I'm in the market for a plasma TV, I was very tempted when I saw the price of the Sony PFM-42B1. However, at about the same time my vaio picturebook developed a whiny-noise from the HDD. I decided this was the perfect opportunity to test their ill-reputed customer support before such a large purchase.

I wasn't especially surprised that I hadn't heard anything after 1 week (the shop's estimate), but I decided to make inquiries anyway. The result was an email today (three days later) informing me that they could find no problem and they intended to bill me for their labour. I was also a little annoyed that the email was in German, of which I only have a weak understanding.

It was a little surprising to me that I should receive an email in German, since I had recorded my language preference on the vaio-link website and had already received junkmail in English.

I replied back in English desribing how to demonstrate my problem, and I indicated the location of the wav files that I recorded to show the noise that the drive was making. I also requested that further correspondence be in English.

Shortly I received another email that almost appeared to be written intentionally to annoy. The email explained, in German, that email correspondence with sony support was only available in English. Presumable some half-wit robot had seen the quoted email from Sony (in German) and decided that the entire email was in German.

I have repeated my original email without quoting the German content. Hopefully this will provoke some response.

There are few things more annoying than a complaints system that is a cause of further complaints.

Update March 20th 2001: (5 days later)
Having had no response, I called the support desk. Given the case ID, they promptly found my record but could not say whether my email explaining the problem had been read. I was asked to call back after 36 hours for an update - they refused to contact me, so I took the name of the person I was speaking to and called back two days later.

March 22nd 2001: (now 19 days since the laptop was returned to the shop)
Having given Sony an extra 24 hours to get a response I called again. Again I was told that my record showed no reponse from the engineers (in Brussels). I listened patiently while she explained that she would personally find out what was happenning with my computer, then I explained that this was exactly what her colleague had told me two days ago.

I was starting to get pissed off, so (repeatedly using her colleague's name) I asked why there was no response to an email that I had sent a week ago. She couldn't answer, so I asked to speak to her manager. She put me on hold for a minute and came back with an update.

She then explained that the hard drive had been replaced, and that moisture had been found in the keyboard, which wasn't covered by warrantee, and thus an extra fee had to be charged.

Encouraged by the fact that the disk had actually been replaced - under warantee - I agreed to pay the remaining fee.

Come back next week to see if my vaio has actually been fixed by the Belgians!

Update March 28th 2001:
Having fully expected that my vaio had been returned to the shop without them contacting me, I dropped in. They had no idea where it was. They tried to call sony, but couldn't get through. I asked them to contact me when they got through and left.

At work I called their support hotline again, and asked why my computer hadn't been returned yet (this is now four weeks since I brought it in). The support rep looked at their database and informed me that they were 'waiting for parts'. I put my head in my hands, and tried to control my frustration.

"What parts?"
"The keyboard."
"But there's nothing wrong with the keyboard! I got an email three weeks ago telling me that Belgium could find no problem with the computer! I never complained about the keyboard! How can anything be wrong with the keyboard?"
"Your record says the key.."
"Forget the keyboard, has the hard drive been replaced?"
"Then just send it back."

I was in Dublin and couldn't pick it up from the shop for another 5 days.
Update April 5th 2001: (now 31 days since I brought the laptop into the shop)
Having still had no call from the shop, yesterday I dropped by. It had arrived, the previous day, but they hadn't called me. I was relieved to get it back, so I once they had rebooted it and I had filled my registration details, I shut it down and took it home.

At home I switched it on, and after powering up, I got a windows error - explorer.exe has caused a GPF in blah blah blah then msgsrv32 has caused a ..., then kernel32.exe has caused a ....

The laptop froze, so I did a cold boot. After a quick flash of the sony logo, I got a black screen and the message operating system not found.

(gratuitous swearing removed April 11th)

I'm sorry, I just needed to get that out of my system. I took the laptop back in to the shop today. They told me they could rebuild winMe without sending it to Belgium. I sure as fuck hope so. If I have to wait another five weeks for a simple HDD replacement, I'm gonna be really unhappy.

Update Wednesday April 11th 2001: (37 days since the original complaint)

Today I called the sony support line (CH 01 800 93 00) to check on progress. The support rep explained that there was no indication of my laptop having arrived in the Brussels service centre. I asked him to check the DHL tracking number. After a short wait, he explained that DHL had sent an empty box (to put the computer in) to Berlin. The computer is in a shop in Zürich.

