the light of day. I wrestled with the god-awful Sonicstage software, insisting to people that the sound quality and reliability made it better than any grey-screened iTunes-locked down iPod or web developer friendly Creative Zen box of tricks.

I then bought a house, and used the opportunity to kit it out with the latest and greatest from the Sony Corporation. Trinitron TVs both upstairs and down, with matching VCRs and DVD players. Even the bedside clock radio was a Sony device, preferring that to cheaper models, despite it largely being a glorified timepiece. The PSP soon followed, seeing me again fighting against early reports of a a clunky, non-ergonomic design and Game Gear-like battery life. I even bought the PS3 on launch day for a mammoth £425, and more recently the PS Vita, a new HD Sony Bravia TV and a bedside iPod/iPhone dock radio.

I’ve also owned Sony earphones for a good three or four years now. This was a no-brainer compared to Apple’s own shockingly bad buds, but I still turned down Sennheisers and other top-name brands in order to go with safety and security from a brand that I trusted.

Even last year when it was time to spend my hard earned cash on a new laptop, I turned a deaf ear to those insisting I should go with a MacBook Pro, purchasing instead my second Vaio, along with a netbook for on-the-go scribbling. But now I can’t help but think I should have listened all these years.

Back in October, my then 15 month old Vaio would not turn on. Initially thinking it was a charging or battery issue, I plugged it in, charged it overnight, all to no avail. Quickly searching the Internet, the main reasons people had reported were with the motherboard itself. I was initially shocked that the main board of such a new machine could die so quickly, but knowing it to still be in warranty (I got a free two-year extended warranty when I bought the laptop) I went about getting it looked at.

My first port of call was the Sony Centre from where I had originally bought the product…until I realised it had shut down. With no other Sony store nearby I went online and followed the process to log the fault electronically. I soon received correspondence back saying I would receive packaging via DHL in which I should place the laptop and send it away for them to look at. So far, so good.

I got the DHL man to come to my place of work, expecting him to hang around whilst I popped the unit into the box, but oh no that would be far too easy. The box arrived but the courier was “not allowed” to hang around. Instead I had to package my laptop up and call DHL to get them to come back again and pick it up. Painful, but not the end of the world.

Again, service was quick and I soon had a voicemail from Sony saying the engineer had looked at it and it would cost £320.08 to repair. Knowing this to be a mistake as it was still under warranty, I called back the offshore call centre who had left the message.

They stated that the engineer in the UK had found the fault to be caused by liquid damage and this was something not covered by the warranty therefore it had to be paid for. I vehemently protested this diagnosis, as the laptop had never even left my house, let alone ever had anything spilled on it., but there was no arguing with the operator who only seemed capable of reading from scripts and so I had no other option than to request they returned it to me, unrepaired.

Looking at my other options, things appeared bleak. I knew of a few people who were handy enough to replace a motherboard, but getting the appropriate part for such a new model looked like costing the same as it would via Sony. I wondered how the machine could have got such damage and as it was certainly not caused by myself, I could only assume that the fault was present at purchase and corroded over time, so I sent Sony UK Customer Services a letter stating that I wished to get the machine repaired free of charge under the Sale of Goods Act.

Eventually I received a call from Sony’s complaints/customer services department in this country. They explained that my first port of call should be with the shop from which I bought it as they, as the retailer, would be responsible under the Sale of Goods Act. Explaining to them that the store was no longer open, they admitted that they’d had a similar problem with other customers as many Sony Centres had closed down. They then admitted that Sony Centres were in fact unrelated to Sony themselves and weren’t even franchises. They advised that I should look for head office details on my receipt to try and find who may now be able to help, and after taking an email address for Sony’s department in case I needed them again I grudgingly began to explore this route.

Unfortunately there were no head office details on the receipt, so I started digging around on the Internet for contact information for the administrators. I received no response from them, and so I emailed Sony customer services again to explore my next options and to express my concern that I and many others buy Sony products from Sony Centres as we expect to get suitably preferential after-sales care from a seemingly affiliated outlet. The next email from Customer Services did admit that although they were un-affiliated, the level of service they offer does impact on the Sony brand. Nevertheless, there was nothing more that they could do to help.

After running through my options, I decided that my only choice was to pay to get the machine repaired, get all my data and information from it and then sell it in order to part fund an Apple MacBook Pro.

I emailed Sony again, simply to enquire whether I needed to log this repair as a new job or if I could just package it up in the box I still had and get a collection arranged. A few weeks passed and on chasing my request again, I was eventually told to phone an 0870 number.

I did so, and was promptly on hold for over half an hour, before being put through to an offshore operator who could not help and would need to arrange for me to receive a callback from the team who could deal with pick ups and charge any pre-pick up fees. I strongly informed the operator that I had already received a quote for the repair and had been charged no fees previously and after trying to pull him away from his script, he eventually admitted that I would pay no more than was originally quoted, £320.08.

When I received my callback, the latest operator I spoke to told me that I would need to pay a £60 “logistics fee” as in my reporting of the repair, I had told them it was due to liquid damage which was not covered by warranty and so the DHL costs were also exempt from Sony picking up the tab.

Outraged, I suggested to the operator that I could, in theory, simply telephone back and report the laptop as being faulty, without suggesting a reason, thus avoiding this charge and she admitted that I “could do”. I decided to pick the issue up with the UK-based Sony team again to see if I could get some rationality and common sense and again after an extended wait I then received a call, during which I again expressed my disappointment with the time taken to resolve my issue and also with the inconsistent messages coming from the company’s various departments. The customer service agent did eventually agree to waive the logistics cost and arranged for me to receive a call back from the collections team once more.

A day or so later, I received the call, and again I enquired whether to save everyone’s time and effort I could just package up my laptop in the same box as last time. I was told that I couldn’t as I needed a new address label (the possibility of sticking this over the top of the previous one appeared alien).

I then asked whether the DHL courier could wait whilst I packaged up the laptop, but again the only scripted response I received was that he would need to leave and I would need to phone to arrange a new pick up. With no alternative I had to again follow this ridiculous process, phoning DHL to arrange pick up almost immediately after the original driver had left the building.

Two more days passed, before I received the call from offshore advising of the cost…it had gone up, and was now going to cost me £343.26.

I again had to call Sony, to ask why on Earth this cost had risen and they confirmed that a logistics charge applied. After checking with their supervisor, they agreed to remove it, bringing the cost down to the previously quoted amount.

I now await delivery of the repaired laptop so I can go about the process of getting everything off it,  restoring it to factory settings (if it isn’t already in that state) and then getting shot of one arm of Sony’s hideously admin-heavy, customer-unfriendly corporation from my life.

So that’s it then. One of the biggest companies across the globe has finally lost my business. And do they care? Doesn’t look that way. The majority of responses have been hugely scripted with no research into an individual’s issue and zero personal service.

I don’t necessarily expect Sony to be be less than faceless due to their size but there ARE plenty of companies out there these days that deliver a personal touch. Take Virgin, O2 or Tesco for example to see a classy, modern online customer service strategy in action. Instead, Sony make the customer jump through hoops, forever implying that they are in the wrong and charging hideous fees for anything that doesn’t suit their approach to warranty-related repairs.

All I can say is thank you Sony. Thanks for the previous 20 years, but no thank you to the next 20. I’ve spent a lot of money with you over the years and recommended others do the same, but that isn’t going to happen any more.

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