3 Things To Do When a Company Passes The Buck

Last Updated Jul 26, 2011 4:57 PM EDT

As I reviewed a recent claim by reader Thomas Hill against Sony, it occurred to me that his problem isn't unique to consumers.

We all like to pass the buck, whether we're buyers, sellers or random intermediaries.

Here's what happened to Hill: Late last year, he paid $304 for a Sony Cyber-shot DSCWX5 digital camera.

The unit worked fine for a while. But by the spring, little black marks began to appear in his images. He sent the camera back to the manufacturer and it FedExed the Cyber-shot back to him after repairing it.

At least that's what it told him.

The camera never arrived. He checked with Sony, and it gave him a tracking number.

"The tracking number appeared to be invalid," he told me. "No matching record could be found."

When he circled back with Sony, the company first claimed the camera had been delivered without a signature. After he assured them it hadn't arrived, Sony suggested Hill contact FedEx, since it was the shipping company's responsibility. Around and around they went.

"I am so frustrated with this," said, more than one month after his camera had gone missing. "All Sony can do is recite the tracking details back to me."

I asked Sony to look into the missing camera. It didn't respond to my request.

But there's a happy ending to this story, and I'll share that with you in a moment. But before I do, I wanted to offer some advice on how to persuade a company you're working with to do the right thing when it's tempted to point the finger at a third party.

Say they're responsible. A strong, unequivocal statement that Sony is responsible for getting the camera back to Hill would have signaled that he's not going allow the company to shunt the responsibility to someone else. Indeed, many disputes drag on needlessly because the offending company believes there's an agreement that it isn't responsible.

Put your request in writing. Many customers feel they'll get better service by phone. Not this time. Having a paper trail would have served Hill well, by which I mean he should have put his a grievance in writing, by email, and saved Sony's response. Phone the company and there's no record of your call that you can show anyone, unless you're taping the conversation. And that could run afoul of state wiretapping laws.

Appeal your case. Hill engaged the front line of Sony's customer service department. It's a good place to start, but you don't want to get stuck there. Appealing to a supervisor, or to a vice president of customer service, might have expedited his case, and brought him a quicker resolution.

So how did he get his camera back? Well, he didn't.

Hill called Sony. Repeatedly. Finally, he spent an hour on the phone with Sony last week explaining his problem. And this time, they listened.

"They told me that FedEx was sending them a reimbursement check and that Sony would send me a replacement camera," he told me. "I thanked them, but told them that in the month I had been waiting to hear back from them, I'd gone and purchased another camera."

Sony is sending Hill a refund check instead. Let's hope it doesn't get lost in the mail.

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Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate, syndicated columnist and curator of the On Your Side wiki. He's the author of the upcoming book Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals, which critics have called it "eye-opening" and "inspiring." You can follow Elliott on Twitter, Facebook or his personal blog, Elliott.org or email him directly.
Photo: TAKA@P.P.R.S/Flickr
  • Christopher Elliott

    Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate and journalist. A columnist for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the Washington Post, Elliott also has a nationally syndicated column and blogs about customer service for the Mint.com. He is at work on a book about customer service issues.