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My iPhone 5 Fiasco

iPhone 5

Long time readers (if there are any left ;-p) will know that I'm a fairly extensive user of Apple products. So when the iPhone 5 officially opened up for preorder, I woke up at 3am just so I could place mine (64GB black AT&T).

Flash forward a week when the iPhone 5 is due to be delivered. I was home that day but UPS was tricky and showed up in the morning when I was out taking my kid to school instead of their usual afternoon time. So yeah, annoyed already. But, I do what I usually do when I miss an UPS shipment: call them up and tell them to hold it for me at the local distrib center (which is about a 15 min drive away). Their nightly pickup times are from 8:30 to 9:30pm. Figuring it'd be a busy evening for them, I show up at 8:00pm to an already lengthy line. It got to be my turn at a little after 9pm. Surprise, surprise, my package can't be found. Guy at counter says possibly the driver for my area hasn't come back yet and to just wait around. So that's what I do. About a half hour later, while I'm staring a hole into the counter guy's head, he updates me, "Well the driver did seem to have already been back but we still have no idea where your package is." Hrrrgghh.... But he does give my package info to their iPhone runner (just a guy who's sole purpose that night was to run around the center tracking down iPhone packages) and the wait continued. Another half hour goes by before the runner comes back and YAY, he has my package!

So I hightail it home since it's already been TWO HOURS that I've wasted on what should have been at most a half hour wait. At home, I open up the shipping box and pause for a bit when confronted with a white iPhone 5 box. Heart sinking, I flip the box around and yup, 16GB white iPhone 5. Frack. Double check the model and serial # on the shipping box with the ones on the iPhone 5 box. Didn't match. Double frack. WTF do I do now? Decided to give Apple customer service a call. "Sorry, due to extremely high call volume, blah blah blah. Try calling back later." *click* *dial tone*

So, iPhone 5 launch day BIG FAIL!

The following day, I decided to take the phone, shipping box and all, over to the Apple Store in Short Hills. I wasn't expecting much since the phone had just launched yesterday after all so it would be extremely unlikely to be able to get a replacement the day after. Chatted with the store manager who looked at everything and pretty much said what I was expecting. Nothing he could do since the serial #'s on the shipping box didn't match the phone inside. Said I should just call customer service to see what could be done.

I didn't even wait to get home to call customer service. Sat in the mall parking lot and called them up. Was on hold for around 45 minutes before I even got to talk to anyone. Then got transferred around in circles for a bit before reaching someone who knew how to proceed. After regaling her with my tale of woe, she said she'd never heard of anything like this happening before and to hold on cause she had to consult with her manager. And then, of course, my call gets dropped. !@#$&*(!@$!!!!!! To be fair to AT&T, it did drop after an hour of being on line. =p

I immediately called back, listened to really static-y elevator music for awhile longer before connecting with another service agent. This time I didn't bother going through everything again as I figured the original agent should have taken notes already. I just told this agent that I received a different phone than what I had ordered and he said, fine, send it back on us and we'll ship out a replacement when we can. Couldn't guarantee a date though. Said to expect return instructions via email in a day or so. And that was that.

So the weekend was pretty much shot with no new phone. =\ At this point I was pretty much resigned to not getting what I ordered for at least another month. After Monday late afternoon rolled around, I called up customer service again to check on the return instructions. Agent I spoke to said since I had called on a Saturday I might not get the info until Tuesday. Also let me know that I wouldn't have to wait for all the existing orders to be filled before getting mine. That they could definitely fit me in somewhere but still, unable to give an exact date. So at least a small bit of good news. Then that evening I got the awaited email.

Unexpectedly, I received an email the next day that my replacement phone was being shipped out. YATTA!!!! Was slated to be delivered the following Monday and I made sure to be around when it was delivered. I then shipped the white 16GB model that I had originally received back to Apple. BUT, we're not done yet. This new 64GB black iPhone that I had just received turned out to have a busted vibrate function. So I took it to the Grand Central Apple Store where they said they could replace it on the spot. Unfortunately I hadn't taken a backup of the phone yet so waited until the following Monday to do the replacement.

Thus order had been restored to my gadget world. Until...

Two days later, when I arrived home to a voice mail from Apple customer service notifying me that the white iPhone 5 that I had returned to them was actually purchased from an AT&T store "in my area" and so I would be charged the full, no-contract amount for the replacement 64GB black iPhone 5 they had just sent me unless I sent it back. Incredulous, I called them back to try to figure out what was going on. The first-level service agent I spoke with looked up my case and said pretty much that unless I returned one of the two 64GB iPhones, they would be charging me for the second one.

