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Husqvarna: an experience in support hell April 30, 2016

Posted by Sacha in /dev/null.
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This is the story of a horrible support experience. It shows how choices made by a company can impact their customers and cast a very bad image on an otherwise good company with good products. This story shows what happens when a company think they are done with their customers once the sale happened. That’s a mistake. Selling should be the first milestone in a long journey…

Last summer, I decided to buy a lawn mowing robot. I had already bought other types of robots in the past, but they never quite did the job. But based on reviews, the lawn-mowing-type might be ready for prime-time. I don’t have a big garden at all, but during the week I work, on Saturday I have plenty of “catch-up” activities from the week and on Sunday … you are not allowed to mow in Switzerland… So my grass would grow, grow, making it clear that the next mowing session would be a true fight in the trenches, so… one more good reason to postpone even further… Anyway, after a careful review and selection process I went for the Husqvarna Automower 308, part of their their entry-level offering.

I did the setup and had it to work for the rest of the Summer 2015. It was a total success: no need to mow the lawn anymore, perfect cut, silent, etc. the ideal type of robot.

At the end of the Summer, I cleaned it, making sure not to use high-pressure water, but instead using a sponge and some (non running) water, being careful at not damaging it, following the advices of the user guide. Then I stored it in a dry place for the Winter.

Spring 2016, time comes to wake up my robot: I set it up again and… my robot shows signs of mad-cow disease: it starts moving and one of the wheel starts, stops, starts, stops, until the robot fully stops and beeps with a message: problem with the right wheel engine. Damned! How can a robot get damaged while sleeping in a basement?!? Especially after following the requirements set in the user guide!

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 13.43.00.png

Anyway, not only do goods in Switzerland automatically get a 2 years warranty by default, but I also bought a premium warranty service. I wasn’t quite sure what the premium warranty was for, candidly, but knowing I had bought the device from an online shop and this being an expensive buy, I thought it would probably not hurt to have a safety net.

So I contact the “premium” support company, Setronics, ship them the robot and wait for a reply (they’re supposed to give me feedback in the next 24h). No word, this worries me. So I contact them and here is the simple message I’m getting:

Nous avons recu une devis de Mower World.

Cette dégat ce une influence extérieure.La garantie est refusé.

Translating from (Swiss German) French to English:

We received a quote from Mower World

This damage has an external cause. The Warranty is refused.

And attached to the email, a detailed quote from a company called “Mower World“, with a repair cost of … Fr. 1’103.-, for a machine I bought (new) a few months ago for Fr. 1’490.-!

Let me dissect the situation for you:

  • The online shop, Galaxus.ch in that case, doesn’t handle support directly, the support goes to the company who sold me the “Premium” warranty, Sertronics.
  • Sertronics does NOT handle the repair themselves (at least for Husqvarna), they work with one of Husqvarna’s certified repair center, an independent company, in that case Mower World – it is NOT possible to send your device to Husqvarna, you must work with those independent certified shops.
  • Mower World decree that i) this is my fault and ii) I must replace ALL of the engines and ALL of the electronics, for a total worth 80% of a new model
  • The new equivalent model that replaces my 308 (the 308 is not being sold anymore, but the 105 is a carbon copy) is now sold by Galaxus.ch for … Fr. 1’107.-, the exact price of the repair 🙂

What goes through my brain at this point is that:

  • I know I properly handled my machine and cleaned it following the requirements of the user guide, so this machine should be repaired under warranty.
  • If some water indeed went into the machine, then it means something went wrong despite following Husqvarna’s advice

Furthermore, the quote from Mower World makes no sense to me. As an engineer, it just doesn’t compile. My robot is able to start, its onboard computer is fine (as I can interact with it), and I know that at least one of the engines is totally fine. So replacing ALL engines and the onboard computer just doesn’t pass the sniff test. I have a strong feeling: Mower World are either malicious or incompetent (being both requires distinct talent).

