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How to deal with HDTV customer service -- and win

Bruce Ayres / Getty Images

By Gary Merson
HD Guru

If you have any problem with a new HDTV and it's past the store's return or exchange period, you'll need to deal with the manufacturer's customer service. But HD Guru is hearing complaints that companies aren't honoring warranties. Here are tips for talking to reps that will maximize your chances of being heard — and helped.

An HDTV is not a computer
As a solid example of the problem, here’s what the FAQ states on RCA’s website:

TVs today are becoming similar to computers and use hardware and software to deliver the picture and the sound. Similar to how a computer can lock up and then you have to re-boot, TVs sometimes have problems that you can fix by resetting, or rebooting, them. To reset your TV, unplug the power cord from the wall outlet, power strip, etc. Keep your TV unplugged for about 5 minutes. Then, plug the TV back in, turn the TV on, and see if the problem is fixed. If the problem remains, then please contact RCA Customer Support using the Support link in the top navigation on this page.

This is very bad advice. If your TV is under warranty and misbehaves in any way, you may clear up the symptom by unplugging and repowering the set, but this will not fix the cause.

HDTV’s self-check a number of criteria, including internal temperature. If a part begins to fail, it may heat up to the point of shutdown. By unplugging the TV for five minutes, the temperature returns to normal, the self-check passes and the TV functions normally. At least until it heats up again or fails completely.

By following RCA’s advice you will have no proof of a problem occurring during the warranty period. If the problem happens again post-warranty, and you haven’t reported the problem earlier, you have an excellent chance of not being covered even if it’s the day after the warranty expires.

What you should do
Whenever a set misbehaves, even for a few seconds and apparently fixes itself, you should always call the TV manufacturer’s customer service department. When you do, you’ll always be asked for specific information. This includes the model number and the serial number (both can be found on the rear of the TV). You'll also need a copy of the purchase receipt, which includes the date and store. The customer service representative (CSR) may request that you fax, email or snail mail a copy of your proof of purchase.

When you call be calm, collected and patient, even if you were in a long hold queue. Being ticked off won’t get you anywhere. CSR’s are people too, and if you’re angry at them for something that’s not their fault, how likely do you think they’ll be to go out of their way to help you?

Once the CSR answers, get their name and/or number (some will only give a first name) and write it down. After you describe the problem, get a case number from the CSR. This is extremely important, especially if the set is within the manufacturer’s warranty period. You must have a case number as a record of when the problem first occurred.

And get this: we called Samsung customer service and were told that even if you establish a problem with a case number, if the symptom reoccurs outside the warranty period you will NOT be covered.

Therefore, to assure warranty coverage, you must insist on a service technician checking out the TV. With Samsung,  RCA and others (but not all companies), any set above 32 inch screen has in-home service. Unplugging a TV and repowering the set will never fix a failing component, it will only delay the point when the problem will require a part replacement. This delay will likely  cost you money.

What if the CSR refuses a warranty service call
If the CSR won’t cooperate, ask for a supervisor. If you are told none is available, call back and make the request again. You must get a service technician to examine the set within the warranty period.

What about post warranty service
If your set fails shortly after the warranty period ends, you can still try to persuade the company to cover your set. Why? There are a number of reasons. You may be a loyal customer of the manufacturer, which is especially important if the company makes other products like Sony, Samsung or Panasonic. Tell the customer service rep.

Do an Internet search of your problem. You may discover many folks had the same problem due to a run of the same defective part. You may learn others were covered as a goodwill gesture of the set maker.

Did you pay for the TV with a  MasterCard or American Express card? If you did, you have double the manufacturer’s warranty. Here’s a link to our article.

Be cool and reasonable
If you talk firmly, but nicely, to the CSR/supervisor, after receiving a post-warranty estimate you may be able to convince the company to give you a price break on the repair to maintain your loyalty. You have nothing to lose by asking.

When all else fails
If the company doesn’t give you reasonable satisfaction, there are websites where you can register your complaints. Consumeraffairs.com is a good place to start. Another good technique is to email company executives about your issue. Here is a link to a how-to by The Consumerist.

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