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Archive for September 2015

There’s only one solution for substandard products and poor customer service – walk away

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This has been a bad month for new purchases and customer service and I’ve come to the conclusion that the only language that companies might understand is losing a customer.

Nikon

It started with the 10 pin connector on my Nikon D800 failing. This is a widely reported problem with this camera and may be a design or manufacturing fault. I returned the camera to Nikon UK with a letter explaining that the camera had only been used a few times and that the connector had failed after only being used two or three times. I asked that it considered whether this was a manufacturing fault and if so, priced the repair as free of charge or at cost. Nikon ignored the letter and emailed me a quote for over £300 which seemed extraordinarily high and, for no obvious reason, included replacement of the rear LCD screen. There was no contact information that would allow me to discuss the quote. I called Nikon UK’s offices and eventually spoke to someone in the repairs department who agreed to find out why the TFT screen needed to be replaced. Several days later I received a call to say that the screen was ‘impacted’ and needed to be replaced. This camera has hardly been used and has never been dropped or mishandled so I’m very puzzled as to how this has happened and I was not aware of any damage. No consideration was given to the fact that the connector failure might be a manufacturing problem.

I see no sign that Nikon or Nikon UK is particularly interested in retaining me as a customer. I didn’t expect Nikon UK to repair the camera for free but I did expect to be able to have a discussion regarding the problem and what the options were and whether the TFT screen actually needed to be replaced. This just isn’t possible because Nikon UK has designed its systems so that customers cannot interact with it other than in a very limited way dictated by the company. I’ve spent a five figure sum on Nikon equipment in the past 15 years and my current kit adds up to over £7,000. This level of customer support just isn’t acceptable for a premium product.

So, after nearly 20 years of Nikon ownership including two film cameras and four high end DSLRs and around a dozen, or more, high end lenses, I’m selling all my Nikon equipment.

VirginMobile

The next problem was with VirginMobile. I have a VirginMobile pay-as-you-go (PAYG) SIM card in a Virgin-locked Nokia 1616 that I use only as an emergency phone. It’s usually left in my motorcycle jacket in case I have a problem and I’ve forgotten my ‘normal’ phone. Virgin’s terms and conditions state that if the SIM is not used for 180 days then it may deactivate the account. I’m aware of this so every few months I switch the phone on and make a call. I can’t remember when I last did this bit I think it was around three months ago. Last weekend I was out on a long mountain bike ride and I had the phone with me. The ride was longer than I’d expected and I thought I’d better warn my wife that I’d be home later than I’d said. I switched the phone on and it immediately displayed a ‘SIM NOT VALID’ message. I tried switching it off and on a few times but got the same error each time.

The following day I called VirginMobile and spoke to someone in their offshore call centre. I asked them to reactivate the phone. I was told that the account had be deactivated because I hadn’t used the phone for more than three months and that it was impossible to reactivate the SIM but a new SIM could be sent out if I wanted it. I asked if my account balance would be transferred to the new SIM and was told that this was not possible as there was no way to see the balance on a deactivated account. I said that this was not acceptable, that the money in the account was mine not Virgin’s, and that I must be refunded or the balance transferred to a new account. Again, I was told that this was not possible. I asked that this issue was looked into and that Virgin got back to me with an acceptable solution.

I was so incensed that Virgin seems to think nothing of taking money from PAYG accounts it has deactivated that I tried speaking to someone in Virgin’s UK operation but after explaining the problem I was routed to the offshore call centre again. I thought it was worth explaining the problem again to see if this employee was able to help but the end result was the same. Except that this employee told me that the account had been deactivated because the phone had not been used for more than two months. So which is it ? The printed terms and conditions state 180 days, but I’ve now been told it’s either three months (90 days) or two months.

So, I now have a useless Virgin-locked mobile phone that I paid Virgin for, and I’m about £20 out of pocket because Virgin has cleared my account balance. And VirginMobile’s help desk are unable to anything about this.

My first action was to write a letter to VirginMobile because there is seemingly no way to make a complaint directly to the company. Depending on the response, assuming that there is one and I’m not holding my breath for one, I may escalate this to a complaint about VirginMobile to Ofcom.

eBay #1

I wanted a set of roof rails and crossbars to carry my mountain bike on my car. I was attending a trail event and needed the rails within the next three weeks. The car manufacturer’s official accessory is priced at around £300 but I found what appeared to be a similar product being sold new on eBay as a Buy It Now listing. The listing claimed that these rails were finished to the same standard as the official product. I ordered it and it arrived five days later.

A couple of days later I tried fitting the rails. It was obvious, as soon as I removed the first rail from the box, that something was very wrong. Each rail has a ‘foot’ at each end with two bolt holes that align with bolt holes in the roof of the car. Except that one of the feet was turned at a slight angle so that only one of the holes in the foot correctly lined up with holes in the roof. After nearly two hours of repeatedly reading the instructions, checking the parts in the box, and trying to fit the rails to the car it was obvious that the rails were never going to fit. Either there was a problem with the rails and they had been damaged during manufacture, packing, or transport, or they were simply the wrong rails for my car.

