Sony: a case study in poor customer service

Some organisations are highly developed, they recognise the pervasive way that their brand is influenced by all the facets of their organisation. Just take a look at Apple, a highly popular and very successful brand that recognises that high quality software, combined with high quality hardware combined with high quality customer service. This is all wrapped up with a website which provides a relatively low level of support friction.

Sony sadly is not an example of a well structured support mechanism. Below I will provide an example of a poor customer service interaction I received with Sony, which started with failure of information in the website, this continue through to the Sony Centre store and resulted in disatisfaction in the Sony Centre, the Sony Support website and by proxy the whole Sony brand.

If you search for accessories under the NEX camera system they list numerous items which are not appropriate for an NEX camera, however, I did not realise this until I purchased on such product the LSC-LC1AM lens cap holder.

I saw the LSC-LC1AM lens cap holder on the website, it did not list any dimensions, but claimed it was appropriate for an NEX system camera. I went and purchased it from a Sony Centre a long with a number of other NEX based accessories. At the time the employee did not advise that the item was not for the NEX system camera and help inform my purchase, as any good sales staff should.

On receiving the item it was clear that it was designed for an Alpha system camera and not an NEX system camera, and was in essence not fit for purpose as a NEX lens cap holder. I attempted to return the unopened item at the Sony Centre, but they advised that it was customer policy to not allow returns on any stock that they had to order, even if it was miss sold, unfit for purpose or any other reason. I had not been advised of this illegal shop policy prior to purchase and was very surprised as this is the worst returns policy I have ever experienced from any retailer.

This appears even worse as I had purchased another item at the time which I intended to keep and this was just one of the items which I did not which to keep. The item was still boxed and unused and could easily be resold, but none of these factors appeared to aid the successful return of my goods.

The returns policy has turned me from a loyal customer to someone who will recommend any alternative. For little effort the Sony Centre could have accepted my return and retained my customer loyalty, however, I will now be looking to Sony's competitors first for any future purchases.

The ill treatment of one of Sony's many branches has darkened my whole image of their brand. Now when I replace my alarm clock, home cinema amplifier or any other of my electronic products Sony will no longer be my brand of choice.

It is no wonder that most case studies conclude that a liberal returns policy is beneficial for a company's profitability. What was essentially a the most a few pound reduction in overall profit from a sale instead has turned into a potential multi-thousand pound future profit loss for the company.

Before I had any cause to complain about the company I had not explored any part of their support system. Sadly having done so after my issues I have found numerous examples of poor quality which while in my negative state has impacted me all the more than it ever could have if the Sony Centre had performed what most retailers consider a standard return.

I am a professional web developer, User Experience designer and UI developer and I continuously research best practice and systems design and I am shocked at how poorly the Sony support system is. As a user of the web since its inception I have luckily become used to retaining a copy of any web form request before posting it. This habit has not really been required on most forums and posting systems for many years. Sony asked me for my support details and then after I posted lost all of my information, because I had not selected a subcategory of my issue. If I had not kept a copy of my answer in a separate application I would have been infuriated further, instead I was just left there thinking what a poor use of JavaScript.

It is difficult to detail all of the problems with their support system, but issues such as meaningless categories, unique UI elements (their double select category) which do not provide appropriate feedback. Too many details to fill out. The requirement to register and provide information which is irrelevant to your support query. The fact that the support registration and forum registration and separate entities and do not share user account detail and of course posting the form without mandatory fields which are not clearly marked can cause data loss...the list is practically endless.

Upon posting my support request I received an automated response with some completely irrelevant links to answers on questions about camera flashes. I at no point used the word flash and it would seem impossible to construct a post without the mention of the word flash and those be appropriate answers. I was asked to log back in and state if I still required an answer to my query. These multiple barriers to support are really irritating and entirely unnecessary. Providing great support is a really good way of obtaining customer loyalty, however, Sony clearly view it as a cost rather than an opportunity to further expand brand loyalty and try to reduce the number of support requests by making it hard to complete the request. While this may reduce support costs in the end it frustrates the customer and reduces the chance of them coming back. Support is an extremely important aspect of continued customer loyalty.

Sony's automated response was very poor and served to aggrevate me further as a customer, but what is worse is it failed to provide information such as SLA response times/estimates, and no mention of an escalation procedure should I be unhappy with the response. These are the basic elements of an automated response that are required to provide the level of professionalism expected of a large multinational, but it is certainly not the case with Sony, who fail to provide the basics and instead attempt to provide a sophisticated support system at the most inappropriate time. In most cases the user will have attempted at least a basic keyword search which has failed, and to attempt to do so at the point of their request and use it as a further barrier to support is more than just a little ill advised.

It must be pretty depressing to work for Sony customer service if their returns policy is the worst in any industry, I have always worked for companies that have strive to be the best at what they do, without aiming to be the best I am not sure you can realistically expect your employees to really be motivated and for your company to really achieve much. Essentially this lack of support is indicative of a company aiming at mediocrity, which is perhaps why their profitability has fallen so much.


thank you for the detailed case study Andrew.
I purchased a brand new 55" Sony TV in June and from first day I had issues which after multiple hours or troubleshooting on the phone and re-setting the TV to factory settings more than 10 times, it was finally decided by the Sony rude customer service, that I should have a part replaced on the TV. Why would a brand new item has to have a part replaced? To use your example of Apple, if I purchased an iPhone and it wouldn't do what they told me is should do, they will take it back and give me another.
But not Sony. They feel as if I owe them to go through all these hours of troubleshooting for a brand new TV that, incidentally, I had to pay for.
This is the last Sony product that purchased.
Jason Norin said…
Aside from having your own company 1800 Number, being able to connect clearly with your customers' needs is a good indicator of a great customer service.

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