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by Steve Wood
March 4, 1999



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Early last month I posted a column in which I criticized Apple Computer's refusal to make a refund on a defective refurbished monitor they sold me. It was the sad story of some less-than-helpful behavior by Apple Computer's customer service. After weeks of Apple refusing to return my messages, I posted a second piece a week ago which was even more revealing of Apple's disregard for some of their customers.

With a much humbler attitude, I'd like to report that Apple called and apologized profusely for their rudeness in not immediately making a refund on the defective monitor they had sold me and refused to take back. They also sent me a free Blue & White G3, with matching display, both personally autographed by Steve Jobs.

I'd love to report all of that, but it just isn't so. I'd like to report that Apple responded in any helpful fashion. But that just isn't so, either. After writing the "Tell Steve" complaint page, I received an email that promised "a timely response" from "The Apple Store Customer Service Team." After over two weeks of no response, I tried to write the "Tell Steve" page again, only to find it inoperative for days on end. I finally got a message through and received a phone message on my answering machine suggesting I call Apple customer relations (again) for a solution. I gave it one more try.

I can accurately report that the service at Apple is much, much better. Where I spent over an hour on hold with various folks at Apple Customer Relations the last time, it only took a few minutes on hold, one disconnection, and another few minutes on hold to be directed to "Chris" who quickly told me in a most superior tone that Apple won't make good on defective refurbished monitors it sells. They will, however, direct you to the web page or phone number where you can find an Apple Authorized Service Center.

Stop and think about that one for a minute. We're talking about an almost $400 item here. Say you bought a $400 television or stereo at Wal-Mart, and it was defective out of the box. Would you want a repair, or would you demand a replacement or refund? It's pretty much a no-brainer, isn't it. But when Apple sells a defective refurbished unit with what now appears to be the intent to make no exchanges or refunds, it sends the buyer on to the repair shop!


The fun today really began when I asked to speak to "Chris's" supervisor. At first, it seemed Chris just didn't have any supervisor. (Wow! What a job!) Then it became clear that a supervisor really did exist, but just wouldn't come to the phone. Chris explained that it's "policy" that a supervisor not be called to the phone. My name and number were again taken, just as they were over a month before, for a promised return call from the phantom supervisor.

The monitor in question is an Apple 17" MultiScan 720. I have one at home that I purchased new with my G3 and have a fair idea of how a good one should operate. The refurb was anything but a good monitor. Out of the box, it was dim and refused to hold its settings. Unfortunately, the monitor arrived at my workplace as I was leaving for Christmas break. I only got to burn it in after the break, which was well after Apple's period for returns, although well within the warranty period. When our technology coordinator (sometimes known as the "evil NT techie") saw the monitor, he laughed and exclaimed, "Apple sold you a worn out monitor!" And that is exactly what they appear to have done.

What I will do on this situation is really a minor matter. The bigger issue is the attitude and policies at Apple Computer--holder, developer, and sole manufacturer of the OS many of us have used and supported.

The implications are staggering. If I am reading the situation correctly, there is, from the top down, an attitude that the customer better follow Apple's policy to the "T" for Apple to make good on a product. Customer Relations staff, as exemplified by both Jason and Chris, are imbued with this arrogance and are apparently encouraged to castigate any customer who might have the temerity to suggest that Apple's policy is in error and something needs to be done.

There appear to be no effective checks to Apple's policies or disregard of some customers' situations, other than the most deadly of checks, the free marketplace. While waiting and hoping Apple would "do the right thing," I invested in a new Sony 17" display, at about the same price as the Apple refurb. It's an excellent piece of equipment, much better even than the "good" 720 at home. I suspect I have permanently moved on to other display manufacturers/sellers than Apple.

What happened to the dim, defective 720? Did it go in the box...in a corner...or in the trash where it belongs? Nope! It sits on a fantastic Mac IIfx, beside an LC III with a brilliant 14" display. It's quite a conversation starter.

One curious note in all of this was that each time I called Apple, they didn't much care about the 720 monitor. One person didn't even know what a 720 was! They wanted to know the kind of computer to which it was connected. Maybe it's a record-keeping thing. But, it gives me the opportunity to tell you about the computer it was supposed to be perched atop.

