Sunday, July 06, 2008

Beware Buying Anything From Panasonic

Be aware that this is going to be a long rant about Panasonic, a company with which I have been engaged in a battle for the past six months. Whether they are dishonest or just plain incompetent, I'm not yet certain, but I am sure that I will never again purchase a Panasonic product, if I can help it, and I am advising you to do the same. Once you're read what I have to write, maybe you'll understand my frustration.

Some dates, conversations, etc. in the early part of my tale may be shaky; I would have kept better notes if I'd known what hell I was stepping into when I first bought my Panasonic DVD recorder: DMR-EH75V with VHS, an 80GB hard drive and a TV Guide On Screen function for $429.99. I bought this in March 2007 at the local Circuit City and had no problems with it until around last Christmas. I burned literally hundreds of DVD-Rs using it, most of them Taiyo Yudens. But then, late last year, the DVD drive crapped out on it. It wouldn't boot any discs. Wouldn't play or record, because it wouldn't accept any discs. I made my first (of what so far has been dozens) telephone call to the Panasonic Customer Care (PCC, from now on) line, where I soon learned they don't "care" about their customers. The operator I spoke to said he would send me a disc to update the firmware.

"If the machine doesn't boot any discs, how am I going to update the firmware with your disc?"

He hemmed and hawed, and suggested I try it anyway. Several days later, the disc comes, and, hey, what do you know, it doesn't work. Why a trained Panasonic Customer Care worker didn't see this coming, and I—a regular Joe—did is anyone's guess. So I called back, and they suggested I ship the machine off to the Repair Center (PRC, hereupon) in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. It was still under its original warranty, so they emailed me a shipping label and advised I take it to a UPS store for free shipping.

Super-fast turnaround—they received it January 22, and I had it back less than two weeks later. According to their official paperwork, they "replaced DVD drive," and I could tell, because it made a loud sound when it opened, closed and burned discs. After the first two DVD-Rs I attempted to burn failed, causing the machine to go into "disc recovery mode," I called the PCC, who advised me to send the machine back to the PRC. I said, "I just got it back yesterday! (you have to let the machine sit with the power off for 24 hours after initial setup for the TV Guide On Screen function)" No avail, so they emailed me another shipping label, I disconnected all the cords and wires, put it back in the original box, took it back to the UPS Store, shipped it back to Elk Grove Village.

This happened about three weeks later, because it took me some time to get the label and make the frustrating effort to take everything apart and send the machine in. Around March 11, I get the machine back with a letter from the PRC that tells me, literally, they did nothing to it. According to them, it works perfectly, everything checks out, they found nothing wrong with it, they made zero repairs. So I hook it back up, set it up, wait 24 hours, burn some discs…same problem. A couple here and there work fine, but, out of ten attempts, only three burn successfully.

Another call to the PCC. Another request to send the unit back to the PRC. I'm fuming by this time, and ask why I would want to do that. What is the point of me sending the unit in again, if they aren't going to fix it? I eventually move up from the regular operator to someone in charge named Charles (and I'm too riled up to make the obvious Scott Baio joke). My questions are pretty straightforward—namely, why should I send the unit back to the PRC, since they didn't fix the problem the first time? I'm really angry, since they just flat out refused to fix the problem that I know perfectly well exists. Charles is no help whatsoever, just repeating his mantra, "Send it to the Repair Center." I tell him that I would rather not, I would rather someone came up with an alternate solution that would involve the least amount of work for me, but no one at Panasonic is capable of thinking outside the box. After more than an hour of speaking to the PCC, I decide, okay, hell, I guess I'll have to send the machine back.

This time, I write Panasonic a 1-page letter (on the PCC's advice) outlining exactly what is wrong and what I think the problem is. It's fairly obvious that the replacement DVD drive is defective, considering what has taken place. I enclose the letter, the previous work orders and invoices, a copy of my Circuit City receipt, and a copy of my extended warranty, which I purchased while the unit was at the PRC the first time.

I get it back the third time April 16. According to the work order, all they did was install firmware. I plug the unit in, set it up…IT STILL DOESN'T FUCKING WORK!

