Sony VAIO Laptop Repairs

On 21 October 2013, I purchased a VAIO laptop from the official Sony shop in St Petersburg. The model was either SVF152A29V (if you looked at the bottom of the computer) or SVF1521J1RB (if you looked at the receipt or the VAIO control centre software installed in the computer). The serial number on the dust jacket was 54584232 0000874 and the date of manufacture was given as 06/2013. The computer was correctly registered with Sony online on 30 October 2013.

Sony has the following to say about its guarantee: “Sony guarantees the product to be free from defects in materials and workmanship at the date of original purchase for a period of ONE YEAR from that date... If within the guarantee period the product is determined to be defective (at the date of original purchase) due to improper materials or workmanship, Sony or an ASN member in the Guarantee Area will, without charge for labour or parts, repair or (at Sony’s discretion) replace the product or its defective parts subject to the terms and limitations below.”

But the European Commission states the following: “Wherever you buy goods in the EU, you have two years to request repairs or replacement if they turn out to be faulty or not as advertised. If a product cannot be repaired or replaced within a reasonable time or without inconvenience, you may request a refund or price reduction.” Russian consumer law is modelled on European consumar law and follows the exact same rules.

The divergence between the law and the statement by Sony is worrying, because it suggests that Sony is trying to short-change the consumer by claiming that its product is only guaranteed for one year. The above statement by Sony fails to mention or provide a link to EU legislation. This inherent suggestion – that Sony is keen to mislead or to not fulfil its legal obligations – is clearly illustrated by the hoops which it makes its customer jump through when a problem occurs with a Sony product.

In February 2014, approximately four months after purchasing the VAIO laptop, the internet began to cease working. At first, it would work 90% of the time, but gradually the problem began to get worse and it would only connect to my home Wifi 50% of the time (I checked thoroughly and there was no problem with my Wifi service).

On 2 March 2014, I contacted Sony’s online support system. An online operator advised me to download and install BCM43142 Wireless Network Adapter Update. Unfortunately, this had the effect of completely disabling the internet and now my computer would not connect to the Wifi at all.

It is not very clear from Sony’s website what to do in the event of a technical problem within the guarantee period. On 15 March, after some investigation, I called a number in America (Sony VAIO issues at 888-476-6972). I was taken by a girl called Beatrice who seemed determined to help me. We were cut off as she was looking up information for me about repairs in Europe. When I called back, I was taken by someone else, but she had my information on their computer and was able to give me the European number, which Beatrice had by that time found.

This number was in Belgium (+32 22003700), but upon calling I was answered by a recorded message, telling me that the office was shut, so I would have to ring again on Monday (I called on a Saturday). The office for European repairs in Belgium only operates from Monday to Friday from 8 am to 6 pm.

When I rang on 17 March, I found out that this was a call centre. I was given a case number (10270789), but at no point was I offered a refund or a replacement computer or a physical repair. Sony has a bizarre system whereby, if you have a technical problem, you have to go through a call centre, trying to perform a repair to a physical object over the ether.

I can only assume that Sony has carried out a cost-benefit analysis and come to the conclusion that such a system is cheaper for the corporation – and will prove so tiresome and Kafka-like to the customer, that they will hopefully eventually give up. But I was made of sterner stuff and determined to pursue this matter to the end – despite being obliged, at every step of the way, to make calls from a mobile phone to a foreign landline, which certainly added to my monthly bill.

On 17 March, I was taken by a technician who asked me to turn on the computer and we went through various procedures which ultimately ended in me being asked to return the laptop to the factory settings. As we had to wait until the computer rebooted itself, the technician said that he would call me back in an hour’s time.

The technician telephoned when we were only half way through the rebooting, so we agreed that he would call me back the following day at noon, as it was approaching evening and I had to go out on prior business. This is one of the problems of dealing with a call centre limited to office hours. You are supposed to spend large amounts of time on the telephone exactly when you have your own work commitments and obligations...

After rebooting the computer and returning to the factory settings – and losing all my files in the process – I noticed that the internet was still not working properly. To be honest, I was not convinced from the start that a technical problem could be solved by returning to the factory settings, but I felt obliged to go along with what I was being told by the call-centre staff.

