Sony Ericsson’s flagship phones have been returning at an alarming rate over the past year.
Four out of 10 handets have been reported as faulty for some models, and the C905 is its most recent casualty.
In 2008, mass recalls on flagship devices, the K850i, W910i and C902, prompted operators to seek considerable compensation from Sony Ericsson.
Retail chiefs and store staff have said they are losing confidence in the manufacturer, amid concerns that selling Sony Ericsson devices will result in phones being returned by angry customers.
In March, Mobile reported that software freezing and speaker faults on the eight-megapixel camera device, the C905, were responsible for returns as high as 30% in some areas.
In April, when the figure of returned handsets grew to four out of 10, retailers and operators said they would take a more rigorous stance on the manufacturer’s product range in 2009, and would not be afraid to refuse flagship handsets if there were doubts on quality.
It has been a baptism of fire for Sony Ericsson’s new UK managing director, Nathan Vautier, who is gallantly tackling the issue head-on.
Mobile: Why did the returns get so bad?
Vautier: That’s a very interesting question. We have looked at where we are now, and going forward, and also at where the handsets are designed – it has been a painful learning experience. No one launches a product without wanting it to be a success. We have always tried to make quality items.
Fundamentally, we do have issues. But we are doing everything we can to resolve them. The feedback on customer service has been good.
What is being done to combat the problem?
There are two things from a quality perspective. It is important to accept that we have had some unacceptable issues over quality on some products in the UK, and have gone from being one of the strongest manufacturers to a much weaker position. We are taking this very seriously in both the longer term and the shorter term.
In the UK, there are a number of things we have stepped up due to added pressure. We are working with our operators and their chosen service partners [service centres] and we have an average turnaround time of three to four days.
The first line of support is the operator, plus there is a dedicated call centre for specialised products such as Cyber-shot, and we are building the team more and more.
What changes have you made?
We have implemented ‘Fota’ over the flash software [which refreshes the phone], and is one of the best means for solving problems quickly, as users can do it themselves.
Locally, there are dedicated account managers for each service area [specific service centres]. We are also working closely with the field team. We have received a lot of feedback from dealers who believe we haven’t been supportive, and we’re trying to get to the bottom of it.
Lastly, we have stepped up our presence on forums and blog sites to get feedback more quickly from end users, and we are proactively scanning key sites, as well as beefing up training in stores.
What kind of timescale are you working on?
It’s a gradual thing. Hardware needs to be designed, so it is around the longer term. We need to start with research and development (R&D), sourcing our components and taking quality to the next level – how to give it to the end user.
With operators selling 24 month contracts it is increasingly the case that we need to do more. Our own customer service and call centres are geared up and upsized for the kind of support that we will offer.
The key message is two things. We are taking this very seriously. In the short term it will be software, and in the longer term hardware. We are restructuring to focus core teams on specific areas.
Have there been any senior level changes on the back of this?
I’m not going to comment on that, but there has been a huge change in how we work and more importantly, big process changes – such as R&D, design, and which components we use. We are now talking to people about 2010 – there is a continual improvement in products that we bring to the market.
What assurances have you taken?
We have a more in-depth relationship with key customers on hardware and software, and testing on what might go wrong. We need the right level of durability and components before we make products available, and elements of the phone, such as the camera, are tested vigorously.
What is being done about problems with the C905 specifically?
We are working through feedback on the C905 so I can’t comment specifically, but it’s the core product for users globally and locally.
We are always working throughout the lifespan of a product – we have put things in place this year and last year in terms of both hardware and software – but I’m unable to comment further.