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August 04 2010


Customer Support Face-Off: Nexus One Hell vs. Apple Heaven

When I finally purchased my first smartphone, Google's Nexus One, last March, I quickly declared myself a satisfied customer. I was easy to impress. Anything was a step up from a five-year-old Samsung with a pull-up antenna.

Like many, I dreamt of an iPhone, but was turned off by what I heard about AT&T's service. I waited in vain for the iPhone to be offered on a different network, and finally realized that day would not come anytime soon.

After reading the buzz about Android phones, particularly the Nexus One, I rationalized that holding out -- not joining the "Apple cult," as some call it -- was a smart move. I liked that Google and Nexus One attempted to change the system by offering an unlocked phone that enabled me to switch out SIM cards when traveling overseas with no annoying fees or wait times.

The one factor I neglected to put into the equation was customer service. Not until a few months later during a hit-and-run car accident would I realize its value.

Nexus One Envy

When friends with the iPhone 3GS watched my Nexus One snap beautiful photos with a flash, multi-task and miraculously take dictated texts and emails from the sound of my voice, they whined that they had "Nexus One envy." When I told them about T-Mobile's lower prices and good coverage, they cursed that they were locked into a network they despised. I felt like the wise, slow turtle that beat the hare by waiting for the right phone, the right philosophy and the right network.

Fast-forward four months. As I tweeted away while watching the World Cup final, my Nexus One's on/off button stopped working. I had dropped it before its failure, so it was probably my fault. Since I didn't purchase the phone at a store, I couldn't simply march in and have it repaired. I patiently navigated to HTC's Nexus One site and called the company from a friend's phone to ask how to proceed.

The HTC worker told me to send in the phone. They would look at it and email me to tell me how much the repair would cost. The whole process would take five to seven business days. They emailed a shipping label, and I was off.

I thought it would be an adjustment, yet a worthwhile social experiment, to be phone-less for a week. Maybe it would help me get back to basics, increase productivity and finally finish the book I'd been reading.

A few days later while driving, a drunk driver crashed into me in a hit-and-run. The social experiment was no longer fun. I found myself in the awkward position of not being able to give out my phone number to police, insurance companies or witnesses.

As if a technological curse had been cast on me, my brand-new 16-day-old MacBook Pro began acting funny, turning off for no reason. I brought it to the Apple Genius Bar, where they ran a diagnostic on it. They didn't find anything wrong with the computer.

"What do you want me to do?" asked the Apple employee I told him I would feel better if they exchanged it for a new one. With no further questions, that's exactly what he did, happily and promptly. He said, "We want to make you happy."

I couldn't believe it.

Apple vs. HTC Service: No Contest

My laptop problem was solved in a day, but my phone issue was still simmering. Over 12 days, I hotly pursued HTC for an update on my phone. After multiple phone calls with an average 30 minute wait time, they gave me conflicting reports. One representative said they mailed it back to me already; another told me they were moving locations so things were backed up. A call center supervisor tried to make me feel better: "The good news is that your phone has been scanned as received by the repair center."

Four times, they let me know that my case had been "escalated," meaning that within 24 hours, they would call me back and tell me what was going on. They never did. I saw myself getting worked up and angry, utterly frustrated.

Meanwhile, the Phoenix police department located the drunk driver who crashed into me in a fraction of the time it took HTC to find my phone. After five consecutive days of calling HTC (nearly two weeks after it left my possession), HTC sent my phone back to me, minus the back cover and with the on/off button still physically broken. At least it works now, even if it's cracked.

I can't imagine Apple mailing back a phone in such condition, leaving their customer to hold their product together with tape, as I now do with my HTC phone. And now that the Nexus One has been discontinued, I am sure HTC's customer service will get worse -- if that's even possible. I'm already in the market for a new phone. Full circle, I'm back to waiting for the iPhone to be offered on a different network.

Nexus One was a great idea in theory, but if you have no one reliable place to go to when it breaks, you are stuck with an expensive paperweight.

After these experiences, I realize that customer care is nearly as important as the device itself. As my friends who have updated to the new iPhone belly-up to the Genius Bar to get their free "bumpers," I'm the one with phone envy now. Call it a cult if it makes you feel better, but sign me up.

Michelle May is a San Francisco-based travel writer. She blogs here.

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