Monday, 27 August 2012

How HTC got it right with Customer Service

Its been a while since my latest blog but the reason for that has been the inspiration behind writing this. Over a week ago I dropped my HTC One X causing the screen to smash. I was just unlucky but still, I nearly sobbed on the side of the street... (restricted blogging, no mobile internet and worse still, less Twitter for a week!!) anyway, this leads me on to a bit of a story about customer service. In the same way that is important to highlight when a company treats you poorly, it is equally important to highlight when a company does something right and impresses a consumer.
     Now we all know about bad customer service. We have all experienced it, and we all complain about it but more as a moan to each other. I've had my fair share of bad experiences (Virgin with their broadband and Orange contribute to the majority!!) but what do we expect from customer service? If you get what you want are you satisfied and content? Or are you happy? Conversely, if we don't get what we want, do we then give up too easily because it is what is expected?

My journey with HTC began in 2008 where I got the first HTC flagship phone, the phone that put the Taiwanese company on the map - The Hero. Since then I have owned the HTC Desire, and the Desire HD before in June, I purchased the HTC One X. Am I an HTC fanboy? I wouldn't say so. Although interested in all new HTC releases I do not queue in anticipation and upgrade immediately. I would be more than happy to select a different phone if I believed it was better. For example, I could have gone with the Samsung Galaxy Series, or I could have gone with the Sony Xperia for example but I love HTC. I love the quality that HTC produce, but without the pretension.

(Sidenote: I wasn't a big fan of the attempted period of market saturation by HTC, even though they still managed to produce  high-quality budge phones like the Wildfire, but that is a different story.)

I digress. So what happen to me when I dropped my phone? As someone who recommends HTC to everyone, alongside having owned a succession of HTC phones without any problems or requests for repair, I decided to make a point of a couple of issues in addition to the smashed screen and send them to HTC. I had been previously told that it would cost between £125-£150 to get the screen repaired which is, in anyone's books, a large amount of money. I voiced my concern about the amount, plus explaining that the phone was occasionally refusing to automatically recover coverage after it was lost and occasionally overheating. In the greater scheme of things, these were minor issues, certainly not affecting my enjoyment and delight with the One X but I felt it necessary to point these out when considering repairing the phone. In the main, I was hoping to get a bit of money off the repair!!
     I forwarded the email to the Head of UK Customer Care and very quickly received a phone-call back. The woman was delightful. Apologetic, helpful and understanding. The major difference was that I felt like my case was important to HTC; I felt like a valued customer. This is a theme that continued. HTC offered to pick-up my phone, free of charge, so that the technical team could look it over. Quickly, efficiently and conveniently my phone was collected. Following this, I was informed that HTC would repair my screen, look at the phone and provide me with a complimentary case, all free of charge.

Now, obviously I was delighted by this news but what should be taken from this was the professional and entirely appropriate way that HTC handled my situation. For that, they need great praise. They didn't have to do this but they valued me as a customer and it showed. What they have guaranteed is that I will continue to buy HTC phones, continue to praise HTC and encourage others to choose their devices, all of this from a small screen repair and a friendly yet professional employee. Not much eh!

The point of this blog is certainly not to encourage people to cause a fuss for no reason but to give due praise HTC where I believe it has been earned. Whilst it isn't what happened to me, it is almost customary for the British to moan about customer service without trying to rectify it. It is really important for consumers to get what they deserve from a company. If you have paid good money for a product, and it doesn't meet those expectations, then talk to the company. Give them a chance to help you out. I did with HTC and look where it got me.

P.S: As another positive sidenote for HTC, even with a badly smashed screen, the One X was exemplary and performed without fault. Just another reason why it is one hell of a phone!!

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Importance of the iPhone 5

The iPhone 5 will be one of the biggest, and most important announcements in the future of Apple.

Okay, perhaps slightly melodramatic. Or is it?

The iPhone 5 will spell rejuvenation or regression for Apple, especially in the mass market. With so much competition, especially from Android considering recent statistics, Apple need to get it right. If they don't then expect the 'Apple 18 months' showing a continuing drop in market share and rise in Android stock.

