Electronic readers are a hot holiday gift. I recently wrote about two brands I'd tried (Kobo and Sony) and about the new $200 Kobo tablet.
Then, I started hearing from readers who had been trying and failing to contact Kobo. They said the company's customer service needed a shakeup.
CEO Mike Serbinis, eager to talk before, was incommunicado. I kept asking if he was available for an interview and kept being told he was out of town or too busy. (Kobo was acquired by a Japanese company during that time.)
Late last week, Kobo published a note on its blog, announcing improvements to customer service and promising to do better.
Customer care vice president Mark Stevens never said "we're sorry" or "we apologize" for the challenges some customers faced. But he did say they could expect shorter phone wait times and less delayed email responses.
So, what's going on at Kobo? Wish I knew. But I can tell you what my readers are saying.
Pavel Muller bought a Kobo Touch e-reader in July. It stopped working in November. He tried sending email, making phone calls and contacting the Kobo CEO on Twitter and Facebook. He got nowhere. Zilch. Nada.
"The service turns out to be somewhere between poor and non-existent," Muller said in an email, using the subject line "glacial service from Kobo."
John Turnbull's Kobo Touch e-reader stopped working after three months. He was told to deal with the manufacturer, but he ended up frustrated.
"Every email I've sent them comes back with a message that it has been sent to Tier 2. They asked me twice to send a picture of the bill of sale and the frozen unit. Twice.I have complied.
"I am unable to get in touch with them. Their phone lines only put me on hold, saying all their agents are busy due to higher than normal call volume."
Gord MacLean couldn't reach Kobo to replace his granddaughter's Christmas gift from last year. Soon, the one-year warranty was about to expire. Later, he thanked me for pushing the right button to resolve the impasse.
Rita Matsumoto-Kemball didn't get a response to her email to Serbinis. Kobo's help desk didn't return her calls.Even after she contacted me, she heard nothing.
Going to the Indigo store and speaking to the manager did the trick. She was given a replacement that worked properly.
"I am extremely disappointed in the Kobo help desk and Michael Serbinis. I now have second thoughts about buying these as gifts for Christmas," she said.
I'm not alone in fielding these complaints. I found others in online forums such as Good E-Reader and MobileRead, for example.
Is Kobo's pledge to repair its dysfunctional service coming too late?
I've owned a Sony Reader for three years and I've had to call customer service a few times. The agents I spoke to in El Salvador (South America) were courteous and helpful. I never had to wait.
I hope Kobo gets its act together.There's nothing worse than to be left dangling in the middle of an exciting book, unable to read further or to contact anyone who can help.
And if I ever get an answer to my interview request, I'll let you know.