The Sam Smith Saga

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Getting the Edge in Professional Selling — Terence A. Hockenhull

APROPOS OF NOTHING, I believe Sam Smith visited the Philippines in 2015, and at his long-awaited concert, he sang a number of his greatest hits. Now, let me tell you a tale of an ongoing saga that kicked off in 2014 and ended a few short weeks before Christmas.

As most married men will attest, buying gifts for their wives is fraught with problems and rarely ends with a highly successful outcome. Last year, I found myself hurrying through stores a few days before the holidays with little idea of what to buy my wife. I finally hit on the idea of getting her a tablet — certainly not a cheap acquisition since I wanted her to have something that would last.

On Christmas Day, she opened it with the inevitable lack of enthusiasm. I believe it was only the suggestion by my daughter to take it from her (since she obviously wasn’t going to use it) that prompted any level of interest at all.

However, it seemed that I had hit on the right gift, for a change. Within a couple of days, the tablet was being used to take all of our holiday shots, allowed her to rediscover an interest in Facebook, and have access to all the latest news, gossip, and fun facts usually posted during the holiday season. A week later and my wife and her tablet were inseparable. It was declared the “greatest gift ever!”

Imagine her chagrin when the unit suddenly blacked out, refusing to show a glimmer of light on the screen! Off to the service center at the earliest opportunity, I fully expected to have the unit inspected, repaired or replaced. So, I was disappointed to be told to leave the unit, and they would look at it within the next one or two weeks.

About 10 days later, I received a call informing me that the unit had been dropped and required a new screen at a cost of P12,000. However, out of the kindness of their hearts, they explained they could discount this to eight thousand pesos!

Now let me state unequivocally that the unit had never been dropped. Indeed, an inspection of the case showed it to be pristine, without so much as a scratch. Perhaps foolishly, wanting to get the unit back to my wife as soon as possible, I agreed to pay the eight grand, and the unit was returned to me a couple of weeks later.

Move forward six months, and we are in Europe enjoying a well-earned vacation. Suddenly, the unit blacked out again. I returned it to the service center for repair under the one-year warranty. To cut a long story short, they firstly claimed that it had been dropped (which it hadn’t). Then, they said the warranty was invalidated because it had already been repaired once! Following this, they told me that the motherboard needed to be replaced, which would cost P12,000 — however, once again out of the apparent kindness of their hearts, offered to do the job for P9,000.

I finally got in touch with the manufacturer’ head office staff, who were polite, verbally helpful, but practically useless. Four months passed by, with a call from me each week asking for the status of the unit. I finally insisted that they collect the unit from the service center to conduct an inspection. I even went as far as to say that if they insisted it had been dropped, I would walk away from this whole sorry experience.

They finally collected the unit and then sat on it for over three weeks. I then, out of the blue, received a call telling me that the unit was being returned to the service center, would be repaired under warranty, and that they were really sorry for all of the inconvenience. Well, actually, no! Yes, the unit was repaired under warranty, but there has not been so much as a word of apology.

A good friend of mine had an all too similar experience with the same company. Like me, he was not willing to give up his rights as a customer and fought equally hard to get his unit fixed under the warranty.

Now, I am an arrogant foreigner (not really), and I will fight hard for what is rightfully mine. Let me suggest that in Europe or the USA, this experience would never have happened. Firstly, the rights of consumers are sacrosanct; no company would be willing to take the risk of failing to meet its commitments. Secondly, no customer would allow themselves to be given the run around for six months on a unit that cost in excess of US$500.

I’ve suggested that my friend and I are arrogant foreigners, and we are prepared to shout loudly. I say this with the greatest respect, but Filipinos are often wary of confrontation and would walk away from a situation like this rather than fight it out. This is even truer when someone’s social or economic background puts them a tier below those they would deal with on an issue such as this.

No; it’s shoddy behavior, and unless customers are willing to shout, Filipino merchants can get away with treatment like this.

Lastly, I will share this with you: the service center that effected the repair is an independent company authorized by the manufacturer to conduct warranty and non-warranty repairs. I could be wrong, but it is my guess that they earn very little from a warranty repair and a great deal for selling an expensive replacement component. Perhaps they are to be forgiven for this shrewd business practice!

But why on earth would the manufacturer allow this “proactivity” go on without showing any concern for their customers? It’ll certainly make me think twice about buying any other appliance manufactured by them!

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.