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HTC's UK repair centre suffering long delays, confusion

Smartphones just not a prestige product any more

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HTC has admitted its UK service centre is failing to repair and return handsets on schedule, but tells us the problems will soon disappear thanks to its new service centre.

Until then some HTC customers are being asked to wait almost two months for fixes that were promised in 10 days, and they are the lucky ones. Others report that HTC lost their handsets entirely, only for them to turn up a week later along with promises of deliveries which never arrive, and collections that don't get collected.

The details of what's going on remain unclear, but it is obvious that HTC has been critically unprepared to provide the kind of warranty support necessary if you're going to compete on price for the latest high technology goods.

Here at The Reg we get a lot of complaints about the quality of mobile service offered by operators and manufacturers, and we read every one to see if trends are emerging. Every company has a disgruntled customer or two, but once the complaints start to mount up they might warrant investigation, and when they start arriving faster than we can read them then we really have to try and find out what's going on:

"We recently upgraded our service centre ... and are doing everything we can to get our customers' HTCs back into their hands as quickly as possible" is what HTC told us, but it seems that the upgrade has cost customers dearly.

"We must apologise for some confusion cause [sic] yesterday," is what the company told a customer who had already waited six weeks for his repair. "We accidentally advised you your device had an outstanding quotation. This was in error and your device is due to be inspected at the end of the week when warranty status will be confirmed by the engineers in our new repair centre." Hardly inspiring confidence.

The problem seems to be with that new repair centre, which isn't properly equipped with the parts needed to get the phones working again. Persistent customers are being advised of this, when they can get through to someone who knows.

Staff are, eventually, telling callers that the relocation has left the company with a 30-day backlog on repairs. That's 20 working days, so expect to add six weeks to any quoted repair time from HTC, and to be without a handset for that time.

Many customers will find this unacceptable, and others might decide to buy products from a company that can offer repairs with greater celerity, if they can find one.

Smartphones used to be premium products, with a price and level of service to match. A decade ago your correspondent dropped his Ericsson R520 (the UK's first Bluetooth handset) and the company sent a motorcycle round with an immediate replacement (and I wasn't a powerful journalist back then either, just someone with more money than sense as the R520 was a very expensive handset). But as the technology has gone mainstream, the products have become increasingly price-sensitive, and manufacturers have had to shave all the costs they can.

Customer support is also more difficult to provide than many companies imagine. Even Google got it horribly wrong in trying to provide support for the Nexus S, before giving up and handing such things over to Samsung, which has some experience in the area.

HTC used to be a manufacturer, not a brand. O2 sold HTC handsets for many years, and provided the support for them too. These days HTC wants to have its logo on the shelf, but is ill-equipped to provide the backup services expected by the end users.

This new service centre, and the problems associated with getting it going, might just be an inevitable hiccup in the creation of a new consumer brand; other companies have made the transition so there's no reason HTC shouldn't be able to do it too, eventually. But customers will end up paying a little more for their kit, and they'll always be a cheaper alternative.

Other Asian brands are lining up to get noticed in the UK, notably ZTE and Huawei, neither of which has experience in supporting and servicing end users. Not all those brands are going to survive, and hiccups can always be the precursor of something worse. ®

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