Nokia USA: It’s Not Your Intermediaries, It’s YOU

I was so happy and excited to get my N95 (see video). I could be this happy again, if only Nokia would get its US service and support act together.

As I noted earlier, this morning Charlie Schick of Nokia USA left a comment on this blog to reach out to me about my recent heartbreaking experience with the Nokia N95. Here’s what he said:

“These are the nightmares that we never want to happen.

“I remember in the days before we allowed users to do their firmware updates, this was one of the worries that could have killed the whole process.

“I think what makes it hard for us is all the disintermediation – the, sometimes small but crucial, gap between us and you.

“And what concerns me is that we know when it happens to folks like you who write about it. Yet, that leads us to a one-time fix.

“How can we spread a policy or procedure down the line that helps anyone with this issue (and without costing the company or you an bundle)?

“I don’t know, and any more speculation on my part might be irresponsible.

“For sure, the more folks who bring this up, the more likely the company will come with a plan that can deal with this in a way we are both happy with.”

Here is my response — which I hope will lead to further constructive conversation and perhaps better options for current and would-be US users of high-end Nokia products…

Hi, Charlie (and Nokia USA):

Thanks for engaging me in this public conversation. I think that’s a very constructive move, and I’m willing to work with Nokia to help address the problems I encountered.

First of all, let me begin by saying that I think the Nokia N95 is an excellent product. I got a chance to try one out in Europe last fall, and was instantly hooked. This was what I’d been waiting for. And for the few days I had it, it worked well and I fell in love with it pretty quickly. It seems that with this device (and others in your N Series, such as the N82) you’ve hit a real sweet spot for people who want a versatile, powerful, pro-quality mobile tool to create and share content. This growing high-end market includes not only bloggers, but professional journalists — like the ones who read Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits, a group weblog I manage.

My complaints are not about your products. Rather, they concern the poor service I received from Nokia USA. For mobile devices (especially high-end, pricey, multifunctional ones like the N95) the quality of service is at least as important as the quality of the hardware. In this case, your service was the dealbreaker for me.

If I had a reasonable assurance that these problems were being addressed (or at least would not leave me assuming an unreasonable level of financial risk) I would purchase another N95 in a heartbeat. I’d also put it through serious paces, and blog the experience extensively.

Fortunately, the quality of your service is something that Nokia would seem to have considerable freedom to improve — IF that’s a priority for your company. (Which it should be, if you’re serious about wanting to sell a lot of fancy phones in the US to compete head-on with the burgeoning iPhone market here.)

To start this conversation, here are the problems I experienced, and some recommendations for how Nokia might improve these situations:

1. Don’t blame your intermediaries.

You wrote: “I think what makes it hard for us is all the disintermediation — the, sometimes small but crucial, gap between us and you.”

In my case, the only intermediary I dealt with was Amazon.com (not one of their retail partners), from whom I bought my N95. The transaction was seamless — and saved me considerable money, compared to purchasing directly from Nokia (more on that next). Buying through Amazon did come with the constraint that I had only 30 days from the date of purchase to return the phone for a full refund — which I think is reasonable. (BTW, Amazon did handle the return and refund promptly and without hassle.)

The problem that turned my lovely N95 into an unresponsive brick occurred when I updated the firmware using the software provided by (and following the process specified by) Nokia. Amazon — or (as far as I know) any other intermediary — had nothing at all to do with that problem. So I think it’s a bit disingenuous to suggest that intermediaries may have been the problem here.

Now if, in fact, Amazon or other online retailers are selling non-US phones represented as US phones, that shouldn’t be the customer’s problem. It’s up to Nokia to resolve that with the retailers and make good with customers if needed. It’s your brand at stake, after all. Customers shouldn’t ever have to wonder if we’ve really gotten the device we paid for, and whether we’ll be left on the hook because of that.

2. Price and sell your product reasonably.

Even before service comes into the picture, there’s much room for improvement in Nokia’s sales practices.

I first tried purchase my N95 directly from Nokia USA, for a total cost of about $860 (including a Bluetooth keyboard and phone cover, plus two-day shipping). I generally prefer to buy expensive, important devices directly from the manufacturer, as long as the price is comparable.

