Thursday, 3 November 2011
If there was a World award for Companies-with-a-great-product-who-nevertheless-treat-their-customers-like-dirt, then TomTom would win it. Little-red-hands-on-a-bongo-drum down.
A few clarifying things first. I have owned a TomTom since 2005, and I have also owned two Garmins. I like the TomTom product. It is easy to use, the graphics and software are good and, with the usual caveat about applying common sense to everything a machine tells you, very accurate and reliable at routefinding. Many people say the Garmin range are technically better, but my Garmin (bought to tide me over while my original TomTom was in for repair, see below) had me doing a U-turn while on a dual carriageway in Oxford, and it was only because it was early on a Sunday morning that I wasn't squashed by a juggernaut as I nervously extracted myself. The software on the Garmin is less intuitive, too.
My first TomTom GO was one of the old square-screen ones with a deep back like an old television. I think the storage was a mini-hard drive, and I believe that this was the problem, although TomTom never admitted it. The hard drive just wasn't robust enough for the environment of the car. Interestingly, TomTom made sure that their next model was solid-state. The unit kept locking up, and either failing to shut down at all, or going into a loop on startup, where it cycled endlessly through the splash screen and the rest, without ever getting to navigation mode. I first noticed it when it 'forgot' my destination half-way through a journey and had to be reprogrammed by the side of the road. After a while, it started looping and freezing, and eventually I contacted TomTom tech support through their website. Most of the time you are dealing with a machine here, where you are presented with a list of responses, none of which say "the fucking thing doesn't work and I want it mended". Three times I negotiated my way through this, and three times it was sent away (to a location in Fife IIRC) for 'repair'. Each time, they simply reflashed the chip and returned the unit, which lasted another month or two before collapsing.
And, of course, each time they did this I lost all my 'favourites'. This is one of the great things abouyt satnav units. You can save any location on the surface of the planet as a 'favourite', and the unit will faithfully guide you back to it from anywhere. So all my regular destinations (family addresses, bike shops in distant cities, certain remote petrol stations, and so on) were set into the machine. And each time the unit was re-flashed, it went back to factory settings and I lost the lot. (Before anyone says I should have saved a backup, by the time the unit locked up, connecting to the PC was an impossibility.) I put up with this when it happened, mainly because I could re-enter most of the places I wished to from my (paper) address book.
In 2006, we went for a holiday in Italy, to the area of Tuscany just South of Florence. We had a fantastic time, and found a lot of superb places that we might wish to return to one day - spectacular views, nice little trattorias, nooks and crannies off the beaten track - which were all entered faithfully as 'favourites' in the TomTom. And then, half-way home through France, the unit packed up for good. I went through the usual website routine, and got them to take it back for 'repair' once more, this time with the plea that they save the favourites as I was unable to back the unit up to do so myself. Of course, it came back squeaky-clean and I had lost the lot. At no point in the process was I able to speak or even write to a human being.
I went utterly ballistic, but of course there is no option for that on the customer service web script. So I found the name and address of the MD in the Netherlands and wrote him a long letter. I didn't hold back; he had a three-page, blow-by-blow, dates and locations, case reference numbers, the lot. I didn't expect a reply, and this was when I bought the Garmin, as I had made the decision to bin the TomTom. A couple of weeks later, I received a gracious and very apologetic reply from someone high up in TomTom BV, with the offer of a brand-new, top-of-the-range unit free of charge. This was the GO720, which I received in 2007 - solid state electronics and a wide screen. He also admitted that they had had 'issues' with the service centre in Fife, and that they were no longer using it. Little comfort for me, but interesting.
This new unit has been superb and totally fault-free for five years. It has rattled around in the car's glovebox for all that time, it has been glued to the Honda and taken to Denmark, has been dropped and abused, and it has never failed me. But after five years, the maps were totally out of date. Bristol, especially, might as well have been another planet as far as the unit was concerned, and nearly every journey had me apparently travelling through green fields whenever there was a new road. So I decided to splash out and update the maps. It was £60 for the update and another three updates over a year, which I didn't think was too bad.
What TomTom don't tell you while you have your credit card out is that, not only are the new maps so huge that you will need to buy extra storage if you want them all on the unit at once (luckily I had a spare 4GB SD card floating round), but by uploading the new maps you will lose all of your favourites. Yes, I had done a backup, and yes, I had the favourites stored in a secure location. But the new maps use a different file format, and the old favourites file won't work.
The new Western Europe map is vast - over 2GB - and took all afternoon and half the evening to download. Then it said I didn't have enough memory, so I used the SD card. Then it said I still didn't have enough memory, but I carried on anyway, and it seemed to be OK with that. Then I found my favourites were gone - I had loads, five years' worth, some irreplaceable - and I spent the evening on the web looking for solutions. Here's the deal as far as I am able to ascertain it:
There is a file in the Western_Europe folder called MapSettings.cfg. This contains all the user-defined information, such as favourites, recent destinations, the 'home' setting and so on. Loading a new map has always meant (for those in the know) saving a copy of this file to the desktop and copying it back to the new map folder afterwards, as the map installation process will delete it from the unit. First question for TomTom: why did I have to do my own research to find this out?
However, with the newer maps, this won't work. The unit doesn't recognise the file; it's apparently in a different format, although the name and extension are the same. There is a well-known workaround, which involves converting your MapSettings.cfg file to an ov2 file using shareware called Poiedit and then loading your favourites as a new category in Points of Interest, but this is fiddly and inconvenient, both to do and in subsequent use. Second question for TomTom: why did I have to do my own research to find this out?
Third question for TomTom: why the fucking fuck didn't you warn me about this before I gave you my sixty quid? If I had known I would lose all my favourite locations I would not have bothered. I would have paid a bit extra and got a new unit. Keeping the favourites was the main reason for upgrading, rather than renewing.
I assume that TomTom are concerned more with getting the mapping right and the software good than with the individual user's personal experiences. This is OK as far as it goes, but when we use technology like a satnav, we personalise it, and that personalisation is an important part of the experience. If there are technical constraints which necessitate changes that impact on users' personalisation (such as the deletion of a 'favourites' file), then at least warn the users first and suggest ways round it. Otherwise you just piss people off. And they have pissed me off, big style.
This poses me a problem. I am going to get a bike-specific satnav at some point when funds allow. Because of my good experiences with the GO720, I had pretty much settled on the TomTom Rider: cheaper than the Garmin Zumo, comes ready with a headset, and I know and like the way it works. Now I am not sure. I'm pretty much at the point of saying that I will never buy a TomTom product ever again, just because they obviously care so little for their customers. Automated tech support and email-only customer service do not make you feel as if you matter.
Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to sit down with a coffee and my address book, and start re-entering all my favourites to the TomTom.
Manually, for fuck's sake. In two-thousand-and-eleven.