With consumers already stopping to consider Android devices over the iPhone 4S for example, Apple need to produce something to redirect that thought process. However much Apple fanboys will say otherwise, more and more Android devices are superior in hardware, and arguably design to the iPhone 4S. The Galaxy SIII, the HTC One X (and arguably the One S and the Galaxy Note) are examples of this. If the iPhone 5 doesn't address these inferior aspects (the screen size being the key one) then those that love the iOS ecosystem will start to begrudge the hassle of staying within an ecosystem with poorer hardware.
For me, Apple need to show that they can do more. We know that they can regenerate the same model, slightly slimmer, better quality screen etc but can they offer something different? Can they provide a bigger screen for example? Apple's 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' has been fine until now, and it certainly isn't going to spell disaster without a change, but Apple need to be more creative and ambitious because consumers don't only get bored but they need an incentive to upgrade. For the last few years, each new generation of iPhone and arguably the iPad offers fewer and less significant improvements over the prior generation, and, thus, gives consumers less reason to upgrade. Apple  cannot afford another 'iPhone 4S opening' where consumers gave off the overwhelming scent of 'is that it?'.

What does it sound like they're doing?

In true Apple fashion any iPhone 5 details are extremely tightly locked away. This results in an ongoing rumour-mill citing anything from transparent phones to the almost identical to the iPhone 4 and 4S. Most rumours and leaked images seem to suggest that the design will stay more or less the same. Some rumours and leaked images are showing a larger phone which would indicate a screen around the reported 4".

Is this the new iPhone 5?

This would be an increase of about 0.5" over the 4 and 4S. In my opinion this is a step on the right direction but I can't help but feel that something along the lines of 4.2-4.3" would be more appealing. The beauty of the larger-screened phones running Android has won over consumers who are spending increasing amounts of time on Smartphones and attempt to appreciate a multitude of functions. For most of these a bigger screen is simply better.

However, if the below image dictates where Apple are headed then I think they are in trouble. Most importantly, the aesthetic differences between the 4, 4S and this are, let's be honest, non-existant.

                                                 possible iphone 5

Let's be clear, regardless of what is announced, millions of iPhone 5s will be shipped come September. There will be the same people sleeping out for days in anticipation of the release. Apple will, as usual, do a brilliant marketing job and hype up the event. BUT if they have misjudged this, then the after the hype has died down we could be seeing real disillusion surrounding iOS, and Apple. The adverts (if unchanged) will begin to grain on consumers and the famous 'Apple innovation' will be placed under serious scrutiny.

But hey, what do we know, this is just musing! I'm going to sit back and enjoying watching it unfold. Over to you Apple.

P.S -I'm speaking through the eyes of someone who doesn't do Apple but I've tried to be impartial here...maybe I've failed.... In all honesty I would like the iPhone 5 to add significantly to how smartphones are viewed because all manufacturer competition is good for the consumer.
Either way, I'd love to know your thoughts.....

Monday, 13 August 2012

Football through Olympics-tinted glasses.

Before the curtain fell upon the world's greatest sporting event, some eyes had turned towards Birmingham. Inside Villa Park we saw Chelsea, a team of vastly overpaid footballers, face Manchester City, another set of individuals on an equally sickening amount of money. All this was watched by the billionaires that fund it. Once again, individuals like Carlos Tevez (who refused to play after getting into a strop), John Terry (charged with racially aggravated behaviour) and Ashley Cole (....) pranced about for 90 minutes thinking of little more than the £100k+ that will be deposited into their bank accounts each week.

Let me start by saying; I'm a huge football man: Played my whole life, Newcastle United supporter, go to as many games as I can afford, watch any broadcast game, check religiously for even the slightest news, spend far too much time tweaking my fantasy football side (with very little end product) and have contributed many an hour to football manager (certainly not wasted..). After the heroism we viewed almost every single day for two weeks, I felt strange for becoming excited for the football season but I can't help it. The tribalism, the drama, the weekly entertainment followed by detailed analysis with back and forward jibes makes football enthralling.

This post may sound anti-football (and in a way it is) but its just me being honest about the state of football and how it deeply contrasted with the magic we have witnessed over the past two weeks.

