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Panasonic DMR-EH75V failure and Panasonic's woeful customer service

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#1 of 7 OFFLINE   Marty McKee

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Posted July 06 2008 - 11:17 AM

Be aware that this is going to be a long rant about Panasonic, a company with which I have been engaged in a battle for the past six months. Whether they are dishonest or just plain incompetent, I’m not yet certain, but I am sure that I will never again purchase a Panasonic product, if I can help it, and I am advising you to do the same. Once you’re read what I have to write, maybe you’ll understand my frustration.

Some dates, conversations, etc. in the early part of my tale may be shaky; I would have kept better notes if I’d known what hell I was stepping into when I first bought my Panasonic DVD recorder: DMR-EH75V with VHS, an 80GB hard drive and a TV Guide On Screen function for $429.99. I bought this in March 2007 at the local Circuit City and had no problems with it until around last Christmas. I burned literally hundreds of DVD-Rs using it, most of them Taiyo Yudens. But then, late last year, the DVD drive crapped out on it. It wouldn’t boot any discs. Wouldn’t play or record, because it wouldn’t accept any discs. I made my first (of what so far has been dozens) telephone call to the Panasonic Customer Care (PCC, from now on) line, where I soon learned they don’t “care” about their customers. The operator I spoke to said he would send me a disc to update the firmware.

“If the machine doesn’t boot any discs, how am I going to update the firmware with your disc?”

He hemmed and hawed, and suggested I try it anyway. Several days later, the disc comes, and, hey, what do you know, it doesn’t work. Why a trained Panasonic Customer Care worker didn’t see this coming, and I—a regular Joe—did is anyone’s guess. So I called back, and they suggested I ship the machine off to the Repair Center (PRC, hereupon) in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. It was still under its original warranty, so they emailed me a shipping label and advised I take it to a UPS store for free shipping.

Super-fast turnaround—they received it January 22, and I had it back less than two weeks later. According to their official paperwork, they “replaced DVD drive,” and I could tell, because it made a loud sound when it opened, closed and burned discs. After the first two DVD-Rs I attempted to burn failed, causing the machine to go into “disc recovery mode,” I called the PCC, who advised me to send the machine back to the PRC. I said, “I just got it back yesterday! (you have to let the machine sit with the power off for 24 hours after initial setup for the TV Guide On Screen function)”. No avail, so they emailed me another shipping label, I disconnected all the cords and wires, put it back in the original box, took it back to the UPS Store, shipped it back to Elk Grove Village.

This happened about three weeks later, because it took me some time to get the label and make the frustrating effort to take everything apart and send the machine in. Around March 11, I get the machine back with a letter from the PRC that tells me, literally, they did nothing to it. According to them, it works perfectly, everything checks out, they found nothing wrong with it, they made zero repairs. So I hook it back up, set it up, wait 24 hours, burn some discs…same problem. A couple here and there work fine, but, out of ten attempts, only three burn successfully.

Another call to the PCC. Another request to send the unit back to the PRC. I’m fuming by this time, and ask why I would want to do that. What is the point of me sending the unit in again, if they aren’t going to fix it? I eventually move up from the regular operator to someone in charge named Charles. My questions are pretty straightforward—namely, why should I send the unit back to the PRC, since they didn’t fix the problem the first time? I’m really angry, since they just flat out refused to fix the problem that I know perfectly well exists. Charles is no help whatsoever, just repeating his mantra, “Send it to the Repair Center.” I tell him that I would rather not, I would rather someone came up with an alternate solution that would involve the least amount of work for me, but no one at Panasonic is capable of thinking outside the box. After more than an hour of speaking to the PCC, I decide, okay, hell, I guess I’ll have to send the machine back.

This time, I write Panasonic a 1-page letter (on the PCC’s advice) outlining exactly what is wrong and what I think the problem is. It’s fairly obvious that the replacement DVD drive is defective, considering what has taken place. I enclose the letter, the previous work orders and invoices, a copy of my Circuit City receipt, and a copy of my extended warranty, which I purchased while the unit was at the PRC the first time.

I get it back the third time April 16. According to the work order, all they did was install firmware. I plug the unit in, set it up…IT STILL DOESN’T WORK!