I was also a little sceptical account the quality of the rails. The satin black metal work was OK but the rubber feet and plastic mouldings that fit over the feet once the rails are fitted did not seem to be up to the quality of the official accessory.

I repacked the rails, started a return procedure on eBay, and arranged a courier to return them at my expense. Two days later I received an email from the seller saying that they had sold plenty of these rails and that they could have probably resolved any issues with fitting but this was stated in a tone that suggested it was my fault for not contacting the company regarding the problem before I returned the rails.

While the company’s email was intended to be helpful, it would have been a lot more helpful to have said it before I attempted to fit the rails and wasted nearly two hours, and before I had already returned the rails by courier. Implying that I was at fault for not contacting the company regarding the problem left me a little annoyed. In effect, the company is saying that it is normal to have a problem fitting the rails. Call me old fashioned, if you like, but when a company sells a set of roof rails for a particular car then it’s not unreasonable to expect that they will fit.

eBay #2

As a follow on to the roof rails, I also purchased what was listed as a ‘deluxe’ cycle carrier. The design is clearly based on the Thule 531 design and in hindsight I should have just bought one of these as they aren’t much more expensive. However, at the time I believed that the Thule 531 would only fit to Thule roof rails.

The crossbars on the roof rails I’d purchased were listed as 56 mm wide so I checked that the cycle carrier would fit to such a wide rail. The listing stated that it would fit crossbars up to 80mm wide.

The listing stated delivery in 3 to 5 days but it took 13 days to arrive. As soon as it arrived I tried to fit it to the cross bars of the roof rack and was surprised to find that the metal clamps barely reached over the cross bar and would not close at all. In spite of the listing stating that the carrier is compatible with bars 80mm wide, it wouldn’t even fit a 56mm wide bar!

I was now running out of time for my cycling event and decided that I’d better just return the item and find another cycle carrier.

The seller’s listing stated “If you are not completely satisfied within 14 days then return the item” but also indicated that buyers should not use the eBay ‘Return Item’ feature as this counted against their seller rating. I suspect that this probably contravenes eBay’s rules and regulations but didn’t want to annoy the seller so I contacted them and advised them that I was returning the item.

A day later I received a message stating that I must provide photographs or a video of the problem and that they would then decide how to remedy it. I responded saying that the listing indicated that they operated a 14 day no quibble returns policy. Another message arrived saying that the company had rules about returns and these must be followed: I must supply photographs of the problem. I sent another message quoting the exact wording of the returns policy and stating that I would be returning the item within the next day or so. The company then offered a discount if I kept the item. This was bizarre, why would I want something that doesn’t fit even if it offered with a discount. Again I responded that I was returning the item as it did not fit. And again, I was offered a discount and a suggestion: Perhaps one of my friends might want it ?

This was one of most unusual customer experiences I’ve had, going from an authoritarian ‘you must follow our made-up rules before we’ll consider a return and refund’ to a desperate almost begging, ‘please ask your friends and family if they want it’. Weird.

Conclusions

Don’t take any nonsense from companies regarding returns. Make sure that they operate a reasonable returns policy and avoid any companies that don’t

Don’t be rude or obnoxious but be firm.

Don’t remain a customer if the company doesn’t value you as a customer. There is plenty of choice and companies that don’t look after their customers don’t deserve to survive.

I’m a big fan of Nikon’s upmarket camera equipment. I like the focus on technical excellence almost to the exclusion of other considerations. But I just don’t feel that they’re interested in me as a customer. Nikon has a very poor record of standing behind it’s products and putting them right when something goes wrong. Look at the D800 focus calibration and D600 shutter lubrication problems. It took Nikon a long time to acknowledge that these were design or manufacturing problems and to agree to fix them. It’s just not good enough.

There are plenty of mobile phone companies in the UK and my new O2 PAYG SIM doesn’t have the same restrictions that VirginMobile places on their SIMs. So, VirginMobile has lost another customer but I’ll still be chasing them to refund my account balance.

March 2016 Update

I’ve sold all my Nikon equipment through Ffordes Photographic who I’ve always found to be a great company to deal with. Having used a series of Panasonic m43 (Micro Four Thirds) cameras (GF1, GX6, GX7) as a more portable alternative to a Nikon full frame DSLR, I’ve upgraded to a 20mp GX8 that does most of what I need. I miss the D800 a little but I don’t miss having to deal with Nikon UK.

I wrote several letters to VirginMobile and each reply ignored most of the core point of my complaint which was that VirginMobile had effectively taken money from me and discontinued the service that I’d paid for. I was told several times that this is stated in the terms and conditions. However, as noted above, I was told variously that the period of inactivity that would cause the account to be closed was two months or three months but the Terms and Conditions document that I received when I opened the account stated 180 days. The bottom line here is that VirginMobile are an awful company to deal with when something goes wrong and don’t seem very interested in retaining their customers. I got the message…

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Written by Sea Monkey

September 18, 2015 at 8:00 pm

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