I don't even bother to call the PCC this time, I go straight to the PRC, which is difficult, 'cause they're only open 7am–4pm weekdays, when I'm at work. I speak to someone in their Customer Service department named Antoinette, who seems friendly and interested in helping. While being firm and as polite as possible (I don't shout or call names), I explain the problem and what's going on and ask why they refuse to fix a machine that is clearly in need of repair. Another hour on the phone of her asking me to send the machine back (for a fourth time!), and me asking her why I should, when they clearly have no interest in helping me. She promises to take a personal interest in the case and says that I can call her directly anytime I want, if I'd like to monitor the situation.

I can't believe this is actually happening, but…another shipping label, another disconnection (by this time, my original box has been beaten up by so many trips through the mail, so I'm using the box the PRC sent the unit back in, but I use plenty of padding, because they barely bothered to wrap it at all), another trip to the UPS Store.

This time, the PRC has my unit for six weeks. During that time, I made perhaps 25 calls to them. About two weeks after I shipped it, Antoinette called me at home around 8am. She said that a technician had discovered the problem and that parts were on order. She said she did not know who the technician was or what parts they were, but they were waiting for the parts to arrive, and then the unit would be fixed.

"So they did discover that there was a problem?" I asked.
Her exact answer: "Yes."

That afternoon, I get a call from Victor, a technician, who tells me that they have looked at my machine several times and they can find nothing wrong with it, so they are going to have to send it back to me unrepaired. Obviously, someone has misplaced his or her talking points. I ask, "Why did Antoinette just tell me that you were ordering parts for it?" He says he will ask her, and when he comes back, he says she is busy and can't come to the phone, but she told him she never told me that. Obviously, somebody is lying. I make it quite clear to him that I want the unit repaired. He claims they ran diagnostics tests, that they had other technicians look at it, and that they burned several discs successfully. "How is it possible for it to work perfectly at your place, and not at mine?" He has no answer.

I ask him, "Are you telling me that you burned ten DVD-Rs and they all worked?"
"I don't know how many discs, but everything is fine."
He asks me what brands I use, and I told him I have tried different kinds, but primarily Taiyo Yuden. It isn't the discs, because I have the same problem with all brands. I ask him what he used.
"We have our own special kind, Panasonic discs."

Over the next couple of weeks, at my demand, they keep the machine and claim to run more tests on it. Honestly, I don't know if they ever take it out of the box. What is an incontrovertible fact is that this DVD recorder is defective and does not work properly, no matter what Panasonic says. I begged Victor to just replace the DVD drive and send it back to me. He refused, saying he would have to explain to his superiors why he replaced a perfectly good DVD drive. I told him it's not a perfectly good DVD drive, it doesn't work, but he refused to listen.

Finally, during the first half of June, I talk more to Antoinette, who, at my request, gives me her supervisor, Estrella, who is a Customer Service supervisor. At this point, nobody from the PRC is returning my calls (and complicating the matter is the fact that I just changed my phone number, because of my impending move). Estrella is also completely useless—just telling me that the technicians could find no problem, that they would have to return my unit to me, and they could not send me a replacement unit.

Sidebar: in the event Panasonic were unable to repair my unit, they say they will ship me a new unit, free of charge. The problem is Panasonic no longer makes the DMR-EH75. During one conversation with the PCC, a female operator told me they didn't have any new ones.

"You mean there isn't one DMR-EH75 anywhere? Not one left over in a warehouse someplace?"

She said they were completely sold out of every unit. I asked her why they didn't make it anymore, and she said Panasonic decided there was not enough demand for units with hard drives inside, so they stopped making them. Setting aside the idea that no consumers want hard drives (since everyone I know who owns a DVD recorder has one with a hard drive), I asked her, "how can there be no demand for this machine, when you just told me you sold every single one that you made?" Unsurprisingly, she had no answer.

Back to the present (and, believe me, there are a lot of conversations I am leaving out in the name of something approaching brevity, including someone at the PCC who flatout lied to me and made me jump through some hoops that, another operator admitted later, there was no reason). My machine returns from the PRC around June 24. At this point, I'm in a different residence, different electricity, maybe just different vibes, who knows? I really am trying to give Panasonic some benefit of the doubt, that maybe, miraculously, there is some situation in which my DVD recorder would work perfectly in Elk Grove Village and inconsistently at best in Champaign.

