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Letter to CEO Sony Ericsson Bert Nordberg
I was prompted to write this letter by the fact that you used to be the man in charge of communications at Ericsson and your colleagues speak highly of you, as a professional, who understands the reasons behind the events unfolding within the company. That isn't meant as flattery because otherwise this letter wouldn't have been written.
Over at Sony Ericsson you work in a different field, with new people and face new challenges. As someone who has been supporting Sony Ericsson ever since the day it was founded I would like to tell you a story, a story about how Sony Ericsson's employees have managed to make me disdain their products within the space of just two years. One could allude to a disdain for the brand displayed by regular consumers and my colleagues through unfavorable reviews in press, poor sales, and dismal financial results. However, I'm not going to take this route, as you already know about the gloomy state of affairs at Sony Ericsson more than anyone else, indeed they have led you to Sony Ericsson. At the same time I feel it's inappropriate for me to speak for everyone else so instead, using the outline of my own attitude towards Sony Ericsson as an example, I'll try to show you the problems raging within Sony Ericsson and invisible to outside observers, or intentionally concealed, as those who are responsible don't want to lose their jobs or bonuses. However, this letter isn't going to turn into a diatribe against a group of careless employees - rather it's the system that is collapsing at Sony Ericsson. This is an attempt by a former loyal consumer to help you take a look at your company from a different angle. Maybe my point of view will help you pinpoint weak spots and deal with them in a more efficient fashion. Maybe you'll give this letter little to no weight and ignore it, just like Sony Ericsson has been ignoring all the feedback concerning its operations from both users and journalists over the last few years. Denying there is a problem will never solve it, but it seems that this is exactly what the people over at Sony Ericsson are intent on doing. I hope that with your help Sony Ericsson's employees will get enough courage to face the truth and admit that there are problems within the company and the only way to fix the situation is to start working on those problems.
First allow me introduce myself, as we haven't met yet. I am the Editor-in-Chief of Mobile-Review.com, whose major focus is the telecommunications market. Over the years we have managed to earn the respect of all the players in this field and reach the watermark of 150,000-200,000 unique visitors a day. These people come from all around the world to read trustworthy information on mobile phones, accessories and have a chance to share their thoughts with like minded people. We have been focusing on Sony Ericsson's products since 2002; back then we saw great potential in the newcomer that Sony Ericsson was, and we weren't wrong. The rapid growth in the resources we had available and the up-to-the-minute information we provided our readers about them had much to do with Sony Ericsson's success.
In 2005 I was invited to Lund where I participated in a discussion on information security and that was also the place where we reached a gentlemen's agreement, according to which we were to forego all opportunities to publish any kind of information that could hurt the company. Several directives regarding security in Sony Ericsson saw implementation as a result of that meeting and our dialogue with Sony Ericsson was never confrontational or anything along these lines. As an online magazine we outline both the pros and cons of all products, without any exceptions, as it is our job to do and we never asked Sony Ericsson for any special privileges or friendship. We treat all players in the telecommunications market in the same way. Writing reviews for Mobile-Review.com I never deceived our readers - everything I wrote was nothing by my own impressions of products, companies, their actions and strategies. The marvelous group of phones, that the T610, P800, P910 and K750 definitely were, earned my honest support, as well as places in the pockets of my family, as I always try to get the best for my family. So, what has changed so much over the last couple of years? Why has my attitude gone from favorable to negative in such a dramatic fashion, and my reviews of Sony Ericsson products become so much "worse"?
СSony Ericsson employees have found a lot of reasons for that, but none of them even implied the deteriorating quality of their products or dishonesty in communications with the market and consumers. Out of kindness, for the entirety of 2007, I was trying to show many people inside the company that a crisis was coming and they had to move swiftly to prevent it, but I eventually gave up as all my efforts proved fruitless, and I failed to break through the idea that "the company was going through temporary difficulties, which should not be treat as something serious". It has been two years since then, and now temporary difficulties have grown into something much bigger.
The reason behind my negative attitude towards Sony Ericsson stems from the dishonesty in their relationships with consumers, and, let's be straight, things aren't much different within the company either. Let me give you a very telling example: when you predecessor, Dick Komiyama, visited Russia, he toured around several stores selling Sony Ericsson's phones, but prior to his arrival all these stores were adorned with special racks for the company's products, placed in the best spots, which then disappeared overnight. "Don't be, just appear" seems to be the motto of the company that you are managing today. This approach has grown beyond sporadic instances and is now used across the company on all levels. Research data and the results of focus groups get intentionally modified, which leads to catastrophic consequences when some models collect dust on the shelves of retail stores for years, the most recent example being the Sony Ericsson W980 and Sony Ericsson X1. This dishonesty within Sony Ericsson doesn't concern me as a consumer - after all this are the company's own private concern. Nor am I worried about machinations with regard to market share in some regions that don't match the official sales results in real terms. If that's the way Sony Ericsson wants to do business - so be it. If your employees don't want to be strong efficient professionals who can sell their products, and instead are much happier with the role of fakers, who can only show their competence on paper - then that's what the company has chosen to be.
