The unhealthy Jawbone UP has a 60 day life

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett September 6, 2013
Summary:
Jawbone UP's lack of reliability is leading to many hundreds of complaint. Jawbone's response is admirable on the surface but the issues are much deeper. It shows no sign of resolving them.

den health
Barely a week goes by since I was musing on the benefits of the 'healthy enterprise' and one of my favorite devices - the Jawbone UP - has died. You can see it on my wrist in this image.

Failure seems to becoming a boring regularity. Maybe I am unlucky but many of the consumer electronics I live with either die or develop serious faults in short order. OK - so things go wrong - but it is the frequency with which things go wrong that worries me. And the customer service problems that go alongside.

Long story short, I went to synch my Jawbone UP and nada...dead. It turns out the symptoms are well documented by other users in the Jawbone UP forums.

Amazon shows 344 out of 1,236 reviews giving the product a one star rating. Of those reviews, the vast majority are complaining about product quality issues of the kind I am describing. That's a full 27.8 percent of all reviews.

Of the most helpful one star reviews, I see the top of that list is rated as 'helpful' by 496 out of 580 raters. That's 85.5 percent. If I extrapolate that to assumed lost sales then Jawbone is likely a minimum of $63,064 in the hole right there and that's without extrapolating the impact of all the other reviews and the cost of replacement.

The scenario plays out like this:

  1. Jawbone UP develops a fault
  2. Customer contacts Jawbone - goes through a replacement process
  3. Second and subsequent devices die
  4. Customer gives up

Scanning through the customer stories it seems that the typical or average elapsed time between new/working and dead is around 60 days. There are variations around this but that's what I am roughly estimating from having spent several hours scanning various message boards.

Customer service fail

Jawbone seems to do a pretty good job of providing replacements but its warranty and returns policy suck.

It offers a one year warranty but that seems to work out at 60 days in reality. That prevents many customers getting a refund. It is not clear whether  Jawbone is operating under the letter of the law in non-US geographies. But when a device costs €129, how far will most consumers go to enforce their rights under what is already a complex minefield of consumer law?

My guess is that Jawbone has undertaken a a risk analysis and calculates that even though some may well complain, replacement is enough to get them by. I believe that's foolish in light of what else we know.

Jawbone very helpfully offers support forums that run on Lithium technology. The tech works well and the search is as accurate as you're likely to get given the possible variations in search terms. But Jawbone is making a real mess of managing the forums.

It replies occasionally to questions but it seems to have given up on this one. I have seen some complainants reporting that Jawbone has acknowledged identical problems with the Gen 1 device but is doing nothing to communicate the current status. This would not be so bad if it wasn't for the fact this sudden is a recurrent problem stretching back well over a year.

In essence, Jawbone seems to be accepting a disproportionately high failure rate as the cost of offering a solution for which it can charge a premium in the market when compared with FitBit products. Here's an example of how this manifests in the consumer's mind:

Most frustrating-Jawbone won't acknowledge that there is anything wrong with this product, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that these are not isolated product failures.

What's more, and as another commenter on Amazon pointed out, Jawbone is using social channels to provide little more than canned platitudes. Here's a good example: 

Hi Larry,
We are really sorry to hear that your support experience was anything less than amazing. We'd like to make this right for you. Please contact us at [email protected] so that we can take a look at your case.

--Jawbone Support

Finally under this head, the standard response to the claimed 24 hour response time for emailed questions is the claim they have an unusually high number of service requests, will get to it as soon as possible - hopefully in 48 hours. OK - but that's also been a long running problem. This further adds to my assessment that there are serious and persistent process problems inside Jawbone.

Verdict

We are seeing more and more examples where retail brands are not getting to grips with what technology can offer them. The answers are almost always relatively simple and often center around poor communication processes. It is not the technology.

  1. What customers want is a reliable product and assurances that the company is doing something about defects. That's not happening. As a result, the complaints pile up.
  2. The use of social channels is recognized as a net good for communication but when it is not used effectively then it is a serious failure to understand how a company can both remedy problems and improve its service quality. It's about winning back hearts and minds. It's not that hard.
  3. The market for health related gadgets is highly competitive. Those vendors that distinguish themselves by solving the customer service angle will win.
  4. Amazon represents an important retail outlet for any brand. Sooner or later, it will have to bow to the calls for such defective products to be withdrawn from its catalog. If nothing else, the knock on impact to its own business model will weigh into those decisions. I wonder if Amazon has undertaken a global impact analysis on defective product returns? It has the technology.
  5. Complexity in distribution channels means that brands have to figure out how they will mediate all channels. For example, if an item is bought in one geography and used in another then how will it offer fair warranty terms? Apple has pretty much figured this out. Nike does a good job as well.

Endnote: I've filed a complaint with Jawbone and we'll see what happens. In the meantime, I've lost faith in an otherwise great idea and will be acquiring a FitBit.