"Uh, WHAT two 64GB iPhones? I only have one."
"Well, we sent you the first one and then the 'replacement'."
"And that's what I'm trying to tell you, I never received the first one. What I got was that 16GB white model."
"Well we sent you a 64GB originally so you'll have to send one of those back."

I swear it was like talking to a brick wall. So of course, I asked to talk to a manager. Once the manager got on the line, I explained to her that I had never received the 64GB black phone that I had originally ordered and had instead received the 16GB white one. She at least agreed to look into it further. But she also said that the 16GB white iPhone was being sent back to me. That night I shot off an email to her basically recounting everything that had transpired up to this point and asked her to forward it to their "iPhone group" who would be the ones looking into this matter.

About half a week later, the final word came back. Sorry, but because the 16GB white iPhone you sent back to us was purchased from an AT&T store in your area, we'll have to charge you for the replacement 64GB phone. When further pressed on if they could tell me which store it was purchased from, "Oh sorry, it wasn't purchased from a store in your area, it was an online order from the AT&T site." Huh? So basically, nothing changed. I know they would most likely never come right out and say it but I suspect that they thought I was trying to pull a fast one on them. Who would ever bother trying to pull such an obvious, doomed to fail scam though?

I peppered her with a bunch of questions.

"Are you able to figure out what happened to the original 64GB iPhone I was supposed to have received? Do you know where it is?"
"I can't tell you that."
"Can you tell me who ordered this 16GB white iPhone or where it was sent to?"
"Could you give me the serial # and IMEI of the phone I was supposed to have received?"
That she could give me.
"So what am I supposed to do with this 16GB white phone? I didn't order it, I don't want it. I have no idea where it came from and why it came into my possession. What am I supposed to do with this phone?"
"Well, you could sell it on craigslist or something."

Seriously? SERIOUSLY??? After asking multiple times if there was any other recourse from their side and getting "No" for an answer each time, she said I could probably contest the charge with my credit card company. Well yeah, I was already planning to do that but I was trying to avoid having to since that's just bringing another party into the mix. But at that point that seemed like it was the only (and final) step I could take.

So while waiting to hear back from AMEX about the contested charge, I was left with trying to figure out what to do with the 16GB white iPhone. I decided to contact AT&T (since it was theoretically their phone) to see if I could extract any information about the phone to help bolster my case. I contacted their customer service over Twitter and got directed to a service manager. After emailing him about my situation, he also said it was a really strange case and that he'd look into it. Heard back from him about a week later. He was able to confirm that it was indeed their phone but he couldn't give any other information about who had originally ordered it, whether or not that party had complained about not receiving it, and if anything else had been done with that party. So the only thing I got out of this exchange was that he was more than willing to verify that I indeed, was NOT the one who originally ordered this phone. And he asked if I could send the phone back to them. Which I did.

Now right around this time, the iPad Mini had just been announced so I tried preordering one online from the Apple Store. Only to have the order cancelled without notification the day after. Huh, ooookkk... let's try that again. Same result. Frak. So I contacted the Apple manager that I had dealt with prior and asked her to look into this. Two days later, "Um, yeah, because you had sent back a different iPhone AND because you're contesting the charge for the replacement iPhone, your account has been locked so you can't order anything from the online store... But you can still buy our products from any of the retail locations." Good grief. I eventually did get the wifi+LTE model that I wanted from the online store though. Apparently the account lock is only based on email address. So when I placed an order using the exact same name, address and even credit card #, but a different email address, voila, order ok. Utterly ridiculous.

But anyway, back to the original issue. After a few weeks, I called up AMEX to see if they were actually doing anything about my contested charge since I hadn't heard any acknowledgement of them having received my request. Apparently they were just waiting to hear back from Apple and it may take awhile. Still annoyed that Apple customer service seemed utterly incapable and uninterested in trying to figure out what really happened here, I decided to send an email to the man at the top: good ol' Tim Cook.