As a consumer, though, I am worried about different problems. Such as the impossibility to have my phone repaired in time; or getting an inherently defective part replaced without having to go to extremes instead of being able to have all my phone's flaws fixed for free in no time. Undoubtedly, each of these cases may be called "a sporadic occurrence that is well within the calculated percentage of defective parts" by your employees. Maybe. However, as a consumer I see now that these problems have been ignored for several years.
Furthermore, whenever journalists attempt to inform our audiences about these flaws we start getting letters in which it's explicitly stated that we shouldn't write about that as such issues are non-existent. However, this policy goes very well with some of Sony Ericsson's employees' statements that "journalists can't make conclusions - they should leave this to their audience", showing how clueless they are about the way mass media works, who journalists are, and how to work with them. It's public communications 101. In Russia, a permanent member on the list of the key markets, there is no such position as PR Manager for Sony Ericsson. The same holds true for several other markets, leading to a situation where Sony Ericsson can't communicate with magazines and other resources as the company simply lacks the required tool to make it possible. Sometimes the functions of PR specialists are assumed by other employees, which frequently results in ugly situations due to their lack of knowledge in this field, further alienating the company, making any kind of dialogue impossible.
Dishonesty is where the root of all evil in Sony Ericsson lies. Inspired by their previous success the company's employees got carried away by the race for higher positions and bigger bonuses, forgetting about their job along the way. They have lost the spirit of innovation, which the company was so famous for. Real innovations have been substituted by dreams. As a consumer I'm offered rapidly aging and overpriced phones that have no future on the market under the guise of 'state-of-the-art solutions'. Another manifestation of the company's dishonesty was when Sony Ericsson tried to persuade me via weak PR and advertising that these were marvelous products. In order not to appear to be making baseless accusations I shall give you another example of this dishonesty, this time towards the company's partners. A while ago Sony Ericsson established 'Retail Portal' for their distributors, where the latter can get advice, learn more about the models and upload extras. For several years now this portal has been updated on a very irregular basis, while in several countries, including Russia, some sections don't work at all these days, while others lead to nowhere, but that's not the worst part. Sony Ericsson's sales guides compare certain solutions not with state-of-the-art models, but rather with those that are about to get withdrawn from the market, or with solutions that are in no way direct rivals to them. As a result Sony Ericsson's marketing department manages to convey the main point to your partners and retailers - dishonesty. Obviously, in real life these sales guides are next to useless, so essentially the company is throwing the money spent on them away.
This situation is not your fault. Nor it is the fault of your predecessor alone - it is the grand total of efforts by different people who form the company. At some point dishonesty became a part of the equation and now it has slipped into every single aspect of Sony Ericsson's operations. Some see it, some can't spot it, but instead feel it, and this leads to very negative feedback. At present the brand value is deteriorating at an alarming pace and this trend is much more dangerous that plummeting sales, which you can get back to their previous level by churning out decent products. However, winning back the love of consumers, organizing communications with the press and making way for future projects are tasks of a totally different order. The recent shake-up of the top management shows that the problem has been recognized and this gives me, as a former user of Sony Ericsson's products, at least some hope. Please, don't ruin it - you now have a chance that very few get. A chance to resurrect a once-famous phone maker from the situation it is in today, but achieving this goal is impossible without a grain of honesty in your relationships with consumers, partners and press. It may seem like a trivial task, but in reality this is probably the greatest challenge facing you. You have an enormous reputation and people are willing to wait a year longer just to see something positive or see that at least some things are changing for the better. For now, though, all we see is dishonesty and deterioration, announcements of lackluster solutions that are touted as state-of-the-art phones.
Sony Ericsson has gone so far down this path that their dishonesty is running the company every day, which is why I've decided to make this letter public - it'll help your employees think things over and try to find a way to make things better for the sake of the company. After all, this is the only way to make sure you'll read this letter. I'm not expecting you to reply, as it would be unnecessary. Let your reply take a form of some initiative, a system of communications with consumers and/or press that you will get in gear by the end of this year; or a list of steps you will take to turn things around for Sony Ericsson. If you will feel the need to start a dialogue we will be more than happy to have one - we can serve as a platform, from which you'll have a chance to address your former and future consumers, those who know and love Sony Ericsson, but making you go public isn't the main goal of this letter. Just try to turn things around and clean these Augean stables. I honestly hope that you will succeed.
Published 21 September 2009
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