The following day, on 18 March, I received a phone call on my mobile phone at four minutes to twelve, bang on time, but unfortunately the call was cut off when I answered. I waited for a return call from Sony, but none was forthcoming.

Throughout the following fortnight, I tried to call Sony in Belgium whenever I had free time from my own work (not easy), but I always seemed to be unlucky and had to hang up after waiting for my call to be answered (for example, at 3:30 pm on 21 March). Sony seems to be unaware that people are not always free to telephone a call centre when they have a daily job.

I finally managed to call Sony on 10 April and was told that I would be sent some apparatus by post, which would solve the problem I was having with my laptop. This turned out to be a Belkin USB stick, which arrived by post on 23 April. I am not entirely sure how this gadget was supposed to solve a technical problem I was having with my computer. I inserted the Belkin USB stick as instructed – and the result was no change whatsoever in the inability of the computer to connect to the internet more than half the time.

I decided to give it some time and see if this USB stick would magically solve my problem – but, of course, it did not. Finally, on 9 May, I contacted Sony on my own initiative and was instructed by the girl who took my call to photograph my receipt for the computer and send the image by e-mail to Sony, so that I can go onto “Level 2.”

Yes, this is beginning to sound reminiscent of Dante’s “circles of hell” – and, as in Dante’s Inferno, the further you go, the more hellish the life of the poor consumer becomes! As instructed, I sent a photograph of my receipt to Sony on 9 April (customersupport.EN@eu.sony.com), but did not receive any acknowledgement of receipt. In fact, after that, I did not hear anything from Sony at all.

Finally, on 26 May, I contacted Sony myself and expressed all my concerns that Sony was trying to solve a technical problem through a call centre, without physically examining the computer itself; that on no occasion had I been informed by Sony of my statutory rights; that at no point was our long interaction being recorded physically, on paper, in black and white, so that a permanent record could be kept. I stated that I would like a manager to review the whole history of my case, which seemed like something out of either a Kafka novel – or the aforementioned Dante circle of hell.

All in all, I have received the distinct impression, based on the fact that Sony never returned calls when promised and the fact that the whole procedure of reporting a technical defect has dragged on for months and months, drawing in a call centre, which customers are known to never like dealing with, that Sony is simply trying to avoid direct action – or to drag out the problem until the one-year guarantee runs out!

In response to my request on 26 May 2014 to speak to a manager, I was informed that a manager would call me by 27 May latest regarding a cash reimbursement. No such call was made – and has still not been made as of 10 June 2014. I am now into the fourth month of trying to resolve my technical problem with Sony.

On 2 June, I sent an e-mail to customersupport.en@eu.sony.com addressed to the Head of Sony Repairs, outlining my concerns. Three days later, on 5 June, I received a response from a secretary, who managed to make two spelling mistakes in my surname, even though all she had to do was “cut and paste” it. Although the author was probably well-meaning, this is very symptomatic of the general level of incompetency one faces in any dealing with Sony.

The letter read: “Thank you for contacting Sony Support. Please accept my sincere and unreserved apologies for the unintended inconvenience. You [sic] e-mail has reached the technical support team, thus, I passed your case to our customer relation office for further assistance in regards to your concerns. Should you have any further questions or queries, please feel free to reply to this email or contact us on the numbers below. Yours sincerely, Mariam ElSayed, Sony Customer Support.”

As I had still not received any reply by 10 June, I wrote a follow-up letter: “Thank you for passing my letter onto your customer relation office. But my letter was not addressed to your customer relation office. It was quite specifically addressed to the Head of Sony Repairs in Belgium. Please do not send my letter to someone to whom it is not addressed. I expect the Head of Sony Repairs to take the time to address the very important legal questions I have raised. These are very serious questions and I expect a full, written response from the person who presides over an organisation which, to my mind, is breaking European consumer rights law by not offering me a technical repair or a refund – and deliberately trying to make the process as time-consuming, expensive and exasperating as possible for the customer.”

On 16 June, I telephoned Sony Repairs and was taken by an employee called Jason, who asked me to please send an e-mail with a picture of the proof of purchase. When I stated that I had already complied with this request on 9 May, he told me that he could not read the attached images. But this contradicts the information given to me on the telephone in late May.

