Exploring Local
Mike Dobson of TeleMapics on Local Search and All Things Geospatial

TomTom – Ready for a different type of user generated comment?

July 1st, 2008 by MDob

The blog below is a rant about TomTom’s customer service. Those looking for something informative should wait for my thoughts aboutTomTom’s strategy in the post TeleAtlas acquisition world, which I will publish early next week ( I had forgotten that this Friday is the 4th and doubt that anyone will be around to read blogs, so I have delayed the article.) If you want a horror story and a few laughs read on – especially if you are a TomTom Shareholder.

TomTom is banking a lot on User Generated Comment. Their MapShare program is one of the industry’s best. It operates on the company’s latest PNDs and connects proposed changes with the “mother ship” through the TomTom Home application that resides on your PC. This ill-thought out piece of software also manages your updates and other functions, atlhough as you will see below is does this very poorly. I am amused that TomTom wants my UGC map updates – but does not want to talk to me about their product and their clumsy attempts at customer service. So, on to my blog – for a some user generated content that is not the type TomTom was hoping for.

Ahhh…the trials and tribulations of being the owner of a TomTom PND. I know I have written about this issue before, but the company seems determined to irritate its customers until they give in and buy a ….Garmin, I suppose. It is hard to imagine customer service being any worse than that recently offered by TomTom, but I suppose it is possible.

My latest round with TomTom began with my requesting an update to the map databases on my TomTom 920. I was attracted to the 920 because it comes equipped with a database of North America and a database of Europe, both loaded into the flash memory resident in the unit. Yep, there on the bottom of the 920 is a tape over the SD slot, on which the following is printed, “No SD required”. The only comment in the 920 Manual about the SD card is a diagram pointing to the SD card slot marked with this text “Memory card slot (SD card not included) for optional additional maps.” (my emphasis) So, I guess one could conclude that the two map databases supplied with the original device are not optional. In other words, I paid a premium for the 920 because both databases ran on the internal flash and I would not need to buy or use an SD card unless I desired to add something to the device that was not an original feature.

The TomTom applied note on the bottom of the TomTom920 PND

In addition, when I purchased the device late last year, it came with a marketing blurb telling me “With the TomTom Go 920, you are entitled to download all the new map releases for one year at no charge.” The document continued that I could visit the TomTom website to find out how to claim this offer.

Silly me, I tried it. I entered the special URL and when I arrived at the correct landing page, I entered the redemption code printed on the marketing blurb mentioned above. Ooops, the code was not valid. I entered it repeatedly and the code simply was not accepted, even though what I entered was identical to the code on the card.

Well, another visit to TomTom Customer Service. I called, sat in a short queue and was greeted by someone who was going to provide me excellent service today. Well, it turns out you cannot use the code supplied by TomTom. I was told that some units had been stolen and that they did not want to provide maps to the thieves. I told the person that I was not a thief and that I had bought my TomTom at Costco and doubted that they had stolen it. Well, to resolve their confusion and lack of inventory tracking capabilities, I needed to send TomTom my purchase receipt or I would not be seeing any updates. I told them that the materials in the box of the PND purchased did not mention this requirement and that it was illegal for TomTom to impose a requirement beyond that provided with the original equipment at time of purchase.

At the time, I did nothing about this because I was not sure where I had placed my purchase receipt. And anyway there were no new maps to download! Of course, that changed recently and I decided I had better dig up the receipt and get my new databases. So I searched for a while, found the receipt and sent it in. In turn, TomTom placed the US database in my update queue.

I guess they must be serving these updates from an I-Phone over the AT&T network, since it took two hours to download. Can you guess what happened next? Yes, there was not enough room in the unit’s internal flash memory to install the new database. As usual, TomTom’s crack engineering team must not have been able to figure out a way to estimate that space on the machine before the download – or a way to allow the download to go to the hard disk on my computer in case there were problems with the download to the PND.

Back to customer service, again. Copy the old database from the PND to my computer, erase it from the flash in the 920, delete some voices and “voila”, after another two hours I had a new US database. Great. What about the new version of the European database?

