Modern customer service

Note: my experience below happened in February of 2013, I’m just super late in publishing it.

There’s been a growing trend in the way corporations approach customer service. In industries that have become largely undifferentiated in the products or services they offer, the thing companies are trying to do is put forth the best possible customer experience. Which is great, you should always treat your customers well. But a recent experience has made me wish some of them would take a page out of the big book of common sense.

I recently had to contact Apple for technical support. As a very technical person, I don’t look forward to having to talk to tech support. I have to invest a certain amount of time going through the standard menu of questions about my problem. Sometimes the level 1 person can solve my issue, but often they can’t and things have to be escalated. Only they don’t always know (or are allowed?) to do that.

My Apple problem was strange and unexpected: I tried to buy an iTunes e-gift card for my mom’s birthday. I’m 99% positive I’ve made this kind of purchase before but it’s been a while. I hadn’t upgraded to iTunes 11 yet so that was the first thing I did. When I tried to complete the purchase I got a message saying it couldn’t be completed and that I’d need to contact Apple for assistance. So that’s fine. Only it was very not-fine.

I went to and filled out a request for support. I got a lengthy e-mail reply that started out with the words ‘A wonderful day to you!’ Why, thank you! The person indicated they were working on my problem, that I would get an e-mail after the matter has been investigated, etc. A day goes by and I get another reply, in which the same person says sorry but ‘my account is not authorized to obtain content from the U.S. iTunes Store. For this, we are unable to provide further information, but I strongly suggest you to review the iTunes Store Terms and conditions.’ Whaaa? That made no sense at all, and was entirely too cryptic.

My first thought was that they think I’m doing something fraudulent. I know all about Mat Honan’s experience and I’m sure Apple is still feeling some paranoia from that. And I did notice that the credit card I had on file in iTunes had expired when I went to make my purchase. I updated my payment info, but maybe they still weren’t sure things were on the level. That’s understandable.

I replied back saying that doesn’t seem right, I’ve bought a lot of stuff over the years through the iTunes store, could they escalate my ticket. What proceeded was two weeks of back and forth over why they wouldn’t let me give them money, and why they wouldn’t tell me what was really wrong. I don’t expect them to tell me every little detail about what’s in their records or their processes for customer disputes. But at least give me the overall reason, like ‘the payment info we got from you appears bogus’. More information is usually better than less. Instead in each e-mail they kept using phrases like ‘I acknowledge that you want to have an explanation for this’, apologizing profusely, thanking me for being a customer, and giving me a link where I could leave feedback.

Eventually they flipped whatever switch would allow me to purchase an e-gift card via iTunes, but by then the birthday I was buying it for had passed and I had already gone with Amazon. So sorry Apple, but I may need to look elsewhere for my MP3-buying needs in the future. My suggestion is you try to be more open and forthright when helping customers, rather than include so many nice platitudes in your e-mails.

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