It seems like ancient history now, but last Christmas I received a $20 iTunes card from a work friend.
I was very pleased to receive it, as I usually buy songs from iTunes with my credit card – and that can tick over in the blink of an eye.
Obviously I hadn’t handled an iTunes card in a while. Without much forethought, I peeled back the sticker covering the code, only to notice I had damaged two of the characters beyond recognition.
Naturally I tried to redeem the value in the iTunes Store with a few guesses, but to no avail. So I turned to my trusty adviser, Google, and found that I was not the only one with this problem. However, none of the suggestions helped me.
So I bit the bullet and clicked the iTunes link to “get help”. I filled out the form, including the card’s serial number, then clicked OK.
The next day I received an email from a guy from iTunes Store Customer Support. He wanted me to fax the following to him:
• A cover sheet including my name, email address, and my case ID;
• The sales receipt; and,
• Photocopies of the front and back of the card.
Yes, he said fax. Seriously, who faxes any more? Some Gen-Y’s don’t even know what a fax is.
Thankfully he provided an alternative: scan the receipt and the card, then attach them to a reply email.
However I had a second problem – because I didn’t buy the card myself, I didn’t have the receipt. Call me old fashioned, but I wasn’t keen on asking my friend if he still had it. So I replied to the support guy’s email with a cover message, attached scans of the front and back of the card, and explained my receipt predicament.
Eight days later – just as I’m starting to suspect Apple has ignored me – I receive an email from another support guy. He tells me he can’t find the serial number in his system. Now that’s a strange one, given it’s their number on their card. This guy also asks for the receipt again, so I embarrassingly asked my friend if he still had it. Of course he hadn’t. So I told the support guy that I was going to let it go. It was only $20 anyway. (That was a test: Did they really want to serve me or not?)
The next day I got an email from yet another support guy asking me to fax or email the sales receipt and scans of the front and back of the card! I informed this guy that I had already responded to that, so could he refer to the other guy.
Two days later I got an email from yet another support guy asking me to email the scans of the front and back of the card!! No mention of the receipt this time, so I’m unsure as to whether they’ve waived it or forgotten about it. Nonetheless I email back the scans again.
Another couple of days go by when thankfully, a support lady finally emails me the code – complete with the two mystery characters.
This isn’t the hip and cool Apple I’ve become accustomed to. I must stress that the support people were very polite (if scripted) and they persisted to the end, but their system let them down.
Sure, it was only $20, but I consider a brand’s response to a minor matter a predictor of their response to a major matter. (Besides if you don’t mind writing off $20, let me know and I’ll provide you with my postal address.)
Furthermore, it’s not just the systemic barriers and process inefficiencies that bug me. It’s the fact that the sticker is so damn hard to remove and the code so easy to damage, that you can only wonder whether Apple is doing it by design.
How many other customers out there have just given up and thrown their damaged cards away, never to redeem them? High fives all round at Cupertino, except it’s a high price to pay for losing a lifetime of future sales.
If I were lucky enough to own Apple shares, I’d sell them. I have seen the worm that can kill it from the inside.