I hook the machine up. Forget about the TV Guide To Go (which I don't think works with my new DirecTV HD DVR). I just want to burn DVD-Rs. I start with a new batch of Taiyo Yudens. The first three work, then one doesn't. I open a new batch of Maxells. One works, one doesn't. Then I try a new batch of Sonys. Four in a row—unsuccessful. This DVD recorder does not work.

Today, I call the PCC, because Estrella told me there was nothing more the Repair Center could do for me (which is also what Customer Care told me months ago). She did give me her superior's extension, but, of course, a message on his/her voicemail resulted in no callback. My plan now is to just keep moving up the chain until I find somebody who can pull the trigger and get something done, whether it's repairing my unit or sending a replacement.

Today, I tell the operator at PCC that I want a supervisor. I get David, who will only say he's a "member of management."

"What's your job title?"
"I speak for management."
"What does that mean?"
"I am a member of management."

After more than a half-hour, I get nowhere. David's only advice is to return my unit to…yep…the Repair Center. I tell him I've done this four times already. What will happen the fifth time that has not already happened? He says he can't tell me. He says he will send an email to someone there who can follow up.

"Who are you emailing?"
"I can't tell you."
"Just give me a name, any name."
"I can't give you a phone number, outside of the toll-free general number, or an email address."
"I'm not asking you for that. I just want a name I can ask for at the Repair Center, so I can follow up on your email."
"I don't have a name. I'm sending an email to a group. You're asking me who will be assigned to your case, and I don't know who that will be."
"No, I'm not. I'm asking you for the name of somebody within that group who can tell me who is assigned my case."

We pretty much go around in circles. He's telling me that I'm not giving him a chance to help me, and I tell him that I have already given his co-workers dozens of chances to help me. None of them has, and how can he ensure me that he will do anything different? He cannot.

Finally, I ask to speak to his supervisor, which he does not want to do. He tells me it is Charles (remember him?).

"What's his job title?"
"Member of management."
"What does that mean?"
"He can speak for management."
"So can you. Is he above you? You're a member of management."
"He is a Lead."
"Lead. That's what it says on his business card? Lead?"
"He is a Lead, and he will tell you what I'm telling you. He will call you back sometime in the next 24 to 48 hours."

I didn't mention to you before, but I told David, that I have been fed that "24–48 hour" b.s. before. Someone at PCC once told me they would call me back within 24-48 hours, and I finally called them back nearly two weeks later. They said, "We don't have a record here of anyone promising to call you back." Yeah, just like nobody at the Repair Center has any record of a technician ordering parts for my DVD recorder (by the way, when I asked, Estrella told me it was impossible for anyone to delete information from the work notes, which I'm not convinced of).

I asked David today who Charles' supervisor was. He was really steamed at this point. "I know what you're trying to do, you're trying to work your way up the chain to find someone who can give you what you want." I had to admit he was right.

"You can't speak to his supervisor today."
"Fine. Just what is the name?"
"Lovette (sp?)."
"What is her job title?"
"Supervisor."
"The first person I spoke to today, I asked her to speak to a supervisor. I thought you were a supervisor."
"I am not."
"So it goes: Member of Management, Member of Management—Lead, Supervisor, in that order?"

So, now, I am waiting for Charles to call me back, which may or may not ever happen. I plan to call Estrella or perhaps her supervisor (I have that extension) tomorrow, if I'm able. Today is July 6, 2008, so you can see how long this has been going on.

I'm not just writing this to vent, but also to seek advice from you. What else should I do? Where else should I turn? Should I go to Small Claims Court? Contact the Elk Grove Village Better Business Bureau? Do I have a legal leg to stand on? Should I post this message somewhere else? Should I call someone? Or should I just say "screw it" and toss the damn DVD recorder in the trash? Anyone who would like to add their 2 cents or just share a Panasonic (or any other company) customer service story of their own, please leave a comment or email me privately. I really feel I'm at the end of my rope.

10 comments:

Richard Harland Smith said...

Great. Guess who I just ordered my penile implant from.

Moviezzz said...

Marty,

Sorry to read this.

