Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Apple's Customer Service for Americans in China Rots

"I'd not even make cidah with these manure-laden Apples." 
                                                  -disgruntled New Englander  

It is a beautiful day, but I am just miserable enough to sit here writing this therapeutic post about Apple's corporate misbehavior.

In April, I purchased an Apple iPhone 4S in America for use in China because they told us we could get it fixed easily if something were to go wrong. After less than a month, the incoming and outgoing phone and text functions ceased to work, but we could still use the Internet using Wi-fi. We went to an Authorized Apple Reseller who told us to call Apple-China who, in turn, told us they could not help and then to China Mobile to replace the SIM Card for 30RMB. Finally, we called Apple in America because it still did not work.

Kyle, a very nice technician who calls you back when you enter your telephone number on the Apple site, emailed me the names of five places in Changchun where we could bring the phone to get it fixed. This morning we went to one of these locations and they refused to help us. I sat down on their couch and began to chat with Apple in America on a laptop that we had brought with us.

Fragments of my conversation with Apple-US's iPhone Chat Support team follow:

Junior Advisor Harry [9:39 a.m.]: Ah I see. With repairing, it is the technicians call on if they are able to accept the device for repair.

Customer [9:39 a.m.]: this is unacceptable

Junior Advisor [9:40 a.m.]: To get the iPhone fixed Alexander, you can send it to a friend or family member to have it repaired on your behalf in the U.S.

Customer [9:42 a.m.]: this is what the warranty looks like: you tell us unequivocally that we can take it to [any of] these five places, we waste half a day to come here and now it is the tech's call so I have to spend more money to send it to a relative and then have a relative send it back?

Junior Advisor [9:43 a.m.]: I am so sorry Alexander you have been going through this! I know you have spent a lot of time and money to get this resolved! I am on your side on this issue and want to make sure that we get the iPhone repaired the proper way!!

Customer [9:45 a.m.]: You are well trained, but I don't care whose side you are on. I hope you are on Apple's side. This is unacceptable. I will go home now and write a blog post about this experience and see what my friends think.

Junior Advisor [9:46 a.m.]: I understand and I would feel the same way about all that has happened Alexander! I want to make sure that I am here to help you get this iPhone repaired!

Customer [9:47 a.m.]: so what are you going to do to help me with that? Pay for the shipping?

Advisor [9:49 a.m.]: I definitely wish I could Alexander but...

[There is an inexplicable escalation a bit later to a less helpful, more firm, and more senior "advisor." I feel for a second that I am getting somewhere.]

Senior Advisor Kevin [9:57 a.m.]: The warranty that comes with the phone states that Apple may restrict service of your device to the country of original purchase.

Customer [9:57 a.m.]: I am fine if you want to fix it in America. How are you going to get it there?

Senior Advisor [9:58 a.m.]: That will be up to you. Apple is not responsible for any additional cost incurred with getting the repair set up.

Customer [10:00 a.m.]: In fact, service "may" be restricted to there, but clearly is not since you people told us to bring it to this location to get it serviced

Advisor [10:01 a.m.]: I wish there was some way that I could help you here, Alexander. But if a repair center in China says they cannot perform the service needed, they cannot do it. I'm sorry that you were told they could definitely perform the service for you.

Customer [10:02 a.m.]: I am sorry that your company told me that there would be no problem buying it in American and using it in China

Advisor [10:03 a.m.]: Using it in China and having the device serviced in China are two completely different things. I really am sorry, Alexander.

Customer [10:04 a.m.]: but what they really meant was "as long as it works fine (for less than a month!) you will love our product". If you need it to get fixed, you are out of luck

Customer [10:05 a.m.]: I will send you a copy of my blog post, if you would like. I am a lawyer and will have a great deal of fun researching your warranty and the other people who have experienced similar misleading conversations

Senior Advisor [10:06 a.m.]: If you are wanting to pursue legal action in any way, I cannot continue this chat and you will need to contact Apple's legal department as I am not a legal representative of Apple.

Customer [10:07 a.m.]: I have not threatened legal action. I have informed you of PR action. If you would like to refer me to Marketing, I would be happy to tell them what I think.

Senior Advisor [10:08 a.m.]: You can find all of our contact information at this page. http://www.apple.com/contact/

Customer [10:09 a.m.]: I am not looking to speak to Marketing. I have wasted enough time. Do you have anything helpful to suggest?

Senior Advisor [10:09 a.m.]: Do you have any friends or family members in the US that you could ship the phone to so it can be serviced and mailed back to you? 

At this point, I did not ask if he was the Assistant Deputy Undersecretary from the Department of Redundancy Department at 1 Infinite Loop; Cupertino, CA 95014, U.S.A., but it was clear they were not going to help. I explained to him that shipping the most expensive item that I have purchased in several years via China Post is tantamount to negligence. 

I felt a bit bad about telling Harry that I did not care whose side he was on, but I am not so easily subdued with disarming, albeit disingenuous assurances of loyalty to the customer. A small company would not treat its customers like this. For a multinational that herds serfs from the countryside into its Foxcomm factories to manufacture their product for them, we clearly do not matter.

As it turns out, I should have bought the phone here in China because Apple was forced to apologize for its sub-standard Apple 4 and 4S after-sales service and, more to the point, they changed their policy here so that, "Now, Apple will offer full replacements of iPhone 4 and 4S instead of major repairs, adding a one-year warranty starting from the date of replacement." 

I have now read the warranty carefully. In relevant part, it states, "Apple reserves the right to change the method by which Apple may provide warranty service to you, and your Apple Product’s eligibility to receive a particular method of service." In other words, they can behave in an arbitrary and capricious fashion because they reserved the right to do so? "Service will be limited to the options available in the country where service is requested." This would seem to indicate that we are eligible for a full replacement with a one-year warranty per the aforementioned Reuters article.

Later, the warranty continues: "You may be responsible for shipping and handling charges if the Apple Product cannot be serviced in the country it is in." Shipping it to a friend or relative instead of shipping it directly to Apple does not seem to be implied by this nor a logical request for a company that sells expensive products.

Interestingly, many people who bought their iPhone in Hong Kong are experiencing the same problem, if their telephone carrier is China Mobile. The new cooperation between Apple and China may not extend to its biggest telephone carrier, but that is entirely speculation.

At least Siri would have asked me if she would like her to find a solution by searching the web.