When I asked to speak to a manager to complain about this situation, I was told that raising a complaint would mean that my whole repair process would also be transferred to a complaints manager, hinting that the process would thus take even longer. I was told that there was no way for me to make an independent complaint with anyone at Sony Repairs about the way in which repairs are handled – or, in my case, are not handled.

I complied with the request and resent the necessary images on 16 June. At 1:30 pm, I received an e-mail from Jason to say that “I have received the pictures for the proof of purchase, please provide me with your exact address to perform the pickup for your laptop and diagnoze it.”

After providing this information, I received a further e-mail from Jason at 2:15 pm to inform that “I already booked our VAIO laptop for diagnosing and i chose for you the soonest day for pickup which is tomorrow and Teleplan will be the repair center diagnosing the VAIO and UPS will arrive for you tomorrow to pick it up. Please be advised for the terms and conditions: (1) Adv data backup as Sony does not take any responsibility for data loss. (2) Adv to remove Battery, AC Adaptor and any third party hardware from the VAIO. (3) Adv UPS will arrive with a box 07/16/2014 make sure to securely pack the VAIO yourself and hand it to the driver. (4) Adv If driver did not come with a box, do not give him the VAIO, and just call us back. (5) Adv we are not liable for any damage if courier left without the proper packaging. (6) Adv TAT up to 5 working days depending on parts availability or payment. (7) Adv OOW status if VAIO diagnosed as physically damaged. (8) Adv diagnostics fee charge for the return of the unit unrepaired or if NFF. (9) Any parts replaced in the repair centre become property of Sony. As soon as we receive a word from the 2nd level of support for diagnosing. i will be contacting you again to process for refund.”

I wrote an additional letter to Jason on 16 June to note that Sony should be aware that the internet connection goes on and off; sometimes it works 90% of the time, while at other times it works 50% of the time. This gives the impression that the computer is not broken if you happen to check the internet connection when it is actually working. Proving that it is not broken at all requires sustained analysis and monitoring of the connection.

On the morning of 17 June, I received a reply from Jason by e-mail message to say that “I would like to inform you that we are not repairing your VAIO this time, it will be only diagnosed for physical damage or misuse in order to proceed with the refund but not repairing process.”

Unfortunately, while I was told that pick-up of my computer would be on the following day (17 June) and despite waiting at home all day, UPS did not arrive. There was no tracking information on the UPS website. Finally, on 18 June, UPS arrived with the packaging for me to insert my laptop and give the computer to the driver to be taken to the Sony Europe Repair Centre at Robert-Bosch-Straße 4 in Frankfurt (how I wish I had been offered this solution four months ago!).

On 23 June, I was woken by a text message from the Sony Repair Centre to inform me: “We have received your Sony product and we will send an update when the unit is repaired (estimated within 3 working days).” About a day and a half later, at 3:45 pm on 24 June, I received a phone call from the Sony Repair Centre to ask for my log-in details (password) – despite being told that Sony would only be looking at the computer to “diagnose for physical damage or misuse” prior to a refund.

On 7 July, disquieted by two weeks of silence, I sent an e-mail at 11:45 with the following content addressed to Jason of Sony Repairs (case ID: 10270789, email:295035850): “On 18 June, UPS arrived with the packaging for me to insert my laptop and give the computer to the driver to be taken to the Sony Europe Repair Centre at Robert-Bosch-Straße 4 in Frankfurt. On 23 June, I received a text message from the Sony Repair Centre to inform me: ‘We have received your Sony product and we will send an update when the unit is repaired (estimated within 3 working days).’ On 24 June, I received a phone call from the Sony Repair Centre to ask for my log-in details (password), which I provided. Since then, two weeks have passed and I have not heard anything more. Is this normal procedure?”

When I received no reply to this-email, I decided to phone Sony at 1 pm on 10 July. I was connected with the Sony Repair Centre, where I was told that my computer had been sent – wrongly in the opinion of the technicial – to Teleplan. He located my computer by its serial number and suggested that I call a number in the United Kingdom (0870-2402408).

I preferred to go back to the people who were handling the whole situation in Belgium, so I recalled Sony Repairs at 1:15 pm on 10 July. The operator who took my calls informed me that my case was being handled by a senior manager, who was out of the office at that time. He promised to call me back, but failed to do so.