I've had a Panasonic DMR E80 with a hard drive for 4 or 5 years now. I haven't had to deal with the service so far.

But a few weeks ago, I had the same problem. I would record onto a DVD and as soon as I would stop, it would fail in the burning and go into disc recovery mode.

I went through 4 or 5 DVDs, same thing.

I tried everything, even the firmware update. Same thing happened.

For me, it turned out it was just the DVDs I was using. They were Memorex, the kind I normally use, but they must have changed their formula or something and it just didn't work. I tried another brand (basic Staples DVD-R) , and it worked fine.

Have you tried one of the low end blank DVD-Rs like Staples?

And I don't know why Panasonic got rid of the hard drive. That was a great feature.

Good luck.

William said...

Good gawd! What a nightmare. Keep up the fight though.

Anonymous said...

Marty - they're in breach of their contract for after sales support. If their original contract stated they would replace a defective item, then that's what they have to do and if your model is no longer current, they're supposed to go to the next highest model. I went through a similar round of bullshit with Hewlett-Packard when my laptop developed recurring power cord issues.. Three years later, I got a check in the mail yesterday for my repair costs, courtesy of a class action lawsuit settlement because of allegations that HP KNEW those units were defective. Sounds like there may be similar issues with Panasonic's DVD recorders. Have you Googled to see if you can find mention of others having the same problem? If you get no joy from them, don't be afraid of going the Small Claims route. It's pretty simple to do and your case seems to be straightforward - I can't imagine them winning. Oh, and I'd do the BB thing, too. Can't hurt.

Robert said...

You may remember my own tales of woe with the Panasonic DMR-ES40V I have. No hard drive but from the start it only had a very mediocre success rate in finalizing DVD-R discs, then eventually proved unable to play or record DVD+R discs. It also went through some funky operational seizures. But hey, the VHS works! Panasonic sent a firmware upgrade that did nothing. I didn't have a service center that close by, and eventually just bought a different unit, different brand (Samsung) that has worked like a charm. Go figure. Every once in a while I tempt the Gods by using the Panasonic to do a DVD-R recording, and it's a coin toss as to whether it shall perform or not. (Richard, take note of that fact regarding your penile implant).

As for possible follow-up a complaint to the Better Business Bureau is easily done, but do any of your local TV stations' news teams have a consumer advocate on staff? I've seen a number of stations with a reporter who specializes in taking on businesses that fail or blatantly deceive Joe and Jane Consumer. Perhaps not too surprisingly when media cameras become involved suddenly there is a resolution to the problem. Consumer advocates love making companies sweat, and the best ones pursue a resolution with the same tenacity a frothing pit bull would have for lunching on a postal carrier's testicles. I'd seriously consider that avenue; your story represents that classic nightmare of dealing with a big company who have precious little regard for the people that buy their product. Shelley Berman would have made a killer routine of this story.

J. Brown said...

At this point, I might bypass Panasonic completely and head over to Circuit City. Since you said you have a service plan or extended warranty through them, it may be possible (and undoubtedly easier) to tell them "This f-in thing doesn't work, Panasonic said I should bring it in to you". Feed them a line of bull if necessary and, since it appears that Panasonic's service center does not keep detailed records as you do, they wouldn't be able to verify or deny it.

If it was worth more money, I'd also suggest getting a lawyer involved. Generally, for a small retainer fee, they can at least draft a strongly worded letter that will scare the crap out of most companies, enough to get you what you're looking for.

Chicken said...

Obviously, you should drive up to Elk Grove village and throw your DVD burner through their window with a note saying: "I just did more then you did to fix this problem"

K-tina said...

Great advice from all beforehand. Only advice to offer would be to post this to some additional blogs/online communities. And email the corporate office telling them about the situation and what you are doing to make other consumers more away.

Also, I want to add my understanding and sympathy. Too many companies suck.

Marty McKee said...

I did file a complaint with the BBB on Sunday. Panasonic has 20 days to respond. Also, I posted this entry on several AV forums, as well as Amazon as a customer review of the unit. Thanks for all the advice and support I've received so far.

Mike said...

Marty,

Try bringing it right back to Circuit City, they are usually pretty good about things like that when you have an extended warranty...