It's difficult to explain how I felt on Sunday morning. I felt real guilt because of my excitement for the Community Shield. After being excited to watch real role models; Mo Farah, Chris Hoy and the Brownlee Brothers amongst many more, I found myself experiencing, albeit a different excitement, at watching the pre-season curtain raiser. What was ensuing was the start of the farcically dramatic Premier League season. A 9-month tournament which displays no consideration for supporters, where player agents are king and where grown men throw themselves to the floor without a second thought to dignity or blatent cheating. It's a culture that is accepted, and more scandalously, encouraged.
But for the first time in my memory, the stadium was not sold out, the crowd jointly booed when Edin Hazard attempted his first dive. Are others feeling a bit like me? There were certainly commentary mentions throughout the Olympics, even from the likes of Gary Lineker, drawing comparisons with footballers and Olympians. Did hosting the Olympic Games make others stop and think what we are supporting, and what we are encouraging?

The Olympics allows athletes who love their sport, dedicate their lives to a goal and often receive very little financial remuneration, a stage to display that hard work. We watched men and women leave every bit of their bodies on the track, run with broken legs and play with broken jaws. This is what football should be. Instead we return to a scene where abusive behaviour is accepted and sportsmanship does not exist. What a far-cry from the Olympic spirit the country has adopted and reveled in over the last two weeks.

That being said, I cannot wait!

As always, all comments welcomed and encouraged.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Google Nexus 7: iPad killer?

Simple answer; no. But the most significant competitor? Absolutely. The problem with the natural comparison with the iPad is its unfair on the Nexus 7. This is not supposed to compete in the same bracket as the iPad but a comparison has to be made to make it relevant in the eyes of the consumer. I'm going to try and focus as much as possible just on the Nexus 7 without doing much direct comparison.

What has been made clear with the launch of the Nexus 7 is the importance of price point. Apple have been undercut, significantly, by a good product. It's targeted, and clearly engaged with the large numbers of consumers who have, thus far, failed to justify the £400 cost of a tablet. The size of the tablet isnt the key feature. The HTC Flyer, initially priced at around £600, proves this. Consumers need to feel value for money. With the Nexus 7 the value is there, and more. It was the same with the Kindle Fire's success. This is also key behind the failure of any other Android to mount a serious challenge to the iPad. The Motorola Xoom, Asus Transformer, Samsung Galaxy Tab have all fallen simply because if someone is going to part with £400 then they feel more comfortable doing that with the iPad.

Does the quick adoption of the Nexus 7 also say something about the development of the Android platform? I believe so. Jelly Bean has the slick, but reliable base that iOS fans crave, yet it adds customisation; Particularly with widgets. It's this reliability that Android has added to the platform from 4.0 (ICS) to Jelly Bean that is winning over consumers in both tablets and mobile phones.
     The other interesting positive review that we're seeing is the size and feel. Il be the first to admit that I've always thought the best size for a tablet is around the 10" mark but the Nexus 7 has made me consider differently. Not only this, the sleek, metallic body that has become synonymous with the iPad has been exchanged for a fascinating rubbery rear casing. It's more practical. Doesn't scratch, easier to hold etc.
     Ive heard complaints that there is no option for 3G capability. I fail to understand the concern. With Wireless Tethering a phone acts as a router. Hey presto, no need for mobile data on the tablet! (Also, how many of us can afford an extra, largely unnecessary, contract?) I can't help feel these criticisms are emanating from an Apple fanbase who harbor concerns... (TechCrunch take note...).

The Nexus 7 has quite rightly been gaining rave reviews. And for £150 its hard to complain. This clearly worries Apple hence Apple's response with the apparently imminent launch of the iPad mini. That is when the real battle commences. But until then, the Nexus 7 is a practical tablet option in all senses of the word as it has avoided the temptation to head towards the excessive, greedy features of other tablets. It is a practical size, its practical to use and importantly its a practical price. If you want a tablet primarily for media and entertainment, maybe the Nexus 7 isn't for you. The screen quality doesn't match the 'New iPad' for example. But if you want a tablet for surfing the net, reading, casual gaming etc, then the Nexus 7 is a sensible choice.

If you are happy to part with <£600 for a tablet, then the iPad is still the best choice as a high-end tablet. But few could blame you for saving a few hundred quid and buying a practical alternative in the Nexus 7.

Thoughts, comments, criticisms all encouraged!