I don’t even bother to call the PCC this time, I go straight to the PRC, which is difficult, ‘cause they’re only open 7am–4pm weekdays, when I’m at work. I speak to someone in their Customer Service department named Antoinette, who seems friendly and interested in helping. While being firm and as polite as possible (I don’t shout or call names), I explain the problem and what’s going on and ask why they refuse to fix a machine that is clearly in need of repair. Another hour on the phone of her asking me to send the machine back (for a fourth time!), and me asking her why I should, when they clearly have no interest in helping me. She promises to take a personal interest in the case and says that I can call her directly anytime I want, if I’d like to monitor the situation.

I can’t believe this is actually happening, but…another shipping label, another disconnection (by this time, my original box has been beaten up by so many trips through the mail, so I’m using the box the PRC sent the unit back in, but I use plenty of padding, because they barely bothered to wrap it at all), another trip to the UPS Store.

This time, the PRC has my unit for six weeks. During that time, I made perhaps 25 calls to them. About two weeks after I shipped it, Antoinette called me at home around 8am. She said that a technician had discovered the problem and that parts were on order. She said she did not know who the technician was or what parts they were, but they were waiting for the parts to arrive, and then the unit would be fixed.

“So they did discover that there was a problem?” I asked.
Her exact answer: “Yes.”

That afternoon, I get a call from Victor, a technician, who tells me that they have looked at my machine several times and they can find nothing wrong with it, so they are going to have to send it back to me unrepaired. Obviously, someone has misplaced his or her talking points. I ask, “Why did Antoinette just tell me that you were ordering parts for it?” He says he will ask her, and when he comes back, he says she is busy and can’t come to the phone, but she told him she never told me that. Obviously, somebody is lying. I make it quite clear to him that I want the unit repaired. He claims they ran diagnostics tests, that they had other technicians look at it, and that they burned several discs successfully. “How is it possible for it to work perfectly at your place, and not at mine?” He has no answer.

I ask him, “Are you telling me that you burned ten DVD-Rs and they all worked?”
“I don’t know how many discs, but everything is fine.”
He asks me what brands I use, and I told him I have tried different kinds, but primarily Taiyo Yuden. It isn’t the discs, because I have the same problem with all brands. I ask him what he used.
“We have our own special kind, Panasonic discs.”

Over the next couple of weeks, at my demand, they keep the machine and claim to run more tests on it. Honestly, I don’t know if they ever take it out of the box. What is an incontrovertible fact is that this DVD recorder is defective and does not work properly, no matter what Panasonic says.

Finally, during the first half of June, I talk more to Antoinette, who, at my request, gives me her supervisor, Estrella, who is a Customer Service supervisor. At this point, nobody from the PRC is returning my calls (and complicating the matter is the fact that I just changed my phone number, because of my impending move). Estrella is also completely useless—just telling me that the technicians could find no problem, that they would have to return my unit to me, and they could not send me a replacement unit.

Sidebar: in the event Panasonic were unable to repair my unit, they say they will ship me a new unit, free of charge. The problem is Panasonic no longer makes the DMR-EH75. During one conversation with the PCC, a female operator told me they didn’t have any new ones.

“You mean there isn’t one DMR-EH75 anywhere? Not one left over in a warehouse someplace?”

She said they were completely sold out of every unit. I asked her why they didn’t make it anymore, and she said Panasonic decided there was not enough demand for units with hard drives inside, so they stopped making them. Setting aside the idea that no consumers want hard drives (since everyone I know who owns a DVD recorder has one with a hard drive), I asked her, “how can there be no demand for this machine, when you just told me you sold every single one that you made?” Unsurprisingly, she had no answer.

Back to the present (and, believe me, there are a lot of conversations I am leaving out in the name of something approaching brevity, including someone at the PCC who flat-out lied to me and made me jump through some hoops that, another operator admitted later, there was no reason). My machine returns from the PRC around June 24. At this point, I’m in a different residence, different electricity, maybe just different vibes, who knows? I really am trying to give Panasonic some benefit of the doubt, that maybe, miraculously, there is some situation in which my DVD recorder would work perfectly in Elk Grove Village and inconsistently at best in Champaign.

I hook the machine up. Forget about the TV Guide To Go (which I don’t think works with my new DirecTV HD DVR). I just want to burn DVD-Rs. I start with a new batch of Taiyo Yudens. The first three work, then one doesn’t. I open a new batch of Maxells. One works, one doesn’t. Then I try a new batch of Sonys. Four in a row—unsuccessful. This DVD recorder does not work.

