How to Keep Your Customers Unhappy

First published: 17th November 2012

Earlier this week, my phone, a Nokia X2, stopped working. I was on a trip, and I found that it was off when I expected it to be on. I held down the power button, the screen turned white and a minute later, it turned off again. This happened each time I tried switching it on. I plugged it into my charger when I got back to my hotel, but the charging symbol didn't show. I took out the battery and SIM card, replaced them and tried again, no change. When I got back home, I tried recharging again - maybe the charger hadn't worked because the power socket accepted many different types of plug, and was therefore loose, or I hadn't worked out the correct switch for the socket, but no joy.

So, having determined as far as I could that there was a fault, I took the phone and charger to the Nokia Service Centre in Yau Ma Tei. The first customer service lady took my phone and demanded to see the receipt. What, you think I've stolen it? No, it is required to check the warranty. If it is so important to check the receipt, why not put a big, bold notice across the service section in the manual, and on the website warning customers? Now you have a customer that is annoyed at being asked for something they didn't think to bring, and worried they will be forced to go home, search for a piece of paper that was probably thrown out the last time someone thought the place was untidy and return another day before they can even get their phone looked at.

But she was already taking the phone apart and checking with their demo battery. Later, it was explained that, for a phone out of warranty, there was an inspection fee for the technical staff (not the frontline staff, who have limited technical knowledge) to examine it. Nokia actually have a reasonable policy in place, but they act like they are going to be unreasonable. Why not ask about the receipt at the end of the initial inspection, and offer the option of bringing the receipt when the phone is picked up?

Then, she tried what I hadn't thought to, she took the SD memory card out - and the phone worked! Apparently, bad data on the memory card can cause problems. I'm a bit annoyed that I hadn't tried that, but I hadn't taken the card out, so any data there was written by the phone, and the lack of the charging symbol suggested to me that the problem might be with the charger or connection.

Then she told me that I could try reformatting the memory card. What! No warning that this would destroy the data on the card, or suggestion that I could try to backup or recover the data first. The first principle in medical ethics is, "do no harm", and it should, in my opinion, also be the first principle of all service staff. Perhaps this person was inexperienced. I asked to speak to the manager, but apparently there was no manager present, so another, perhaps more experienced staff assisted. She fiddled with my phone and confirmed it was working now. Then she told me perhaps I could delete my memory card and try it again. Right, so it's looking more like company policy to encourage customers to delete their own data. I challenged her on this, and she explained that they always warned customers that their phone data may be deleted during repair, but that is a rather different situation.

A supervisor was called, and I asked to make a formal complaint. I was provided with a form, that I filled in. They suggested trying my memory card in their demo phone. I took my card back and held it tightly, saying that I wanted to try to recover the data, not risk having it deleted by them. On my suggestion, they tried their memory card in my phone, which worked OK. Various suggestions were made why my card was a problem, maybe it was the wrong class of SD card (same as their demo card), or too big (16GB, as specified in the phone manual).

The supervisor then suggested that, as my memory card was a problem, I could take their 8GB card, and we needn't bother about the complaint. I refused the card. What sort of blame culture exists in a company if poorly-trained staff offer a bribe when challenged about their procedures?

As we concluded, I took my working phone and possibly damaged memory card and left. I had achieved my goal, even though the warranty on my phone had expired, so why did I feel so dissatisfied with Nokia? It is a combination of their poorly thought out procedures that put the customer on the defensive from the start, their poor training of frontline staff, and the lack of a manager on-site to actually understand the problems and escalate them when necessary. Now I feel like I've got some poorly-paid staff into trouble for something that is their employer's fault.

When I checked my memory card, over 1,000 photos had disappeared. I've taken an image, and some simple recovery techniques should get most of them back, if they weren't fragmented.

I'll update this with Nokia's response to my complaint form, when I receive it.

Updated: 20th November 2012

Nokia has responded quite promptly, writing:

Thank you for contacting Nokia Careline HK.

First of all, we would like to express our sincere apology for your recent unhappy experience at our Care Centre.

Regarding to the performance of our staff, we have already coached the related staff about this case. We will pay more attention on the skills for providing high quality service to our customers. Please be ensured that similar circumstances would not be happened again.

This doesn't really give me confidence that they have addressed the cause of the problem. Sure, they've coached the related staff, but they haven't said what they think the problem was. Two different staff gave very similar, destructive, advice, so is there something wrong with their procedures, or are other staff also making the same mistake?

I won't mention the English errors if they don't.