So I tell Sertronics that I’m really pissed, that Mower World’s quote makes no sense. Sertronics feels a bit uneasy about the situation. They understand they are sitting in-between two parties and are powerless. They offer me to send me back my machine as-is and wire me back the full amount I originally paid for the premium warranty. I accept and, a few days after, receive back my robot, still half-disassembled by the “repair” shop.

Since you can buy parts online, I decided I might as well repair the robot myself. So I fully disassemble it and, once at its core, observe that:

  • There is no obvious trace of water in it
  • All 3 engines seem absolutely fine, no corrosion whatsoever.
  • I spot some corrosion marks on the main board, corrosion which in all likelihood short-circuits the “legs” of at least one component: the one that connects to … the right wheel!

Those engines receive power (forward, backward), but also include sensors to indicate how much resistance they encounter. My 15-seconds theory is that if there is indeed a short-circuit between those pins on the board, as soon as the IC sends the signal to power the wheel, the same signal is received as an indication that resistance is found, hence it blocks the engine. Self feedback-loop, hence the mad-cow disease behavioor. The scenario intuitively makes a lot of sense to me.

So I reach out to a friend of mine, superstar engineer in electronics, and ask for his advice. He spots the corrosion and offers to do a proper cleaning job (thinner and an old toothbrush, followed by an inspection with a stereo microscope).

This morning, I put back the board in the robot, assembled the whole thing and… it works. None of the 3 engines were damaged and the IC board wasn’t out of order.

Where does that leave me? Several observations:

  • The quote from Mower World was clearly very wrong. While I can understand they are not engineers, hence wouldn’t play with thinner and a microscope, fine, but they should have at most replaced the electronic board. I have absolutely no idea how they reached the logical conclusion that all 3 engines had to be replaced. They did what I’d consider an extremely unprofessional job, this is insulting to customers. I’d never ever work with a company like that.
  • Since there was no trace of water in the robot, but there were traces of corrosion on the board, water must have made its way somehow, but NOT in any significant quantity. At this point, my assumption is that they made it (item 22, page 4, here) through a “hole”, probably built to evacuate heat, that sits just next to the board. But that’s just an assumption.
  • I find it shocking that a 3rd party company with no obvious tech skills get to decide whether the warranty applies or not in Husqvarna’s name, that’s putting a lot of faith in a partner network…
  • It has not been clear to me what was the advantage to taking a “premium” service contract with Sertronics, since, at least in that case, their sole purpose has been to forward my box to another provider and forward e-mails between two parties. Despite this lack of usefulness, I thank them for having offered to at least wire back the money for the premium warranty, probably realising they were playing no role whatsoever in that transaction.

But truth be told, the lack of competence of a small local repair shop doesn’t bother me too much, we are all used to this. My biggest problem is this one: what is Husqvarna’s role in all of this? They are totally absent from this picture! They’ve decided to delegate their support issues to 3rd party repair shops, and get rid of any relationship with customers. What message does that send? Instead, they “certify” repair centers and probably hope for those to do a decent job. But are they regularly verifying the quality and ethic of those shops? Are they asking for feedback on recurring issues impacting their devices? Or are they completely blind to what happens in the field and just sell spare parts at a high margin? In my case, I know for a fact that I’ve properly followed all advices from their user guide. So there must be a weakness in their sealing. But what can I do about it? I’m forced dealing with 3rd parties that have a clear incentive NOT to make those machines more robust: they make a living out of damaged goods.

In my opinion, this awful customer experience boils down to one simple thing: Husqvarna explicitly chose to not interact with customers, not be in touch with the field, but instead delegate what should otherwise be their product feedback-loop to 3rd parties whose business interest is at odd with Husqvarna’s and customers’ interests.

I’ll be forwarding this blog entry to Husqvarna and update this post with their feedback. If any…

Onward,

Sacha

P.S.: For the complete story, once I heard they wouldn’t fix it under warranty and since I didn’t know how much time it would take me to fix the robot, I bought a new one (105) and installed it. Galaxus.ch was nice and offered a discount on the newly bought device. Now that I have fixed it, I’m going to make good use of it and offered it.