Windows investigates: after-sales support

If you’re the kind of technology buyer who reckons that one five-megapixel digital camera or dual-core laptop will perform roughly the same as the rest, then what factor do you base your final purchasing decision upon?
Windows investigates: after-sales support
By Administrator
Wed 11 Jul 2007 10:46 AM

If you're the kind of technology buyer who reckons that one five-megapixel digital camera or dual-core laptop will perform roughly the same as the rest, then what factor do you base your final purchasing decision upon? Price is probably involved, but you should also consider how easy life will be should your purchase ever break down. Here Windows explores - and compares - the warranties and support offered by major international vendors.

In putting together this guide we quizzed the in-house warranty and after-sales support managers at six of the region's leading international product vendors; those companies that sell a wide range of consumer technology and IT products. What follows are details of these vendors' Middle East support policies and our considered verdicts on each.

Acer

Warranties offered

Acer's notebook PCs and LCD monitors are supplied with international warranties of one and three years respectively. Acer's ‘Collect & Drop' scheme - whereby an Acer partner will pick up a faulty product, repair it and deliver it back to you the customer - also applies to these notebooks and displays, though only currently in the UAE and to some extent in Saudi Arabia. As with most of Acer's warranties, these support packages cover for ‘parts and labour' - in other words, any new components required and the cost of the staff installing them.

On the desktop PC front, Acer's commercial or corporate PCs - AKA its ‘Veriton' line - offer longer three-year warranties. The first year of this support is ‘on-site' (at the place of business), then parts and labour (on a return to base or RTB basis) thereafter. Acer's SMB desktops offer one-year parts and labour warranties, though Acer servers come with three-year on-site warranties.

Acer's projectors feature two-year parts and labour warranties, as do Acer's impressively supported digital camera products. PDAs offer one year of support.

Extending warranties

Unlike many vendors we talked to that only offer enhanced support through distribution or retail store partners, Acer sells its own extended warranties. For instance, a notebook customer can extend their one-year warranty to three years by buying ‘Acer Advantage'. "This can be bought anytime within the original warranty period," says Eugene Thomas, Acer's cost effective customer care manager. "Where we stand out however is that we also offer a second version of Acer Advantage that covers accidental damage too." The typical price for extending a notebook warranty from one to three years for example is approximately US$136 (AED500 in the UAE), rising by another 15% or 20% for the version of Acer Advantage that includes accidental damage cover. Being an Acer Advantage customer also entitles customers to ‘VIP' service, in the form of free technical phone support and priority service at support centres, meaning you'll get the best possible turnaround times. Find out more from www.aceradvantage.com.

Warranty activation

"Once a product has been bought, its warranty applies automatically," says Thomas. Windows found this policy to be the same with all the vendors interviewed here. It's not the case that the warranty card must be completed and returned to activate a warranty - this simply helps the vendor know who has what products and will speed up the process should you have to return any kit.

Support available prior to product return

"Usually customers go to our website, find our Support Request page, and input their query there," explains Thomas. "That's because most laptop customers for example are now pretty mature and would like to fix the problem themselves, maybe just needing a little help. The alternative is to call our support centre, which offers technical and customer support. In some countries our ASPs provides this service. "

Returning products

Thomas explains: "In general, other than Collect & Drop products, with problematic consumer products the user's first port of call is the retailer. The other option is to go to any neutral authorised support provider (or ASP). You can walk into any of these ASPs, whether you bought the machine from there or not. You want to do this if the ASP is closer than your original retailer."

Replacement products

Acer's warranties are based on product repair, so the firm doesn't offer replacements of any type.

Typical product turnaround time

"Typically five days is our outer notebook repair limit," claims Thomas.

Further details and resources

The relevant support website is at http://support.acer-euro.com/ whilst Acer's Middle East support line is +9714 800 4711.

Windows verdict

An impressive and comprehensive offer. We've remarked in the past on the value of the firm's Collect & Drop scheme to customers based in the UAE; now we hope the next step will be for Acer to roll out this service across more countries. Acer's two-year camera warranties stand out, as the norm is a year, and the company's Acer Advantage scheme should interest cautious and/or clumsy consumers.

LG

Warranties offered

LG's notebooks feature the firm's international, one-year, return to base (RTB) warranty. A regional version of this single year parts and labour package also applies to the firm's mobile phone products, spanning 20 countries across the Middle East and Africa region. LG's smaller offerings, such as MP3 players and audio video solutions, come with ‘local' (in-country) warranties. The two product families that can be serviced on-site, and subsequently taken away by LG to be fixed if required, are LG's plasma and large LCD displays.