It's commonly known on the Intertubes that Cook was carrying on Jobs' tradition of occasionally responding to emails from any Joe Schmoe with something to say so I figured I'd take the chance if it'd help me get in touch with a sympathetic ear in Apple somewhere. I didn't think Cook actually reads every email that hits his inbox. I figured it was probably being filtered by lackeys first but maybe they could at least forward my email along to the appropriate channel. So I sent off a brief email, which was VERY hard to do considering everything that had transpired, asking to be simply forwarded to anyone that could help. I was very polite and even somewhat apologetic (for having the gall to email him directly ;-p). I really wasn't expecting much and after a couple of days had passed, figured nothing would come of it.

Until I got a voice mail on my cell from someone in Apple Online Store Executive Relations. Now, compared to their regular customer service, Executive Relations is on an entirely different level. In my email to Cook, I mentioned no details about what had been going on. But when I called this guy back, it was apparent that he had caller ID, and that he had done his homework. He knew what the issue was, everything that had already happened between Apple customer service and I, and had even looked at my order history stretching back years. He was apologetic AND sympathetic even though he stated up front that he couldn't guarantee that he could change the outcome. But at least it felt to me like I was finally talking to someone who gave a damn. And that's exactly what I wanted. He had me go over again exactly what had happened from the original delivery day to the present. He seemed taken aback when I said I had shipped the 16GB white iPhone back to AT&T. Should have held on to it apparently. But I gave him the contact info for the AT&T manager I had dealt with and he seemed fine with that. And seriously, these Executive Relations people are a cut above. He'd call me once at the start of the week and again at the end of the week, even if he had no new information for me. Just to assure me that he was still working on it and that I could always contact him if I had any questions. Now this is how customer service should be.

But anyway, the week of Thanksgiving, he called to give me the news I had been waiting 2 months to hear: they were going to waive the charge. Or rather, they would let my AMEX contest of their charge go through. And they'd be lifting the lock on my online store account. He still wouldn't (or couldn't) tell me exactly what the hell happened. But at least the entire thing was now over. Thankfully.

So, my takeaways from this entire ordeal?

  1. If someone wanted to steal your phone from Apple's usual shipping box, it's really easy. There's only one piece of packing tape sealing the opening flap and it's stuck on perpendicular to the flap so doesn't seal that entire edge. You could easily slice the tape open, take the phone out, and reseal the box with another small piece of packing tape on top with no one the wiser unless they looked carefully at the tape and the sealed edge. I'm not saying this is what happened in my case but it doesn't appear to be particularly hard to pull off.
  2. For atypical situations, Apple's regular customer service is... not very helpful. In my case there was a lot of waiting around for information from their internal "iPhone group" and absolutely no way to communicate with them directly. Hence the feeling that no one really cares about your issue. Since the customer service person one typically deals with can't really make decisions for incidents like this, there's no way to plead your case.
  3. There's gotta either be another level of customer service in-between the front line and Executive Relations that handle special cases like mine. Or there should be a more obvious way of reaching Executive Relations besides having to email Tim Cook. Basic customer service never mentioned them despite my repeated attempts to get this thing elevated. It would be fantastic if customer service were all like Executive Relations but that's probably overkill.
  4. I find it amusing that no one would answer me in writing (via email). Either from Apple, or AT&T. Any question I sent in got a call back. I'm assuming it's because they don't want to leave a paper trail in case situations go sour. Or held accountable. =p
  5. Emailing Tim Cook apparently works. Obviously I won't guarantee that it will for you but it did in my case. The key I suppose is to keep it short, simple and to the point. And maintain a civil tone. No point in raging no matter how aggrieved you may feel.

So I suppose all's well that ends well. Every now and then during the entire ordeal I would think about boycotting Apple but who'm I kidding? I like their stuff too much. =p But it was definitely a pretty irritating situation to go through, with way too much time wasted. I still want to know what happened to the 64GB black iPhone I was supposed to have received originally. I periodically look up the serial # on Apple's Check Your Service & Support page but so far it keeps showing that the phone hasn't been activated yet. If Apple knows, they're not telling. I haven't had the chance to check if my online store account was indeed unlocked but I'll take their word for it. So Apple, you've managed to retain this long-time customer... but don't let this happen again. =p

Oh, and as for the iPhone 5? It's lovely. ;-)


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Comments (1)


I'm not sure what compelled me to read this entry because I've never owned an iPhone but I read the entire episode and thought DANG BEN you are one determined person (good for you!), and DANG BEN your writing style is eerily similar to mine! Or my writing style is eerily similar to yours! Even your 5-point conclusion... this just cracks me up!

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