Today, Sunday, July 06, 2008, I call the PCC, because Estrella told me there was nothing more the Repair Center could do for me (which is also what Customer Care told me months ago). She did give me her superior’s extension, but, of course, a message on his/her voicemail resulted in no callback. My plan now is to just keep moving up the chain until I find somebody who can pull the trigger and get something done, whether it’s repairing my unit or sending a replacement.

Today, I tell the operator at PCC that I want a supervisor. I get David, who will only say he’s a “member of management.”

“What’s your job title?”
“I speak for management.”
“What does that mean?”
“I am a member of management.”

After more than a half-hour, I get nowhere. David’s only advice is to return my unit to…yep…the Repair Center. I tell him I’ve done this four times already. What will happen the fifth time that has not already happened? He says he can’t tell me. He says he will send an email to someone there who can follow up.

“Who are you emailing?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Just give me a name, any name.”
“I can’t give you a phone number, outside of the toll-free general number, or an email address.”
“I’m not asking you for that. I just want a name I can ask for at the Repair Center, so I can follow up on your email.”
“I don’t have a name. I’m sending an email to a group. You’re asking me who will be assigned to your case, and I don’t know who that will be.”
“No, I’m not. I’m asking you for the name of somebody within that group who can tell me who is assigned my case.”

We pretty much go around in circles. He’s telling me that I’m not giving him a chance to help me, and I tell him that I have already given his co-workers dozens of chances to help me. None of them has, and how can he ensure me that he will do anything different? He cannot.

Finally, I ask to speak to his supervisor, which he does not want to do. He tells me it is Charles (remember him?).

“What’s his job title?”
“Member of management.”
“What does that mean?”
“He can speak for management.”
“So can you. Is he above you? You’re a member of management.”
“He is a Lead.”
“Lead. That’s what it says on his business card? Lead?”
“He is a Lead, and he will tell you what I’m telling you. He will call you back sometime in the next 24 to 48 hours.”

I told David that I have been fed that “24–48 hour” b.s. before. Someone at PCC once told me they would call me back within 24-48 hours, and I finally called them back nearly two weeks later. They said, “We don’t have a record here of anyone promising to call you back.” Yeah, just like nobody at the Repair Center has any record of a technician ordering parts for my DVD recorder (by the way, when I asked, Estrella told me it was impossible for anyone to delete information from the work notes, which I’m not convinced of).

I asked David today who Charles’ supervisor was. He was really steamed at this point. “I know what you’re trying to do, you’re trying to work your way up the chain to find someone who can give you what you want.” I had to admit he was right.

“You can’t speak to his supervisor today.”
“Fine. Just what is the name?”
“Lovette (sp?).”
“What is her job title?”
“The first person I spoke to today, I asked her to speak to a supervisor. I thought you were a supervisor.”
“I am not.”
“So it goes: Member of Management, Member of Management—Lead, Supervisor, in that order?”

So, now, I am waiting for Charles to call me back, which may or may not ever happen. I plan to call Estrella or perhaps her supervisor (I have that extension) tomorrow, if I’m able. Today is July 6, 2008, so you can see how long this has been going on.

I’m not just writing this to vent, but also to seek advice from you. What else should I do? Where else should I turn? Should I go to Small Claims Court? Contact the Elk Grove Village Better Business Bureau? Do I have a legal leg to stand on? Should I post this message somewhere else? Should I call someone? Or should I just say “screw it” and toss the damn DVD recorder in the trash? Anyone who would like to add their 2 cents or just share a Panasonic (or any other company) customer service story of their own, please leave a comment or email me privately. I really feel I’m at the end of my rope.

#2 of 7 OFFLINE   Wayne A. Pflughaupt

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Posted July 08 2008 - 01:38 PM

Pretty sad tale. I can relate, because I went through the same thing with Denon years ago over some of their top-off-the-line car stereo equipment. I ended up with $1500 worth of paperweights. I have a Denon-free HT system now.

Personally, I don't think I would ever buy a DVD recorder. Every one I've ever looked at, when you find sites with user reviews, it seems the best any of them can muster is at best 50% approval rating, often even less. Fortunately, we have the internet now, so it's harder for junk like this (and the manufacturers who make them) to "hide." I suggest dropping a condensed version of this on Amazon.com.

