Adventures in Customer Service: Just Sony Being Sony

Adventures in Customer Service: Just Sony Being Sony

The ups and downs of the whole Sony PSN hacking and outage have been discussed here and elsewhere in grueling detail … but now that it has been a month since the service came online you might wonder how things have changed at Sony – have they changed how they treat their customers, or are they still a company marked by hubris and arrogance?

Given the title, do you REALLY need to ask?

I have two stories, one personal and the other impacting many PSN users around the globe.

The Qriocity Curiosity

Just before the PSN outage I signed up for the Qriocity 30-day trial based on an email from Sony – I figured it would be a great opportunity to see what Sony could manage in terms of a music subscription service. I am finalizing my review of the service, and those details really don’t matter right now.

When signing up for the trial, you need to provide all billing details and are automatically signed up for the auto-renew service that will start billing as soon as the trial period ends. This is in contrast with services like MOG and Rdio that allow you to do a truly free trial that simply ends and you need to THEN enter billing and sign up for monthly billing.

When I initially signed up I was given a trial period of 30 days, but since the service went down so soon after that I never had the chance to turn off auto-billing so that my trial period would be simply a trial, but in all of the frenzy I forgot that I hadn’t done so. When PSN came back up I got a message that my trial was extended, so I made more use of the service assuming it would simply end.

Naturally I was mistaken … which I discovered when I got a ‘thank you for your purchase’ email a couple of weeks ago!

I immediately sprang into action and tried to figure out what to do. I didn’t want to get stuck with this charge, so I immediately hunted for a customer service link and found … pretty much nothing. I did find a way to send a message and did so immediately. After a while (days) I got what could be summed up in the following quote from the message:

According to the Terms of Service there are no refunds from the PlayStation®Store.

No recognition of the special circumstances or anything else – just the equivalent of ‘sorry, dude … you’re out of luck … bummer’.

Naturally I replied and got another message back from a new person who started from scratch again and asked me for some basic account info so he could look into it. Ooh – getting somewhere, I thought! I replied and another day later (it should be noted that the SHORTEST reply interval was 24 hours) that same person replied with a canned response saying … y’know, terms of service and no refund. He also told me how to turn-off auto-bill from my PS3.

Problem was, I already mentioned that I’d turned off auto-bill immediately, and anyone from Sony could see that my account might have 4 PSPs … but it has no PS3!

So I responded again and asked again for a refund and that if he was unable to do anything I wanted to escalate.

Then a full 7 days later (!) I get an email from a supervisor named Sarah K. who pretty much says she ‘feels my pain’, but once again ‘terms of service and no refunds’.

She actually goes a bit further in two interesting ways:
– She more than cites the terms of service, she uses my agreement with them to insinuate that I have no possible way to even ask for a refund, and that my claim is pretty much a non-starter.
– She further states rather emphatically that (direct quote) “this is why we extended the free trial for an additional 30 days, to provide consumers like your self the time to cancel if necessary”.

While the first statement was rude and condescending – and just plain poor customer service – it was the second one that really tweaked me. I have tracked the Sony outage closely for Gear Diary, and nowhere in any document has ANYTHING like this been stated. In fact we’ve heard the opposite – that this was Sony giving loyal customers an ‘olive branch’ in hopes of keeping them as customers.

Just as this was happening I also was reporting on how the Welcome Back offer was pulled early and then extended. As you will read below the way Sony responded was to immediately and directly blame customers. There was no degree of accepting accountability or seeking camaraderie with those they had screwed over due to inept and incomplete security measures … just arrogant finger pointing.

Of course I have responded to ‘Sarah K the Supervisor’ and further pressed my case for a refund, and also called into question the statements she made above. Finally, in an attempt to see if there is any sort of decency or flexibility in their customer service system, I requested that the time since the start of my email chain be considered an ‘official dispute’, and since they can tell from my account I haven’t touched the service since before the auto-renew, that my account be considered ‘suspended’ until the dispute is settled either with or without a refund.

If we conclude with no refund I asked that they consider my ’30 days until closed’ date start from when we finalize the dispute. I have already considered my $9.99 long lost, but to also lose the account time during a dispute will be extra annoying. To me that seems at least a fair compromise … so it will be interesting to see whether Sony will do a single pro-customer thing during this entire episode.

So When Is The 3rd NOT The 3rd?

Sony had announced that their ‘Welcome Back’ program would end on July 3rd when they initiated it, and at least a couple of other times. Here is one such blog post:

June 30, 2011, “Welcome Back Program Available Now – Details Inside”
Q: When will I have access to the Welcome Back Program?
A: The content offered as part of the Welcome Back Program is available for download today and will be available through July 3.
Q: How long do I have to get into the PlayStation Store and receive my content for Welcome Back?
A: Access to the Welcome Back content will be expiring on July 3. Once this date has passed, the Welcome Back section in the PlayStation Store will be removed.
July 1, 2011, “Public Service Announcement – Claim Your Free Games Now!”
This offer expires on Sunday, July 3rd, so please make sure to claim what’s yours before then.

But as I noted in my post about Sony extending the offer, when the 3rd came around many found that they were no longer able to access the offer.

Adventures in Customer Service: Just Sony Being Sony


“There were 30 days to claim it, not sure why people decided to wait. We were clear from the outset.”

Of course, many were quick to argue that the saying it ended the 3rd meant that so long as it was the 3rd there should be access. Sony reps once again blamed customers, pretty much saying ‘you were given 30 days to collect the benefit, if you waited to the end it is YOUR problem’. Sound familiar? Sure did to me! Anyway, without comment Sony seemed to change their tune when folks pointed out the wording from the initial blog post:

Q: When will I have access to the Welcome Back Program?
A: The content offered as part of the Welcome Back Program is available for download today and will be available through July 3.

OK, I know what many are thinking – what is the big deal? Sony extended the offer, it is all good. Right?

Only it isn’t – remember that this entire ‘Welcome Back’ deal came from Sony shutting down their service after their system was hacked, customer data millions of people was compromised, and it was discovered that Sony was using outdated security software, unencrypted storage and exhibiting an overall ‘data apathy’ regarding customers and their private data.

So we get a 30 day offer, only to find out it is actually 29.25 days long and is shut down arbitrarily by Sony. Worse still, when questioned Sony’s senior rep blamed customers for daring to use all 30 days of a 30 day offer! Only under intense pressure and proof of the problem being entirely Sony’s based on their own words did they relent – and again without comment or even a ‘sorry we screwed up here is an extension’. The terse wording on the extension reads more like ‘fine, you whiners, we extended it. We won’t do it again.’

This sort of attitude is exactly why many – even those like me who love their products – view Sony as one of the most anti-customer companies in the consumer electronics industry. It is the attitude that inspired this comic from Ctrl-Alt-Del (modified here to be more family friendly):

Adventures in Customer Service: Just Sony Being Sony

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About the Author

Michael Anderson
I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!