SONOS - another customer service failure

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy December 7, 2013
Summary:
SONOS needs to get its software support sorted out. Not only is it deteriorating, serious flaws in execution in upgrades is leaving some systems useless.

sonos-1
Most people I know love wireless hi-fi kit from SONOS. I do - when it works. But one of its ongoing weaknesses comes in the shape of software updates. Like many other vendors, it prefers all customers to be on the latest and greatest which is fine when it works and sucks mightily when it doesn't. The 4.2.1 release is an object lesson in how not to satisfy customers. Here's why.

When the system detects you need to do an upgrade then it is a point and click affair designed to hide all the bumping and grinding that goes on in background while all your SONOS units are brought up to date. However, the 4.2.1 release has serious problems in some scenarios that are impossible to resolve using the forums and where tech support is less than stellar. What's going on?

sonos - not connected

The system attempts a download, install and restart of all SONOS components on the system. However, as it restarts, the system appears to lose connectivity with the device, throwing a 1013 error. There is no documentation on this problem but a slew of forum posts that are remarkably similar. Here is a good thread on the topic.

In nearly all cases, tech support asks for a diagnostic report but then the trail runs cold. In the alternative, suggestions include what amount to a full factory reset of all SONOS units. That's a sure fire indication of serious problems.

The bottom line? The 4.2.1 release has proven troublesome and there is no clear solution in sight. Or if there is, then it's hidden in the depths of the support forums.

It would not be so bad if it wasn't for the fact the 4.2.1 release is a forced one. You have to install or your SONOS system is dead.

To give you an idea how serious SONOS treats customer service, it uses a combination of GetSatisfaction and RightNow. But it does so badly.

GetSatisfaction is used for the forums. But here's the rub - if you lose or forget your password, then you get a response from GetSatisfaction - not SONOS. In short, SONOS have chosen not to  white label the solution. RightNow handles the back end email customer support system. Despite there are many similar problems all referencing the 1013 error, the standard email response suggests looking at irrelevant solutions.

More to come

ask sonos

Digging a bit further, I see that SONOS has a very active Facebook fan page. With more than 250,000 likes it is clear that SONOS attracts a good sized fan base. But...apart from an ongoing and increasingly tetchy gripe about lack of DTS support (important for BluRay users) the fan page is little more than a glorious exercise in self indulgence, with the emphasis on flogging the SONOS 1.

Even more interesting, searches that surface Facebook complaints about lack of DTS should turn up on the SONOS page but when I try to embed the post I am told it has been removed from the SONOS space. Check left for the thread. Click the image to enlarge and you'll see what I mean.

This has been an ongoing issue for more than a year. Looking at the original question in the SONOS forums, there are now 461 comments. None are especially flattering yet the official response can be summarised as: "No plans - tough luck punters."

In other news, SONOS recently took in $25 million with the purpose of cashing out some of the early investors. Nice.

Verdict

As we continue to surface examples of poor customer service, it is becoming increasingly obvious that technology cannot solve problems that are rooted in a management style that doesn't put customer service at the center of the offering. In this case, I suspect a set of conflicts are in play.

SONOS sells a hardware and software solution that tries to make the best of modern service based music solutions like Spotify, iTunes and others using a wifi mesh network approach. In one sense it is a poster child for the emerging services economy.

The software solution needs support but the company has no way to earn a revenue stream that reflects that need. I am sure that most users would willingly pay a modest maintenance or service fee to ensure that the softwares are developed and supported.

Stepping into the home theater space with the PlayBar was a great move but without BluRay support? Bonkers. Another argument for support fees.

The fact some of the founders have looked for at least a partial exit at this stage is a read flag. History teaches that when founders depart, companies flounder. I'm not suggesting that's the case here but the flags are up.

The company has taken a total of $394 million. We have no idea if it is profitable since it is able to hide behind its private status. I suspect it is making a modest profit but not sufficiently attractive to make for an IPO any time soon. The fact KKR have a substantial stake suggests the business is being milked for margin but of course this is all speculation.

The use of Facebook as a pure happy talk destination is really, really bad. Potential customers that do their research will soon find where the deficiencies lay. My sense is that most will be disappointed.

In the meantime and until I can get a solution, I'm looking at a $1,500 bricked hi-fi system.

Disclosure: RightNow is part of Oracle, which is a premier partner at the timing of writing.

Featured image via © joephuriphat - Fotolia.com

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