On Friday 11 July, my patience with Sony was beginning to wear thin. I decided that the company had exceeded all bounds of decency and legality and that it was time to contact consumer champions and national newspapers. I wrote e-mails fully outlining the situation to Which? (which@which.co.uk), Miles Brignall and Rebecca Smithers of The Guardian (consumer.champions@theguardian.com) and The Daily Express (crusader@express.co.uk). I also sent a written letter by post to Jessica Gorst-Williams of The Telegraph. If you too decide to contact these people, remember to include a daytime telephone number.

I do not know if these letters had any effect after reaching the recipients on Monday 14 July, or if it was just a coincidence, but, on the following day, Sony magically jumped into action. I received a phone call at 10 am from Falco Gaia, a customer relation officer with Sony Deutschland (+4930585812345).

The customer relation officer apologised for the delay and blamed it on the international nature of the problem, which involved a computer bought in Russia using Russian currency. I should note, however, that the “Russian” aspect of the case only enters the equation from 16 June, when my receipt in roubles was finally received. This cannot in any way excuse the delay from 17 March to 16 June, a period of exactly three months (!) and, by my calculations, 76% (92 days) or three-quarters of the total time of 121 days spent dealing with Sony Repairs.

The customer relation officer stated that, as the computer could not be repaired, I would be given a refund. We discussed how to convert the purchase price into Russian roubles (I informed him that the accepted way in business was to take the official exchange rate published daily by the Central Bank of the Russian Federation). He stated that he would shortly send an e-mail with his proposed figures.

Twenty minutes later, I received an e-mail with the following content: “As per our phone call I hereby offer you the refund of your defective VAIO (WLAN issue). As per conversion rate, the EUR amount will be 384,71, which I will round up to EUR 400,00 as a small goodwill gesture for your long waiting time. Please let me know if you agree to this solution and provide us with your bank details (IBAN, BIC) in order us to proceed with the payment. Thanks for your patience so far!” (cro.DE@eu.sony.com, SN 54584232-0000874, refund case: 10270789, email: 295892465).

Thirty minutes later, I wrote back to Falco Gaia pointing out the following information and enclosing my bank details: “The computer was purchased in the Sony shop in St Petersburg on 21 October 2013 for 17990 Roubles. The official Central Bank of Russia exchange rate on 15 July 2014 is 1 Euro = 46,6835 Roubles (source: http://www.cbr.ru/eng/). This gives me a figure of exactly 385,36 Euros. Incidentally, the amount paid in Euros for the computer on the date of purchase of 21 October 2013, when the official exchange rate was 1 Euro = 43,5590 Roubles (source: http://www.cbr.ru/eng/currency_base/daily.aspx?date_req=21.10.2013), was actually 413,00 Euros. However, I agree to work by the accepted principle of today’s exchange rate and so I welcome the offer of Sony to round up the sum to EUR 400,00 as a small goodwill gesture and agree to this solution.”

Later in the day, at 1 pm, I received the following e-mail: “Thank you very much for accepting my offer and apologies. The bank transfer is now being advised at out finance department and will be processed within the next 7 days. We will contact you again in order to make sure you received the refund. Many thanks & best regards.”

So, the situation is only nearing resolution in the second half of July, exactly five months after the technical problem developed and after countless hours and days spent on pointless telephone calls to Sony. I am convinced that these corporate tactics are deliberately intended to frustrate and discourage the customer from asking for a refund, a replacement or a real technical repair – all of which a company must do under European Consumer Law.

I would like to ask Sony the following questions:

1. Why do you think your customers have the time and the money to spend hours telephoning a Sony call centre in another country, when they have their own work commitments and responsibilities? The amount of time that I have devoted to the problem with my Sony VAIO laptop is akin to having a part-time job – except that I receive no income from this second job I am forced to do, only outgoing expenditure on the cost of foreign phone calls.

2. Would it not be easier and involve less disruption to your customer’s life to have a Sony repairs centre in each major European capital? The customer could then, in a single day, take the product there, where it could be physically examined by a technician, rather than go through bizarre attempts to solve a physical malfunction over the telephone without even looking at the product?