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#3 of 7 OFFLINE   Ed Moxley

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Posted July 08 2008 - 04:11 PM

I feel your pain too. I've had problems with Panasonic in the past. You will never see me recommend a piece of Panasonic equipment to anyone. It's been my experience, and a couple of other people's I know, their stuff doesn't last long enough to get your money's worth from it. I'll never own anything else with the Panasonic name on it either. We all know that any brand can occasionally have a problem, but Panasonic's attitude with me, is what did it for me.
Samsung HL61A750 (LED DLP)            Onkyo TX-SR805
Oppo BDP-83 Blu ray                                  Polk Audio LSi9
Polk Audio LSiC                                  Sony SS-MB100H
SVS PC12-NSD (Sub)                       ...

#4 of 7 OFFLINE   Marty McKee

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Posted July 12 2008 - 02:51 AM

On Wednesday, I finally received a (belated) callback from Charles at Panasonic Customer Care, who indicated he had seen my blog (where I also posted my initial rant) and had an idea of my frustrations. He gave me a new telephone number to call--this one an "executive" number to Panasonic's corporate office, which is in New Jersey, I believe.

"Who should I ask for at this number?"
"Anybody who answers the phone will be able to help you."

He was kind of right. It took me three tries to get someone on the line, because of Panasonic's confusing phone menu that doesn't tell a caller what to do if you don't know the name or extension of whom you're calling. I got a friendly switchboard operator who was confused when I told her why I was calling, but she eventually got me somebody else, who was equally confused. That person, also polite, told me I would get a callback later in the day from a supervisor in the "DVD Recorder Department."

And I did. I received a very nice, comforting call from Karen, who told me, "Looking at these case notes, I can't believe what has been happening" (nor can I). She asked ("if you don't mind") if I would pack up my DVD recorder again, but this time send it to the corporate office, where engineers could look at it. I asked what would happen there that hasn't already happened at the Repair Center, and she replied that these would be engineers looking at the unit, and they will find out what is wrong with it. Which makes me wonder: who do they have repairing units at the Repair Center, and why don't they have engineers there?

I also told her my belief that the DVD drive is defective in it (without getting any "we don't use defective parts," like I did from David at Customer Care), and also that it's possible the spindle is dirty (thanks to another forum poster who pointed that out), but I couldn't clean it myself without voiding the warranty (which she agreed, yes, that would). I told her what brands of DVD-R I've been using, and since the unit has malfunctioned with at least three different brands, the discs can't be the culprit.

Karen (whose last name I'm leaving out, but I appreciate that she's the first Panasonic employee to provide one) offered to e-mail a shipping label, so I can send my unit to her. She also provided me with her e-mail address and telephone extension, and invited me to contact her if I needed to. We also made sure Panasonic had my correct contact info, since I've changed phone numbers, addresses and e-mail addresses in recent weeks. Oh, and she also promised to send me some Panasonic DVD-Rs, which I didn't ask for, but I appreciate the gesture.

Reason to be optimistic? I think so, though I've been optimistic before and been let down. It's my nature to be hopeful in these situations and assume that professionals will act professionally. I know that doesn't always happen, but I feel I can take Karen at her word. The fact that she probably knew by then that I had filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau probably helped nudge her.

P.S. On Thursday, I received the shipping label, so I'll be sending out my unit via UPS next week. Karen also asked if I would provide a couple of the DVD-Rs that failed to burn, saying they would help the engineers solve the problem.

#5 of 7 OFFLINE   Marty McKee

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Posted September 05 2008 - 06:37 AM

I quit. They win. The bastards outlasted me. After nearly nine months of arguing, pleading, asking politely, even occasional begging, I have given up my battle with Panasonic. I sent my DVD recorder off to the home office in New Jersey six weeks ago, hopeful of success. But, no.

Here's the official word from Panasonic:

"Our product engineer has determined the customer's Panasonic DVD Recorder works as it should. We advised Mr. McKee that the media he is using may be a factor with recording."

This is also what the engineer told me over the phone, which is unbelievable. It's not Panasonic's fault that its recorder doesn't work, it's the DVD-Rs'?? The recorder has failed to burn Verbatims, Taiyo Yudens, Sonys and Maxells. So am I supposed to waste money buying as many different brands as possible until I find one that works? That is absurd, folks.