Extending warranties

These can be bought, but not from LG direct, via instead some of its in-country retailers. "In Dubai, if a notebook customer wants a longer warranty, then they might pay 5% of its value to the store for three years of support," suggests Lala Varish, the firm's Middle East service planning manager. "Within this three-year period say then, the retailer will be their point of contact and the retailer will negotiate with and pay the distributor service centre for any support required."

Returning products

Although he accepts that many customers take products back to the original retailer, Varish suggests they go directly instead to their local service centre so that they can get faster service.

Support available prior to product return

"In the UAE we have a toll-free number. Our customers can call this and their support call can then be automatically director to our support agent (the distributor). We also have our global and support websites," Varish says.

Replacement products

Available in very few cases. "If a customer is facing the same product problem over and over again, then maybe the customer can negotiate with the distributor," suggests Varish.

Typical product turnaround time

"Generally for a phone we're talking about same-day service or within three days if a part isn't available. We call many customers a few days after they have received this service to ask them for feedback. We call these ‘happy calls'," says Varish.

Further details and resources

In the UAE, toll-free on 800 LG (54). Global website at lge.com and LG's support website is found at lgservice.com.

Windows verdict

Satisfactory but not outstanding. Good quoted product turnaround times, but extended warranties are not always available or standardised. The grace period for customers that have lost their receipts and warranty cards is however a nice touch.

Panasonic

Warranties offered

Panasonic Marketing Middle East offers two types of warranty as standard: ‘domestic' or ‘local' agent warranties, which apply only in the country of purchase, and its ‘Care Plus Warranty', which spans 19 countries in the Middle East and Africa, including India, Pakistan, Iran and Philippines. Care Plus is offered is provided by Panasonic Marketing Middle East, rather than its local distributors.

"In short, suppose you buy a Panasonic consumer product in the UAE, and if something happens and you go to the service centre, the domestic warranty will apply. If outside the UAE, the Care Plus warranty will apply," says Anthony Peter, the firm's general manager of is customer care solutions department.

With consumer products, Panasonic's warranties are what it calls ‘carry-in' (RTB), which means a customer has to bring their product to its service centre, unless it's a huge display product. Panasonic covers the associated parts and labour.

"Generally the length is one year for consumer products, but with some lower value household products, such as shavers and hairdryers, we give six months," Peter explains. "Plasmas, movie cameras, portable audio devices and so on are all one year. With larger products such as plasma TVs larger than 25-inches, AC units or refrigerators, our warranty then includes home pick-up and delivery."

Extending warranties

Some of Panasonic's agents (its distributors) can offer longer warranties, although this isn't standardised across the region. In the UAE for instance, its distributor Al-Futtaim provides a three- year domestic warranty on Panasonic's Lumix cameras.

Returning products

A list of Panasonic service centres is mentioned on Panasonic's warranty cards, which are in its product boxes. "We request the consumer brings their product to our service centre," says Peter. "Of course in some countries consumers do go back to the store, in which case our service centre team will pick it up from the retailer."

Customers should arrive at a service centre with the product and purchase receipt. "We also ask for the warranty card if possible, so that we immediately know a customer is genuine. Otherwise we need to check the product serial number in our database to confirm this first," Peter explains.

Support available prior to product return

"We have a Panasonic call centre - available on +9714 800 Pana (7262) - or customers can log onto www.panasonic.ae (head for Support/Service Network) to find out regional service centre details," Peter says.

Replacement products

For higher end products such as its Vierra displays, if Panasonic's service centre team identifies that repair will take longer than usual, then it does lend replacement sets. This is decided on a case-by-case basis.

Typical product turnaround time

According to Peter, "We try our best not to keep any repair products for longer than 14 days."

Further details and resources

See above.

Windows verdict

Mixed. No international warranties are available, as Panasonic's Care Plus so-called ‘international' support package in fact only gives regional support and applies to the vast majority of products. The warranty extension packages offered by the company, when they exist, are solely dependent on the retailer a customer buys from, meaning they're available to some customers and not others.

Sony

Warranties offered

Sony Gulf divides its products into three categories: consumer audio video (CAV) products, such as TVs, digital cameras, MP3 players and audio set-ups; its Vaio range of laptops; and PlayStations.

Sony's CAV products include a basic one-year ‘local' (in-country) warranty, supplied by the firm's distributors. These products also include a ‘bridge' warranty; aimed at expats from the wider region, this covers India, Pakistan, Philippines, Egypt, Iran and Malaysia. If a user has a problem with their CAV product in any other country, in Europe say, they can still get it serviced at a Sony centre, but they'll need to pay. Thirdly, for CAV products bought from Duty Free shops, Sony includes instead a ‘tourist limited warranty'. This is a one-year global warranty.

This global warranty is offered on all Sony's Vaio laptops, while its PlayStations are covered by a similar length regional warranty, spanning the Middle East and Africa. All of these warranties are RTB services, except in the case of TVs larger than 29-inches and some of Sony's largest home theatre products, which the firm will pick-up, fix and deliver back.