He then explained that when this empty box arrived in Berlin, DHL realised it was the wrong destination, so they returned it to Basel. THE COMPUTER IS IN ZURICH. The rep agreed that he had no idea where my computer was, so I called the shop.

Of course, the shop knew that my computer was still with them, but they hadn't bothered to check up on it. Instead, they waited for me to tell them that DHL had made a mistake. They had a pile of five computers that had been sitting in their office for two days, and they needed a customer to tell them that something had gone wrong.

I am really unhappy with Sony customer service!
Update Wednesday April 18th 2001: (44 days since original complaint)
(Easter intervened)
With the shop's assistance, DHL were called out again, and the laptop was picked up on Tuesday. Again I called the Sony support line, this time with a totally new experience: the Sony rep disconnected me immediately I spoke in English.

I called again, and spoke to the same person. I attempted to speak in German (which, as I have already said, I speak very poorly). I was told that there was noone available who spoke English, nor any number that I could call for support in English. After giving the rep my case number and name, he said one thing I didn't understand and disconnected me again.

At a loss, I called the shop. Fortunately, they seem to be treating my complaint seriously, and I was told by the shop manager that after two calls to the sony line, they had established that the laptop was in customs.

It's unfortunate that Switzerland is not part of the EU, but I can't blame Sony for this nor for the inefficiencies of Belgian customs inspectors.
Update Tuesday April 24th 2001: (50 days since original complaint)
Today I spoke with the British Sony support centre, an expensive, but succesful way to avoid the language problems I had had. After talking with one of their "service analysts" for 10 minutes, it became clear to me that he really had no idea where my computer was. He could only confirm that it hadn't reached the repair centre yet.

I had returned the computer (for the second time) to the shop on April 5th, but nearly three weeks later repairs had not begun. I was told another story of empty boxes being sent from Berlin and spending a week in customs. I asked to speak to a manager and I was put on to a Brendan Brosnan (who gave me permission to use his name).

I was put on hold while Brendan read the details of my complaint, so I explained to him the embarasment that Sony had caused itself through my ordeal. I explained to him that this story is published on my website ( http://boldra.com/opinion/sony ), the feedback that it had generated and the fact that this site has already received over 200 visitors (I have no idea how many people have seen this E2 version - which is the main reason I keep a version off E2). Brendan told me that it was Sony's policy not to give refunds, and he blamed DHL and Swiss customs for the delay.

I responded that if Sony could not meet it's warantee obligations then I must be entitled to a refund. Since the computer has been being repaired for 1/3 of the time that I have owned it, I explained that if he could not give me a refund I would have to take legal action. I've been given the name of a good Swiss lawyer, who I'll be speaking to tomorrow.

I strongly advise anyone against purchasing Sony equipment, particularly in Europe.
Update Monday April 30th 2001: (60 days since original complaint)
On legal advice I have sent three copies of a letter to Sony Brussels, Sony Switzerland, and the Zürich retailler. Generously, my letter states that I expect the computer to be returned, in working order, within two weeks.

The letter is available on my website ( http://boldra.com/opinion/sony/registered.html ).

Update Friday May 4th 2001: (64 days since original complaint)
I just received a call from the manager of the retailler informing me that my computer had arrived back in the shop. Of course, my first question was 'does it work?' The manager told me it had just arrived, and he hadn't tried it. He then offered to switch it on and check it while I held the line. I waited a couple of seconds while he made some uncomfortable-sounding noises, then he described what he saw.

"It says please insert system disk to continue."

"Well, it doesn't sound like it works then, does it?"

"No," he paused. "I'm going to call Sony and ask them what the problem is. Then I'll call you back."

I couldn't help chuckling as I hung up. What a pack of hopeless idiots.

Update Wednesday May 9th 2001:
I finally got the computer back on Saturday, 65 days since I originally registered my complaint. It seems to be working ok, but there is noticably more wear. The problems on Friday were because the OS hadn't been reinstalled, for which they needed my recovery CD.

I haven't had a refund for the repairs that were not done to the keyboard, nor have I had any kind of apology. I'm going to try to get both of these, so I expect I will have to send another registered letter. I'm also pleased to notice that my home site (which contains this story) is now coming up #2 on google search for sony customer support.

Please Sony, get your act together! Read the cluetrain manifesto! The PCG-C1VE is a very good computer, but there is no way I will ever buy another sony computer product.

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