3. Why do you treat your customer, someone who has voted with their wallet to choose a Sony computer, with such disrespect? A customer should be valued and not forced to go through such a complicated, inconvenient and costly experience, and one which has absolutely no prospect of resolution.

4. Why do you unilaterally insist on such a system – yet, at the same time, refuse to keep to this system yourself by never returning calls at the times which you yourself have stipulated?

This last point brings me to the fundamental heart of the problem. The customer is forced to go through a system which is chosen by Sony, not by the customer or any legal regulatory body. Yet this system clearly does not work, given the fact that my problem developed in February 2014 – and is still awaiting final resolution in July 2014.

On 21 October 2013, I purchased a Sony VAIO laptop. The model was either SVF152A29V (if you looked at the bottom of the computer) or SVF1521J1RB (if you looked at the receipt or the VAIO control centre software installed in the computer). The serial number on the dust jacket was 54584232 0000874 and the date of manufacture was given as 06/2013. The computer was registered with Sony online on 30 October 2013.

Sony has the following to say about its guarantee: “Sony guarantees the product to be free from defects in materials and workmanship at the date of original purchase for a period of ONE YEAR from that date... If within the guarantee period the product is determined to be defective (at the date of original purchase) due to improper materials or workmanship, Sony or an ASN member in the Guarantee Area will, without charge for labour or parts, repair or (at Sony’s discretion) replace the product or its defective parts subject to the terms and limitations below.”

But the European Commission states the following: “Wherever you buy goods in the EU, you have two years to request repairs or replacement if they turn out to be faulty or not as advertised. If a product cannot be repaired or replaced within a reasonable time or without inconvenience, you may request a refund or price reduction.”

The divergence between European law and the statement by Sony is worrying, because it suggests that Sony is trying to short-change the consumer by claiming that its product is only guaranteed for one year. The statement by Sony fails to mention or provide a link to EU legislation. This suggestion that Sony is keen to mislead or to fulfil its legal obligations is clearly illustrated by the bizarre procedure which it makes its customer undergo when a problem occurs with a Sony product.

In February 2014, approximately four months after purchasing the VAIO laptop, the internet began to cease working. At first, it would work 90% of the time, but gradually the problem began to get worse and it would only connect to my home Wifi 50% of the time (I checked thoroughly and there was no problem with my Wifi service).

On 2 March, I contacted Sony’s online support system. An online operator advised me to download and install an application – which made the problem even worse. As a result of the new application, my laptop would not connect to the internet at all!

It was not very clear from Sony’s website what to do in the case of a technical problem. On 15 March, after some investigation, I called a number in America (Sony VAIO issues at 888-476-6972). I was taken by a girl called Beatrice who seemed determined to help me, despite my rather complicated story. We were cut off as she was looking up information for me about repairs in Europe. When I called back, I was taken by someone else, but she had my information on their computer and was able to give me the European number, which Beatrice had by that time found.

This number was in Belgium (+32 22003700), but upon calling I was told that their office was shut, so I would have to ring again on Monday (I called on a Saturday). The office for European repairs only operates from Monday to Friday from 8 am to 6 pm.

When I called on 17 March, I found out that this was a call centre. I was given a case number (10270789), but at no point was I offered a refund or a replacement computer or a physical repair. Sony has a bizarre system whereby, if you have a technical problem, you have to go through a call centre, trying to perform a repair to a physical object over the ether!

I can only assume that Sony has carried out a cost-benefit analysis and come to the conclusion that such a system is cheaper for the corporation – and will prove so tiresome and Kafka-like to the customer, that they will hopefully eventually give up. But I was made of sterner stuff and determined to pursue this matter to the end – even though I was forced to make phone calls to a foreign landline, which certainly added to my bill.

On 17 March, I was taken by a technician who asked me to turn on the computer and we went through various procedures which ultimately ended in me being asked to return the laptop to the factory settings. As we had to wait until the computer rebooted itself, the technician said that he would call me back in an hour’s time. He telephoned when we were not even half way through the rebooting, so we agreed that he would call me back tomorrow at noon, as it was approaching evening and I had to go out.