Extending warranties

These are not centrally available, but occasionally there are some warranty promotions offered. During 2007's UAE Summer Surprises shopping festival for example, Bravia TV warranties of two years, including free pickup and delivery, are being included.

Returning products

"The first option is for a customer to return their product to our service centre. Our warranty cards include details of these," states Sanadi. "They can also go to our website. If they come back to the retailer, they can leave their product there. All the retailers act as collection points like this, although this approach can mean a longer waiting time for the customer."

Support available prior to product return

"Customers should call our helpdesk number, which in the UAE is 800 Sony (7669). We have similar numbers in most countries," Sanadi states.

Replacement products

If a customer's product becomes defective within seven days, then Sony will replace this. "If a product's warranty has finished, we can repair it, at a cost, and then we'll give a repair warranty of three months," Sanadi adds.

Typical product turnaround time

Four calendar days, including Saturdays.

Further details and resources

All details and information can be found at www.sony-mea.com.

Windows verdict

Again mixed. It's great that all Vaios are covered globally, similar to Acer and LG's notebook support. Sony's ‘Bridge' warranty is also a nice idea, but it only covers some expats, not Westerners. The firm's international duty free tourist warranty is valuable too, but only if you can get the product you want from such stores. Positive turnaround times and a support grace period are positive inclusions.

Samsung

Warranties offered

Samsung's audio visual products - such as TVs, DVD Players, camcorders and MP3 players - come with one-year RTB warranties, as do its mobile phones. IT products including monitors, printers and optical disc drives also feature one year of support, however LCD monitors and hard disk drives include three-year warranties. All of these warranties are applicable only in the country of sale (they are not in any way regional or international), and are provided by the firm's distributors.

Plasma displays and colour laser printers are eligible for on-site or ‘in-home' service; the customer just has to call their service centre to set up an appointment.

If these products cannot be repaired on-site, they are returned to the service center, repaired and returned to the customer.

Extending warranties

Not centrally available from Samsung, although distributors may offer extended warranties if they desire.

Returning products

"The consumer has the option of contacting their service centre directly or they can drop off their product at their retailer, as these act as collection points on behalf of our service centres'" states Srikant Gullapalli, the operations manager at Samsung Gulf's customer satisfaction HQ.

Support available prior to product return "Some troubleshooting tips and FAQs are available on Samsung's website, both at a regional and international level. "In the UAE and Bahrain consumers can also get in touch with our customer interaction centre (on 800 SAMSUNG/7267864). Customers can also contact their local service centre via the information provided on their warranty cards," explains Gullapalli.

Replacement products

Service centres can provide 'standby' units for repair products likely to be delayed.

Typical product turnaround time

According to Gullapalli, the average turnaround time (TAT) for any unit that has been handed over to a retailer (in the same city) is estimated to be three working days. "The TAT is lower for units that have been handed over directly to the service centre," he adds. "In the case of small portable products such as phones, most of the units are repaired the same day."

Further details and resources

Regional information can be found at www.samsung.com/me/, with support-related advice at www.samsung.com/support/.

Windows verdict

In short, limited. The fact Samsung only offers in-country warranties is disappointing and really sets its support offer behind that of its competitors here. Whilst the firm's quoted turnaround times are quick, the firm doesn't offer either any form of standardised extended warranties should a user want to stretch the support they receive.

Philips

Warranties offered

Philips' monitor products are covered by ‘local' (in-country) three-year RTB warranties. Its audio and TV products come with one year of support, except for LCD and Plasma sets which are covered for three years. In addition to these local warranties, all Philips products are covered by an international warranty for one year from their date of purchase. This international all-product approach makes Philips unique here.

Extending warranties

Extended warranty policies for Philips products are available from some retailers, but these are completely separate to the company's standard factory warranties.

Returning products

"The choice is the consumer's," says Khalid Tuer, the regional general manager of the firm's consumer electronics division. "Defective products can be brought to the point of purchase but the consumer may also contact a service centre directly. For TVs with screens larger than 29-inches, our distributors provide home service." Consumers must provide proof of purchase, in other words their purchase receipt.

Support available prior to return

Customers can contact any Philips dealer or a Philips service centre. In addition, the firm offers what it terms ‘extensive support' through its website.

Replacement products

Irrepairable products will be replaced.

Typical product turnaround time

Most products are fixed within 24 hours.

Further details and resources

Online at www.mea.philips.com.

Windows verdict

Philips' international year of product support, whatever the product, is unmatched, even by customer care expert Acer. Philips also quotes great turnaround times and will replace kit it cannot fix; impressive. The company loses out to Acer on product collection however, as it doesn't have a ‘Collect & Drop' equivalent.

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