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Summary:

Smartphones are very sophisticated gadgets, and it is not always clear what is at fault when things go wrong. Getting the problem resolved can be a frustrating experience. Here are some suggestions to help tame the beast that is the non-working smartphone.

Smartphones

Smartphones are so much more than phones, they are now full-blown computers. They make phone calls and do texting, but that’s just a small piece of the feature set on today’s phones. While the smartphone is rapidly changing the mobile habits of society, when things go wrong it can be a frustrating experience. It is not always clear where to go when things don’t work the way they should.

It should be a straightforward process to get help when the phone stops working properly, but it can be a frustrating process. There are two entities involved in bringing you the smartphone, and it is often not clear where you should turn for help. The first tier is the phone carrier; they are usually the one that sold you the phone, and they are responsible for making sure you are happy with it. Then there is the phone manufacturer who made the failing phone. They have a stake in wanting to make sure you are happy with the phone, too.

Technically, most carrier contracts spell out how they, and they alone are responsible for supporting the phone that is no longer working. It makes sense that if a product fails, the easiest solution is to drop by the carrier’s store and get it taken care of. Anyone who has tried to do that will quickly point out the folly in such an effort. Phone carriers handle a lot of different phones, and it is rare to find someone in the store you visit that has even touched the type of phone you are bringing in. They are usually the worst at addressing your particular problem, and as this account on TechBlog points out, they may have an internal incentive to get you to switch to a different phone even if you don’t wish to do so:

My original salesperson, upon hearing me say I was there for the Palm Pre, immediately mentioned that they were running a special on the Droid.  I said terrific but I’m here for the Pre. The salesman finally got one out for me but no one at Verizon had any idea how it worked, how to set it up, or even how the screen functioned.  It took Verizon over 3 hours just to [get] the Pre “set up”, apparently because “the guy” who knew about the Pre was not there.

If the phone carrier isn’t a good place to get smartphone problems addressed, then there is the manufacturer. Surely they are familiar with their own product and can quickly supply a solution to your problem. Unfortunately, the reality is not always what logic dictates. The first problem you encounter working with the phone maker directly is one of speed. They are not built to get your phone problem rectified right away, which is what you need. Even the companies making a concerted effort to help customers need time to assess your problem, research internally to see if others are having the same issue, and assessing whether your phone is defective or some other solution is sufficient.

That last part is the sticking point, because if they determine your phone is defective and needs replacing, odds are they have to send you to your carrier. That starts the process all over again, but with folks who don’t really know anything about your phone as demonstrated. And they aren’t going to take the word of the phone’s manufacturer that they should just replace your phone. They have processes in place that have to be followed like a script, and as anyone who’s gone through them will tell you, they cannot be rushed.

So what’s an owner with a problem phone supposed to do? Usually the best thing to do first is to go online and find out if others with your phone are having the same problem you are experiencing. Start off with a specific search on Google or other search engine. It’s amazing how often something like “Palm Pre with blanking screen” can return a specific solution to your problem. If nothing else, it can usually tell you if it is a known problem, and if there is a fix for it.

Smartphones are complicated gadgets, and it is not that unusual to find out that a known problem has no fix by the manufacturer. That limits your next action, which is likely to go back to the carrier and make them switch you to another phone. Sometimes your online search will point to a defective handset as the problem, so demand a new unit from your carrier. Their ultimate goal is to make you happy, just be prepared to make a fuss if required to get a new unit.

There are enthusiast web sites for every smartphone ever made, and these are often good places to find out if your problem is a common one. Many times you will find that other owners are experiencing the problem that is frustrating you, and they have experimented and found a solution. This might just be a temporary solution until the manufacturer addresses a better fix, but the fact is you don’t care if it gets you back in business. These online communities are wonderful for these types of solutions.

One of the first places I turn when faced with a smartphone problem is Howard Forums. Their online community is massive, and there is no phone that is not represented somewhere in the various forums. It is not always easy to find solutions in this massive resource, but persistence often yields results. Other communities of note for different phones that should be at the top of the list of searches:

These are not all of the online communities that have a wealth of information about phones by any means, but they are the first places I turn when I have a problem. The major phone carriers all have user forums too, and those can be a good place to get information quickly.

The important thing to remember when faced with a phone that is not working properly, is to be persistent. Having multiple companies involved in the support equation can result in finger pointing, which doesn’t do you any good. You are a customer and should be happy. Make sure they are certain you will not be satisfied with things the way they are.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

As Windows Mobile Stumbles, Which Smartphone OS Will Seize the Lead?

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  1. PalmPreBlog.com Wednesday, March 3, 2010

    For expensive smartphones, it might a good idea to pay $5/month insurance or device protection fee to have peace of mind.

  2. James nice collection of smartphones, hopefully you don’t have trouble all at once. ;)

  3. Your article James has touched off a nerve, so excuse me while I vent here a little.

    Back in January of 2009 my HTC smartphone went dead. I was on T-Mobile with the device and paid the monthly Premium Handset Protection fee, which covered for malfunction.

    My first call went to TMO customer service, who redirected me to contact Asurion, the insurance provider. Asurion, in turn, redirected me back to TMO, as it is TMO that handles phone warranty claims. You can guess that this was not getting off to a good start! :(

    I called back TMO customer service, four times in fact. Each time I was told that my problem would be taken care of, was placed on hold for half an hour, and then the call was disconnected. I was not happy. My bill had just arrived as well, and I was certainly not going to pay for service every month when I did not have a working handset to use. It was evident TMO was refusing to honor their warranty obligation by not providing me with a replacement device.

    On my fifth call to TMO, I canceled my account.

    My next step was a complaint filed with the BBB. T-Mobile’s response to the BBB was an outright lie, claiming I was using an entirely different device and that I was covered under the “manufacturer warranty only”. WTF!?!? I sent evidence to the BBB in my response to prove my claim. The BBB took no further action and marked the case as “unresolved”.

    With nothing else to lose I had my attorney draft a letter to T-Mobile and request an explanation regarding their failure to adhere to the terms and conditions outlined in the PHPW service contract. The letter was mailed USPS certified return receipt. Need I say T-Mobile never responded to my attorney’s letter.

    Following this I filed a complaint with the FCC, citing breach of contract on T-Mobile’s part. Other than a response from the FCC that they are “investigating” the issue, something that was sent months ago, I have yet to receive a decision from the department. My last letter to the FCC was sent close to six weeks ago, and the agency has failed to respond. I wonder who the FCC is in bed with???

    In the meantime, T-Mobile has sent my account to a collections agency, claiming, amongst other things, two monthly payments for the PHP fee – the same PHP that they refuse to honor.

    I am now considering taking T-Mobile to court, having failed to reach an amicable solution through them, the BBB and the FCC.

    I would be glad to hear of anybody else that has been screwed when filing a phone insurance claim, and what steps were taken to resolve the problem.

    My apologies James, for expressing my situation here.

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