I was very excited to get my N95 — so I was pretty annoyed when, on the day it should have arrived, I learned that your US order fulfillment partner (LetsTalk.com) created an unnecessary delay in the process. That bugged me enough that I took the opportunity to shop around further — and learned that I could save a total of $180 by making my purchase through Amazon.com (with overnight shipping).

That’s a very significant savings. So I canceled my order via Nokia/LetsTalk and re-ordered my N95 and accessories through Amazon. I had everything in hand the very next day, no hassles.

It seems odd to me that Amazon.com can sell the same Nokia phone for nearly $200 less than Nokia can. I’d understand a difference of $30-$50 — but nearly $200?!?!? For more hassles and slower service? Something is seriously wrong with how Nokia is selling its own products in this market. I can’t help but think that’s something that Nokia USA can improve.

3. Speed repair turnaround time and enhance your warranty.

Right now, Nokia’s one-year limited warranty (which, as far as I understand it, applies to all Nokia phones, whether sold by Nokia or other vendors) says:

“Nokia will repair the Product under the limited warranty within 30 days after receipt of the Product. If Nokia cannot perform repairs covered under this limited warranty within 30 days, or after a reasonable number of attempts to repair the same defect, Nokia at its option, will provide a replacement Product or refund the purchase price of the Product less a reasonable amount for usage. In some states the Consumer may have the right to a loaner if the repair of the Product takes more than ten (10) days.”

That’s fine for your run-of-the-mill cell phone, but it’s quite inadequate for a high-end, pro-level, multi-use tool like the N95. People spend a lot of money on these phones, and they depend on them. It’s not acceptable to be without this kind of tool for up to a month (plus shipping time back and forth).

I suggest that for its pricey N Series phones, Nokia issue a stronger and more consumer-friendly warranty that includes these provisions:

  • Guaranteed expedited one-week turnaround time — Either to repair and return the device, or to deliver a replacement. That means: one week from the date the device is received by Nokia, I have a working unit with up-to-date firmware back in my hands.
  • Guaranteed FREE repair/replacement for all firmware updating-related problems, no questions asked. According to what Beth Kanter learned from Nokia, your company is aware that your firmware update process is hurting and killing some phones. (So far, your reps are contending that it’s happening only when you try to update non-US phones — but in my case, unless Amazon did not deliver to me the US model I purchased, this may not be about mixing firmware versions.) Therefore, when customers call to complain about post-update brickification, it might be smarter for Nokia to assume responsibility and make good immediately, rather than to leave the customer in any doubt that they might be stuck with a bill — perhaps in addition to a nonrefundable brick. (You can verify through your servers whether the phone in question recently attempted or completed a firmware update, right? That should help cut down on fraud attempts.) In my case, Nokia reps told me to ship it in, wait, and see whether you’d fix/replace it for free — which galled me.

4. Frankly and publicly discuss your known firmware update problems.

Right now, Nokia’s firmware update issue is a PR bomb that has only just started to explode. Your company’s lack of coherent, clear discussion on this important point (including that some of your own support reps directly discourage users from doing firmware updates) creates considerable fear, uncertainty, and doubt — never a good strategy for growing a new market where you already have strong competition (Apple).

Firmware updates are a necessary process to keep any high-tech device in working order — yet some high-profile N95 users (including Beth Kanter, Steve Garfield, James Whatley, and Jenifer Hanen) are expressing profound dissatisfaction with and trepidation about your firmware update process. Also, George Frink commented that concerns over your firmware update process put him off from getting an N95 — and he was ready to buy!

Until Nokia can fix that process (which I understand will take time), you could boost consumer confidence considerably by owning up to the problem and addressing it proactively — perhaps through your new Conversations blog.

Also, make your information about your firmware updating problems easy to find. Right now, N-series users are guiding each other through this problem with a patchwork of blog posts and forum discussions. By gathering and presenting the most accurate and up-to-date information about its known firmware update problems, Nokia could regain some trust in this marketplace

5. Fix your firmware update process.

Beth Kanter said it best: Updating my Nokia firmware feels like 1995. Besides the fact that your firmware update process needs to work without significant risk of bricking the phone, it needs to be less clunky and also friendly to Mac users. (Is Nokia even planning to release a Mac version of its updater software? If so, what’s your timeframe? We don’t even know that much.)