The refurb was purchased for a used PowerMac 7500/100...which has been upgraded with a NewerTech G3/250 card...and 144 MB of RAM...with a 4.5 gig AV drive...and a 2.1 gig drive which holds the "C" drive and Orange application for the OrangeMicro 530 PC card I must use for my Windows-only IEP program (Access database driven--when do we get Access for the Mac, Microsoft?)...which has a fairly new external Zip drive and an Epson 850 printer. Nice setup, huh? I love it. But then, had Apple only continued the AIO, one of those would be in the 7500's place...and in a lot of other classrooms down the hall...and probably across the nation instead of alarming reports such as this one that appeared recently on MacCentral.

But, I've digressed...a bit on purpose so that you'll know that I do love working on Macs. I just hate to be ripped off!

Why hasn't Steve Jobs taken charge in the area of poor customer service, or even less than excellent customer service. This is stuff that can kill a company. Yet, it seems from those who have dealt with Apple, both from the outside and inside, experiences such as mine are known and accepted, and possibly encouraged by those who could make Apple's Customer Service/Customer Relations among the best in the industry! At a time Apple is cranking out some of the best technology it has ever produced, another element of the company is being allowed to negate serious portions of the gains made by the excellent, new machines.

When my personal "buying cycle" comes around again in a few years, I'd hope there's an improved descendant of the MacOS available (OS X.5 :-) and Apple hardware to run it on. But customer service problems have a way of catching up with companies. If you don't think so, think of how many Sears' appliances you used to have or your folks had and then think of how many you have now!

Apple needs to fix their customer service attitude now...yesterday, if possible!

Send your feedback to Steve Wood

Update on the update: 3/21/99

The phantom customer service supervisor did return my call this time...possibly because I had told "Chris" that approximately 7,000 readers had stopped by my various postings on the subject! "Michelle," the supervisor, was polite and heard me out. Then she recited the Apple "party line"...if the Apple Store has a policy of not accepting returns after 7 days on refurbs, she could do nothing to change it. She did offer, however, for Apple to foot the bill to FedEx the defective monitor to the nearest Apple repair station of my choice (all are approximately a two-hour drive).

The monitor went to the Apple repair station that handles all of our school's warranty and other service. "Bruce" called to say they put the monitor on a test bench for two days and couldn't replicate the settings problem, but said they would get the monitor working to my satisfaction. When I inquired about the dimness of the monitor, Bruce hesitantly replied, "It's certainly not as bright as I'd like." I told him of our school techie's comment about the monitor ("Apple sold you a worn out monitor!") and Bruce became considerably more sympathetic. He too, has been trying to convert the "evil NT techie" to the Mac side!

Bruce and I then had a great chat about how to subvert the techie to the "non-dark side," and he appropriately drooled over the phone about my IIfx, to which the defective monitor had last been connected.

But, as of Sunday, March 21, 1999, the monitor for which I paid Apple over $350 on December 11, 1998, has yet to have a single day of satisfactory service. As polite and unhelpful as Michelle was, and as polite and promising as Bruce was and is, that's a giant black eye on Apple customer service.

I regularly see postings on my favorite Mac new site and others about Apple refurbs at enticing prices. I can only recommend that potential buyers remember my and others' experiences in dealing with Apple on defective refurbished products.

The monitor returned from "the shop" on April 5. A note was attached saying the "board" had been replaced. Unfortunately, the monitor is still somewhat dim, even with the brightness set at maximum. Worse yet, the color is off, beyond the ability of software to correct. After fussing with Apple for months over a defective refurbished monitor that Apple consistently said it would repair, I am left with a less than satisfactory product.

In conclusion, I probably won't purchase any Apple display in the future--new or used. I'm sure other manufacturers have similar problems, but my experience simply indicates that Apple won't make good on defective products in certain situations such as mine.

Send your feedback to Steve Wood
©1999 Steven L. Wood

reposted to the new MATH DITTOS 2 site 6/5/2000