An Open Letter to the Electronics Industry


Dear Electronics Industry, (sans Apple)

I love you.   You know that.   We've had some good times, you and I.  Remember those long walks with the Walkman?  Those first days of moving from VHS to DVD…   Those dreamy nights with you, me and my family…  on the couch, eating popcorn and enjoying your services. 

I feel that we've grown close enough that I can tell you anything - and in a way, that's what makes this so hard.  If I had a friend partaking in a dangerous addiction or plagued by unhealthy habits, I'd have to step in - to intervene.  To help.

That's why I'm writing you today.

I have good news and bad news.  

Decorum dictates that bad news goes first, so here goes:  You suck at customer satisfaction, especially where repairs or service are concerned.   

Nikon, about 2 years ago I had a camera from you with some "first-batch" issues.   Autofocus would focus at an incorrect distance and required some tweaking.  The autofocus ring on the camera was also loose, causing the camera to drop into manual focus, often inopportunely.

The issue was prolific.   Forums abound with others sharing the same problem.   Entire websites dedicated to it, in fact.   So, I called you for a warranty repair.   Even though you had made the repair 1,000's of times, you had no ability to provide me with a time and materials estimate.   Your answer?   Mail the camera to me and I'll see.

This was, of course, after dozens of back-and-fourth, "try this, send me samples" through your ticket system.

I did mail, at considerable personal expense, the camera to you for repair.   Nearly a month later you returned it, without warning.  At least the issue was repaired.   At least the warranty was honored.

What's that -- SONY?  You think you are better?  Oh, no.  I recently scratched the LCD on my SLT-A77 camera.  I could work around the issue but my annoying tendency to try to keep everything I own, "as new" stepped in.    

I contacted your support department and expressed that I would like to have the LCD replaced.   That I understood such a repair would not be covered by the warranty.  How long would such a repair take?  How much would it cost?

Your answer.. "Send it to us, we'll have to see."

Three days after overnighting the package, I receive a poorly formatted automated email around midnight stating you've received my package.  The email includes a phone number and an "Event ID."

I call the number… Here is my call.

Traverse the automated call system… (For Consumer electronics dial…  for Alpha DSLR's dial… please hold)… (5 minutes, no hold music, no clicks.. just silence.)

Sony Repair Dude.. "Hello?"

Me.."Hi, my name is Bill Dodd and I have a camera in for Service.  I'd like to check the status of that please."

Sony Repair Dude.."What is your ticket number?"

Me.."Would that be my "event ID"? 

Sony Repair Dude.."Sure."


Sony Repair Dude.."Please wait while I look it up."

5 more minutes.. no hold music.. just silence..

Sony Repair Dude.."Found you.  Bill Dodd, right?"

Me.."yep."  thought:  (..isn't that what I said?)

Sony Repair Dude.."how may I help you?"

Me.."Looking for status of the repair or estimate, please."

Sony Repair Dude.."You would like to know the status of your repair?"

Me.."Yes, Please."

Sony Repair Dude.."Please wait while I look it up…"

(7 minutes.. just silence)

Sony Repair Dude.."Hello?"


Sony Repair Dude.."You wanted the status of the repair?"

Me.."Yes, please."

Sony Repair Dude.."Hold please."

(4 minutes…)

Sony Repair Dude.."Hello?"


Sony Repair Dude.."You were looking for the status of the repair for your camera?"

Me.."Yes please.  "

Sony Repair Dude.."It is In Production."

Me.."So.. no part problems… you have the LCD in stock, you are fixing it under warranty?"

Sony Repair Dude.."So far.."

Me.."Can I know when to expect the repair to be complete?"

Sony Repair Dude.."7-12 business days."

Me.."from… what date?"

Sony Repair Dude.."excuse me?"

Me.."7-12 days from today or 7-12 days from receipt."

Sony Repair Dude.."yes."

Me.."Yes?  Which one is it?  "

Sony Repair Dude.."7-12 business days."

Me.."Thank you."

Sony Repair Dude.."Can I help you with anything else today?"

Me.."You could answer my question."

Sony Repair Dude.."What question, sir?"

Me.."Will the camera be repaired within 7-12 days from today or 7-12 days starting the date you received it 7 days ago?"

Sony Repair Dude.."It will usually take 7-12 business days."

Me.."Thanks for your time, have a great day."

Sony Repair Dude.."Anything else I can help you with, sir?"

Me.."Nope, I've had enough -- thanks!"

If this call was monitored for the sake of improving customer service, some people need to be fired, like today.  

Now, the good news!  The solution to your problem has already been implemented.. by Apple.  Just copy them and it will all work itself out. 

1 month ago, my Macbook pro freezes.  Dead hard drive.   I recover the data manually and then go to Apple's support site.   I enter my serial number, it tells me I have 3 days left in warranty and has an option to "call me."

I enter my number and the site tells me to expect a call in two minutes.   It was 1 minute.

The rep asked me what the problem is, asks me the steps I've tried and agrees the hard drive, is indeed broken.   Has time and materials costs on hand and assures me my situation is covered under warranty.    Because no Apple store is near me, they send out a pre-paid Fedex overnight box with stupid-simple boxing instructions.

I return the notebook.

A day later, I receive a nice email stating the laptop has been received and is in queue for repair.   A day later I receive a repair status update saying the notebook is repaired.  A day after that, Fedex rings my door with a repaired notebook.

Regardless of how you personally feel about Apple.  If you like them or hate them.. if you can't stand macs or if you think iPhones are dumbed down phones.  If you love macs and think the iPhone is the only premier phone offering… it doesn't matter… You have to admit.. based on stock price, consumer satisfaction, cash on hand and mindshare, Apple is KILLING these other electronics retailers at their own game.

I can't help but think this example customer service difference is part of that…

Whether you ship software or silicon, build houses or mow grass, make portraits or cheeseburgers… a customer service experience is an opportunity.  It is an opportunity to cultivate a relationship to your customer, gather feedback and exceed expectations. 

Building awesome, shiny widgets isn't enough.   If these other manufacters are to succeed against the likes of Apple, they will have to adopt new levels of quality across all disciplines, especially those customer-facing.  The current initiatives for promoting quality in a company ARE NOT WORKING.   Apple isn't pushing Six Sigma.   Apple isn't following Disney guidelines and practices.   Apple doesn't follow.  They lead.  Right now, Apple is leading us all to expect more from companies and they do it by promoting ownership and responsibility at the individual level within their company.  Quality isn't learned. Quality is practiced.  Quality is woven through the organization.  This is the legacy that Steve Jobs left, not just for Apple to follow but for all of us to embrace.

I still love my Nikon and Sony cameras.   I love my Android phone and Samsung TV.   But, God help Nikon & Sony if Apple ever decides to make a real camera and help the rest if they ever decide to make TVs…  Apple has the fundamentals DOWN.  Design, supply chain, fulfillment, retail and support.   If they enter your market and decide to compete against you, they will eat your lunch.

Learn and adapt now or we consumers will truly have few options in the future.