This is one of the problems of dealing with a call centre limited to office hours. You are supposed to spend large amounts of time on the telephone to them exactly when you have your own work commitments and obligations...

After rebooting the computer and returning to the factory settings – and losing all my files in the process – I noticed that the internet was still not working properly. To be honest, I was not convinced from the start that a technical problem could be solved by returning to the factory settings, but I felt obliged to go along with what I was being told by the call-centre staff.

The following day, on 18 March, I received a phone call on my mobile phone at four minutes to twelve, bang on time, but unfortunately the call was cut off when I answered. I waited for a return call from Sony, but none was forthcoming.

Throughout the following fortnight, I called Sony in Belgium whenever I had free time from my own work (not easy), but I always seemed to be unlucky and had to hang up after waiting for my call to be answered (for example, at 3:30 pm on 21 March). Sony seems to be unaware that people are not always free to telephone a call centre when they have other commitments.

I finally managed to call the Sony number in Belgium on 10 April and was told that I would be sent some apparatus by post, which would solve the problem I was having with my laptop. This turned out to be a Belkin USB stick, which arrived by post on 23 April. I am not entirely sure how this gadget was supposed to solve a technical problem I was having with my computer. I inserted the Belkin USB stick as instructed – and the result was no change whatsoever in the inability of the computer to connect to the internet more than half the time.

I decided to give it some time to see if this USB stick would magically solve my problem – but, of course, it did not. Finally, on 9 April, I contacted Sony on my own initiative and was instructed by the girl who took my call to photograph my receipt for the computer and send the image by e-mail to Sony, so that I can go onto “Level 2.” Yes, this does indeed sound reminiscent of Dante’s “circles of hell” – and, as in Dante’s Inferno, the further you go, the more hellish the life of the poor consumer becomes!

As instructed, I sent a photograph of my receipt to Sony on 9 April (customersupport.EN@eu.sony.com), but did not receive any acknowledgement of its receipt. In fact, I did not hear anything from Sony at all.

Finally, on 26 May, I contacted Sony myself and expressed all my concerns that Sony was trying to solve a technical problem through a call centre, without physically examining the computer itself; that at no point was I informed by Sony of my statutory rights; that at no point was our long interaction being recorded physically, on paper, in black and white; and that I would like a manager to review the whole history of my case, which seemed like something out of either a Kafka novel – or the aforementioned Dante circle of hell.

All in all, I have received the distinct impression, based on the fact that Sony never returned calls when promised and the fact that the whole procedure of reporting a technical defect has dragged on for months and months, drawing in a call centre, which customers are known never to like dealing with, that Sony is simply trying to avoid direct action – or to drag out the problem until the one-year guarantee runs out!

In response to my request on 26 May to speak to a manager, I was informed that a manager would call me by 27 May latest regarding a cash reimbursement. No such call was made – and has still not been made as of 3 pm today, 2 June 2014. I am now into the fourth month of trying to resolve my technical problem with Sony.

I would like a manager to review my case and, in addition, to address my following questions to Sony:

1. Why do you think your customers have the time and the money to spend hours and hours, when they have their own work commitments and responsibilities, telephoning a Sony call-centre in another country? The amount of time that I have devoted to the problem with my Sony VAIO laptop is akin to having a part-time job – except that I receive no income from this second job I am forced to do, only expenditure on the cost of foreign phone calls.

2. Would it not be easier and involve less disruption to your customer’s life to have a Sony repairs centre in each major European capital? The customer could then, in a single day, take the product there, where it could be physically examined by a technician, rather than go through bizarre attempts to solve a clear physical malfunction over the telephone without even looking at the product?

3. Why do you treat your customer, someone who has voted with their wallet to choose a Sony computer, with such disrespect? A customer should be valued and not forced to go through such a bizarre, complicated, tiresome and costly experience, one which has absolutely no prospect of resolution.

4. Why do you unilaterally insist on such a system – yet, at the same time, refuse to keep to this system yourself by never returning calls at the times which you yourself have stipulated?

The last point brings me to the fundamental heart of the problem. The customer is forced to go through a system which is chosen by Sony, not by the customer or any legal regulatory body. Yet this system clearly does not work, given the fact that my problem developed in February 2014 – and is still continuing in June 2014, without any prospect of resolution.

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