Back to customer service, again. Ok, they agreed they owed me Europe and would put it in my account for download. Great! Another two hours of download passed by and then the message that the database of Europe WOULD NOT FIT on the 920!

Back to customer service, again. I am sorry to be harsh, but this time I spoke with another pro who was going to provide excellent service, although I was worried that this one might not know how their zipper worked. I was told by this person that the remnants of the previous databases were still on the PND and I would have to erase both the North American and Europe databases from my PND, download a software tool to clear the flash and start all over again. That would mean 2 hours downloading each database and even then it might not work. However, I figured either this was good Blog material or I was having a bad dream. Ever the good TomTomette, I erased the databases and then looked for the legendary flash tool at the URL I had been supplied. Wasn’t there!

Back to customer service, again. The new CSR had another story. Due to the sizes of the new databases both the US and Europe would no longer fit on the 920. It did not have enough flash memory. What I needed to do, I was told, was to buy an SD card!

Well, we went to Defcon 5 in a matter of seconds. In my opinion, a thermonuclear strike on TomTom Customer Service would possibly win me the Nobel Peace Prize – Just think of the heartbreak I could avoid for other customers.

However, I do not allow nukes in the office, so I attempted to reason with my protagonist. I stated in very simple terms that the 920 PND was sold with the representation that it came with current databases of both North America and Europe running in flash. Upon opening the box, I was supplied with a document providing me access to updated map databases and reasonably assumed that these databases would fit on the 920 since the two databases was a feature used by TomTom to describe and market the 920. Simply put, neither of the databases was “optional” on this device. The 920 carries a sticker over the SD card slot saying, “No SD card required”. It was not my fault that TomTom engineers had underscoped the 920 for future database footprints. I concluded that TomTom should either replace my 920 with an extended memory version or send me an SD card. So, we escalated to a supervisor.

It is always satisfying to be escalated to a supervisor, since you know they do not know any of the technical details and they are going to try to spend their time telling you nothing of interest. It’s sort of like adding extra cheese to a four-cheese pizza – nothing is gained from the action except indigestion!

Even when you ask supervisors a question, you get an “I”ll note that…” in reply. He didn’t even have a response when I told him that they needed to work on their CSR training since the first CSR had put me through techno-hell because the person did not know that both databases would not fit on the 920.

Realizing that supervisor was a do-nothing doorstop, I asked to be escalated to their Legal Department since I was asserting that TomTom had breached their contract with me. I was given a “ticket” and told I could expect to hear from them in a day or two. Well that time has come and gone. Guess their legal department is trained by customer service.

So let’s conclude. TomTom apparently does not know that road database grow larger over time. I guess they will find several strategic surprises now that they own TeleAtlas. Can you imagine – “Yes, update the database but it can’t be any larger than the current one” and “Can’t you drop some of the streets people don’t use?”

Or “Let’s build a PND that can fit both the North American and European databases, but be sure not to put in any extra flash to allow for database expansion. After all, planned obsolescence is how we sell so many units.” Maybe not in the future!

Goodbye TomTom – Hello some reputable brand.

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Posted in Garmin, Local Search, Personal Navigation, TomTom

One Response

  1. Matt McG

    Your optimistic faith that TomTom, or any purveyor of ‘stuff’ in today’s disembodied (via walmart, costco, et al.) supply chain would do anything beyond cash the check and
    hope to be in a new line before their incompetence is discovered is refreshing. Or good sport.
    Or deeper social commentary “You’re doin’ a hell of a job, TomTom!”

    I can hardly wait for some results of a test drive, if it ever gets up and running.

    Will the user generated comment warrant a catchy marketing phrase like: “Too big too fit and too wrong to care!” ?

    Thanks for taking on these frustrations that we may not have too!
    Thanks Matt – I had to plow through 403 spam posting to get to this note from you, but it was well worth it. I suspect that there will be a line demarcating UGC and navigation database builders on one side and LBS types of map databases and users on the other (think Google). One side needs accuracy because their data is being used to navigate cars, the other side needs volume to sell advertising, so they might be willing to use map databases that are less rigorously QAed. I think the old marketing concepts of “premium” databases may make a comeback.