This is important because your N Series phones compete directly with Apple’s iPhone, especially in the US — so Nokia is currently the underdog in this fight. At Apple, user experience and quality service are paramount. That’s the hurdle you have to jump. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if a significant portion (perhaps even a majority) of the content creators who’d be willing to shell out big bucks for a fancy moblogging tool like the N95 are dedicated Mac users. If you want to make serious headway in this market, you need a Mac-friendly firmware update process. The sooner, the better.

6. Expand US local retail availability and service.

I understand this is probably my most costly, challenging, and risky recommendation, but it comes down to this: Is Nokia serious about serving the growing high-end US mobile phone market, or not?

If so (and I hope you are), then you need to become more accessible to your customers. You need to be where they are.

Right now, the only places in the US where someone can walk in and buy (or return, or replace) an N95 are your flagship stores in New York and Chicago, plus a few BestBuy stores. Nice for people in those cities, but lousy for most of the country. With a pricey, fancy phone like this, people want to try it out — and they want to know who’s nearby to run to if there are problems.

Also, as far as I understand it, your warranty only covers service done by shipping the phone back to Nokia — you don’t have authorized local service dealers.

How about this:

  • Partner more extensively with major retailers like BestBuy and Circuit City to stock and sell your N Series phones. These phones should be in all their locations — or at least a few locations in each state. People should be able to purchase their phones at these retailers and get them replaced quickly under warranty there, too. (Enough with this ship-and-wait nonsense.) Also, since AT&T and T-Mobile are currently the only US carriers that support unlocked phones, why not get N Series phones in their stores and service centers, too?
  • Authorize local service partners to repair N Series phones under warranty.

What I want is a local experience similar to what my friend, happy N95 user from the UK Koan Bremner, reports in this comment:

“In the UK, most High Streets contain little *but* mobile phone shops – if mine went brick-like, I can walk into any T-Mobile store, and walk out with a fresh N95, in minutes (because my warranty and insurance plan includes that option). I am shocked, and saddened, that you don’t have that choice in the (I thought) technologically-superior US.”

…OK, that’s enough for now. Again, I’m glad to hear that Nokia is open to at least starting a discussion on this topic. I hope it continues.

Again, I LOVED my N95. I don’t want an iPhone. So far, the iPhone does not do what I really need it to do — and I doubt it will anytime soon. The N95 is what I want. It wasn’t perfect, but it was wonderful. I’m willing to deal with its idiosyncrasies and learning curve. If I only felt like Nokia really wanted my business and was willing to provide the level of service commensurate with such a vital high-end piece of equipment, I’d buy one again in a heartbeat. But right now, you need to regain my trust.

Ball’s in your court, Nokia. Thanks for listening. I look forward to working with you on this.

– Amy Gahran

17 thoughts on Nokia USA: It’s Not Your Intermediaries, It’s YOU

  1. I agree with Beth. This is great advice and I hope they take it and implement it soon. I’ve been watching your experiences with the N95 because I’ve been considering it to use at the Democratic convention this summer. Hopefully they can work the kinks out in time for that to happen.

  2. Well, we’ll see what happens. I left a comment on the new Nokia Conversations blog mentioning this discussion about firmware updates. That was this morning, and it hasn’t been approved yet — but they might be approving comments on Finnish time, so maybe they’re just getting into work now.

    It’ll be interesting to see whether Nokia wants real engagement, or happy-talk. I believe in giving them a real chance to succeed and prove themselves on that front. Everyone can screw up, and everyone can do better, too.

    – Amy Gahran

  3. Wow, Amy. this was a brilliant reply. I don’t see how you could have spelled it out with any more clarity.

    I hope the response you get is as constructive and thoughtful.

    Wish I had done this when Dell botched my m1330 notebook order during the summer. It may not have changed the outcome (they lost my order and I ended up buying from a competitor) but I would have felt like I did something more constructive than rant on their blog.

