A lesson in Online Reputation Management

<rant>

Ok so about 4 months ago I managed to smash the screen on my trusty Sony Ericsson 3G mobile. This phone had served me well, and I was actually pretty gutted that I wasn’t offered an equivalent Sony as a replacement. If I had been, I probably would have avoided a bunch of trouble.

What I ended up with was a Motorola v3x – Motorola’s best and newest 3G toy, apparently the best money could buy. At this point I feel I should repeat the abovementioned rant warning. This is a rant about a crappy product and even worse customer service. There is a valuable point here though, so bear with me.

The Players:

Moi – a humble Rodeo Clown-wannabe from Titahi Bay

Vodafone – half of New Zealand’s mobile phone duopoly, and retailers of sub-standard mobile devices

Motorola – you’ve heard of them. My guess is they need to call Dan Trietsch for an explanation of the term ‘quality’

MobileFoneRepair … dotcom! (don’t forget the .com!) – Motorola’s NZ agent and employer of the least helpful customer support people I’ve ever encountered (beating Motorola by a nose).

ACT I: Within hours of purchasing said phone, it was obvious that I had been had. Poor audio quality, dropped calls, powering off for no reason. Back it goes to the store for immediate replacement.

ACT II: Replacement arrives. Two weeks later, back it goes for the same reason. This time they tell me the ‘out of the box failure’ period had expired, so the phone would have to go to MobileFoneRepair… dotcom! Phone returns a week later with a clean bill of health. Gee – I must have been making all those issues up to get attention. My parents didn’t love me enough?

ACT III: Two weeks later, back it goes again. Politely explain that the phone is unreliable at best. Off again to MobileFoneRepair… dotcom! Back it comes with a clean bill of health. Upon querying this with Vodafone, they advise that the most likely explanation is that the phone is fine, but their network is defective. How comforting.

ACT IV (this is where it gets really interesting): So last week I decided I’d had it. I called Motorola, explained the troubles I was having and what a piece of crap phone I had. The helpful customer support guy told me that they would replace the phone right away.

GREAT! My frustrations are over, right?

Wrong.

A week later and no sign of the promised replacement. I call Motorola again only to be told that I have to call Motorola New Zealand. That’s right sports fans, it turns out that all this time I’d actually been dealing with a crew in Australia. They give me a phone number for Motorola NZ and essentially wash their hands of me.

Which brings me to this morning. I call ‘Motorola NZ’ and who answers the phone? MobileFoneRepair… dotcom! Upon explaining the situation and asking the procedure for collecting my replacement, the operator (‘Ramana’) tells me I have to send the phone in for repairs. ‘But Motorola’s already authorised a replacement, right?’ ‘You guys have already tried to fix it and couldn’t, right?’ ‘Why send it in again, then?’ Yelling in my ear and then a hang-up. Nice. I call back and ask to speak to her supervisor. ‘I am the supervisor’ she says. I ask can I speak to the person who signs her paycheck? ‘No’, and she hangs up on me again.

At this point I’m getting really pissed, so I call Vodafone again. (I must have called them a dozen times thus far, with no joy). The upshot? I personally have to request a letter from Motorola Australia, take it (not post it) and the phone in to MobileFoneRepair… dotcom!, then wait 48 hours for a replacement. Gee that’s reasonable. Seeing as how I chose to buy a Motorola and spend close to a grand a month with Vodafone I suppose it is my mess to clear up. Silly me!

Why am I telling you this? Do I want a cookie? Do I expect you to care? Nope, but I do want to tell you a few things:

1. Motorola’s production quality is terrible. Since I got into this mess I’ve asked around, and haven’t met a single person who’s had a Motorola phone and didn’t find it defective in one way or another. Stay away from them.

2. Poor quality wouldn’t be such a big deal if their customer service was better – or even ‘adequate ‘ – but it isn’t. Motorola is happy to flog their defective wares in New Zealand, but doesn’t want to know about what happens afterwards. This they delegate to MobileFoneRepair… dotcom!, they too sadly lacking in quality control and customer service.

3. If you see a phone you like on TradeMe or at a parallel importer store, buy it. Buying from an authorised reseller gives you no higher degree of quality, protection or after-sales service. Trust me on this.

4. Don’t ever put up with this kind of crap. Vodafone has now offered to give me a new phone, from a different manufacturer, if I extend my contract with them. You think this means Motorola is off the hook? Hell no – I’m going to get that replacement out of them if it kills me. Then I’m going to throw it in the trash where it belongs.

5. When you encounter this kind of malarky, TELL PEOPLE. A single pissed-off consumer boycotting a company’s products will accomplish very little. A few million people voting with their wallets is a different story. Your power as a consumer comes from sharing your views and experiences with others.

6. Companies should take note that, like it or not, they have online reputations. The things people say about them online – particularly in blogs – are becoming more and more powerful in their ability not only to influence peoples’ purchasing decisions but also as a way for organisations to understand what people really think about their brands, products and services. This kind of ‘chatter’ is inherently honest and useful, particularly in comparison to traditional market research methods which are drastically swayed (IMHO) by the ‘interviewer effect’.

So here’s my contribution to the abovementioned companies’ online reputations:

Vodafone: Your customer service team is impotent. Your after-sales support for hardware purchased from your retailers is non-existant.

Motorola: Your quality control is pathetic. Your New Zealand agent is a terrible ambassador for your brand.

MobileFoneRepair… dotcom!: Your call centre needs a shake-up. Anyone who disconnects a customer – once, let alone twice! – isn’t fit to clean your toilets, let alone lead your Customer Services team. Your testing procedures are also way out of whack. Empirical Research 101: Failure to find a fault does not prove there is no fault – it merely proves you were unable to find a fault. Believe me, this is a VERY important distinction.

For anyone else concerned about their online reputation, Online Reputation Management is a fascinating field, and one in which we (Marker) have a great deal of expertise. If you want to know more about what people are saying about you online (even if it’s bad, it’s better to know!) and/or change things for the better, we’d love to hear from you.

</rant>

Thanks for listening. Go forth and be empowered.

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