I seriously doubt Panasonic put much time into this machine. The engineer claimed (after I asked him to about five times) he burned ten straight discs with it, and the only ones that didn't work were Sony discs. I asked him about the failed DVD-Rs that I sent him, and he confirmed that they were unplayable, but couldn't tell me why they failed. I asked him to explain how the machine could possibly record well in New Jersey, but not in Illinois. He couldn't. I asked him (again) if he cleaned the spindle like I asked. He said no.

The kicker is when I asked him (again) if he switched out the DVD drive, since it is as obvious as the sun is bright that the drive is the problem. Not only did he say he didn't, but he added that, "I could do that, but then that could add new problems." Meaning, in effect, there is no way to ever fix any Panasonic DVD recorder, because every DVD drive they have is defective in some way. What he said to me was, basically, "I know what is happening with the machine now, but with a different DVD drive, there is no way to predict what could go wrong with it."

I knew then what I should have known weeks ago: that Panasonic had no intention of helping me or dealing with the problem. Since I know perfectly well it doesn't take six weeks to examine my DVD recorder, I suspect it sat on a shelf for at least five weeks, off and on, then after burning a few discs with it (which may or may not have been successful), they decided to Hell with it. The Better Business Bureau has already informed me there's nothing more it can do, as it has no legal authority. I expected more from Karen Childs at Panasonic, who sounded sympathetic to my plight, but ultimately did absolutely nothing to improve my situation.

All I can do is advise you not to waste money with Panasonic products. Not only am I out the $439 I originally paid for the DVD recorder, but also the extra $120 or so I shelled out for the extended warranty, since Panasonic has no intention of honoring that warranty. To write a letter to me and to the BBB saying "the customer's Panasonic DVD Recorder works as it should" is an insult, and I invite any of you to stop by my house anytime to burn DVD-Rs with it, as I know some of you must be thinking I don't know what I'm talking about.

I would advise you not to buy a Panasonic DVD recorder anyway, because they no longer come with hard drives. Without a hard drive, a DVD recorder is nearly useless. It means you can't edit commercials out of television programs you want to keep. You can't format your own chapter stops. You can't (except with some extra work) edit leader and glitches and FBI warnings out of old VHS tapes you're transferring any. Panasonic told me that there is no demand for DVD recorders with hard drives, which is why they no longer make them, but in the same conversation, they told me that they sold completely out of my model. Obviously, that makes no sense. My theory is that Panasonic (and other companies) caved to demands by TiVo, the TV networks, etc., who didn't like the competition.

One small bright spot is that I was able to attempt burning discs in the slower Silent Mode before I shipped my unit off to New Jersey, and it seemed to work okay, although the sample size was small. This is, as I mentioned in an earlier post, something I discovered on an online forum recently, and not a suggested offered in any of my several dozen chats with allegedly trained employees at Panasonic's customer service center, repair center or executive office. So perhaps my machine doesn't have to be shipped off to the junk heap. Yet.

#6 of 7 OFFLINE   Wayne A. Pflughaupt

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Posted September 05 2008 - 08:33 AM

Thanks for the update, Marty. Stuff like this is why I typically buy my gear used from eBay. If the seller has a good rating, there's little chance of getting a lemon. And I'm not out much money if I do.

The nice thing about the Internet is that you can get even to some degree by spreading the word around. I suggest posting a condensed version of this on the other Forums, in their Video Components section, where it will get a lot more views that what you're getting here. I don't think this should have been in the Vendor's Forum, since Panasonic is a manufacturer not a vendor.


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#7 of 7 OFFLINE   Ennsio


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Posted September 05 2008 - 09:09 AM

I've been following your story over the months, Marty, and that's definitely a sad ending. Sorry to hear that.

I'm actually in a similar situation, or at least at the start of a similar situation in that my Samsung DVD recorder that I got at Christmas keeps malfunctioning (won't read discs - movies or blank discs) and I was contemplating taking it back to Future Shop to see if it could be fixed under warranty. After your experience, I'm assuming that it will be something that they can't fix, I'll have to pay a lot of money to ship it to Samsung to look at, or the problem will mysteriously go away when they look at it, only to reappear a few weeks later when I try and use it again.

My recorder (Samsung DVDR150) only cost $120 though, not $440 like yours did, so I'm not out as much money and I don't have the same level of expectations of quality as I would if I had paid what you did. It's a little disconcerting to think that the higher priced models could still have the same kind of unfixable problems that the cheaper ones have.