  4. Still no response yet? I see that Stephen Downes pointed to you yesterday ….

    I’m still not sure about updating the firmware – especially after seeing Steve’s reply to you on Twitter. But I’m starting to have some performance issues – I can no longer email videos to blip – get memory error. There’s no reference for this either – and I’ve deleted old photos/videos and unstalled the crap apps too …

  5. Hi Amy, I work with Charlie at Nokia and have just tracked to your posts. First up sorry that one of our phones has rolled over on you and thank you for your input/thoughts/patience. Charlie and I are based outside of the US but I’ve written to my colleagues who are local to you and brought this matter to their attention. Lets see what can be done, in the mean time feel free to get in tough directly. Mark

  6. Caught this link over at Nokia Conversations; first off, great post, and something that I think Nokia will definitely have to address either from the scope of the entire organization, or specifically how they are doing customer-facing/interacting services with US customers since we are (like APAC) a different market.

    The UX on the side of updating devices painlessly is being addressed, however the N95 NAM/N95 8GB NAM models do not seem to have reaped any of that love yet. Tis a shame really; because that (and present finances) is what is holding me back from purchasing one.

    Hooked into your blog now, and so hopefully there will be some kind of response soon. Blessings.

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  8. Thanks, Antoine. I think you’re right — if Nokia hopes to make headway in the high-end US phone market (especially considering Apple’s head start toward that goal), they absolutely must address their US service and firmware update problems.

    I’m sad — but not surprised — to hear that you’re another potential N95 owners who’s holding off from buying because of these considerable problems.

    And Mark: Thanks much for joining this conversation. I’ve very happy to see you here, that’s encouraging! I’ve responded to you in a new post. I hope we hear more from you and Nokia about this as we all work to address these issues — either here or (even better) on Nokia’s new Conversations blog.

    – Amy Gahran

  9. Amy,

    Two things contributed to my silence yesterday – I was offline most of the day and I really spent a lot of time thinking how to best bring your discussion onto our site, so I was doing my homework before I went further (I needed to contact a bunch of people to find out what we actually do).

    1) I see from my email headers that there has been some discussion and as soon as I get off here, I’ll see what they say. But, PLEASE, let’s together make sure that this isn’t a one-off ‘help Amy’ thing, which seems to happen when a blogger pipes up. Let’s see how this can effect a real improvement in some sort of reasonable amount of time (also see next)
    2) My comment on ‘intermediaries’ wasn’t to shift the blame. Tut tut. It was saying that your category of problem (service) was a complicated beast. To me it’s a mix of warranty (ask Darla), FW upgrade (you feel that pain), and the channels (particularly in the US). the comment was to step back a bit and think of all the other incidents that you and I have heard of (and the ones we haven’t).
    3) Wow. This was a great article. It has many aspects and I think it’s pivoting around your krappy experience with the FW update. I think you could make a deeper post in each of these items you list.
    4) (sticking my foot in my mouth) Sigh. What pains me most is that you CARE and you have to suffer such an experience. But, it’s sad to think of all the people who don’t care that we turned off. Gosh, that’s krap.
    5) (sticking foot deeper in mouth) Yeah, it’s obvious that sometimes the FW updater bricks a phone. Indeed, I hold my breath every time. But, it seems to be improving (it actually saved my son’s N81 user data – finally). And it’s been really popular. BUT, yeah the big BUT, maybe we should have been prepared for any of those rare instances when it BRICKS THE PHONE. Sigh.
    6) (last sticking of foot in mouth) Well, yeah, if you pay a lot for a device, there are certain expectations.

    So, let’s keep this visible (even after anything gets fixed for you). Please don’t expect instantaneous responses, though, partly due to time zones (I am in Finland) and partly due to me liking to due my home work so as not to say something misleading, stupid, asinine, wrong, costly, and so forth (but don’t let me take too long to respond). 🙂

    I hope mojo and MsJen can vouch for me. 😀

    ‘Later
    Hey, and I’d like to excerpt a few of these comments from you and Beth. I’ll try to post something by end of day today.

    Ok?

    Ta.

    Charlie

    PS As for sales price, distribution channels, etc, let’s see if we can split those discussion up instead of all on one place. Also, for me, at least, those are much bigger issues than I can respond to. Though it’ll be circulated for comment and any action. Ja?

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  14. Its funny how this article still applies even after 2 YEARS. The Nokiausa sales team is really REALLY incompetent. I have been sitting here wanting to buy and N8 for 2 weeks and have had my order “withheld” countless times and been bounced from rep to rep for countless hours. Don’t Nokia know that every hour i cannot get the phone, a competitors phone becomes more tempting. Especially since I can just walk into best buy and get one

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