When it fails, it’s a headache, and then some.
But when the company providing the faulty technology says your case is “escalated” but gives you nothing but lip, or excuses, or the runaround, it’s exasperating, infuriating, maddening.
Such was the case for Carole Waung, who ordered an iPhone 5 through Virgin Mobile as a gift for her daughter’s Sweet 16.
Waung’s daughter had been a Virgin Mobile customer for the past year because of its prepaid, no-contract service plans that could be cancelled at any time.
All the customer has to do is buy the phone.
Waung made the purchase via the Virgin Mobile web site on July 29, paying $695.49 by credit card.
When the phone arrived, Waung called Virgin Mobile to activate the phone.
It didn’t work.
“The customer care representative in the Philippines suggested that the iPhone could be defective,” she said. “He recommended I go to the nearby Apple store to get an exchange.”
“The second iPhone still could not be activated,” she said. “The customer care representative again suggested that the second iPhone could be defective and recommended I get an exchange.”
Waung said she was starting to wonder about the quality of the phone and the competence of customer support, so she decided to return the phone.
She called Virgin and explained to another rep why she was making the return, and she asked for the address to ship the phone. Waung said she was given an address in Plainfield, Ind., and an RMA (return merchandise authorization) number.
Waung said she mailed the phone in its original packaging on Aug. 12, putting the RMA number on the box. Through a tracking number, she verified the package was delivered to the Plainfield, Ind., facility on Aug. 16.
After a week or so, Waung said, she still didn’t see the refund on her credit card. She said she called customer service four or five times between the end of August and the middle of September.
“During the first two calls, the customer care representatives in the Philippines told me to wait for a few more days for the finance department to process,” she said. “In a subsequent call, the customer representative checked the call logs and said that he would submit an escalation and that was all he could do.”
The rep wouldn’t give her contact information for the finance department so she could follow up directly, she said.
Unsatisfied with the lack of answers, she submitted an inquiry about the refund through the Virgin Mobile website’s “Contact Us” page on Sept. 19. The next day she received an e-mail reply stating that Virgin Mobile hadn’t received the phone so it couldn’t process the refund.
She knew from her delivery confirmation that the phone had been delivered, so Waung called Virgin again on Sept. 22. This time the rep, after reviewing the call logs and the package’s tracking number, confirmed the package was indeed received on Aug. 16.
The rep promised another escalation of the case.
As an insurance policy of sorts, on the same day, Waung sent another e-mail to Virgin Mobile explaining that the phone was shipped and received, and she included the receipt for shipping and a screen copy of the delivery confirmation.
Two days later, she still didn’t have an answer, so she cancelled her daughter’s service with Virgin Mobile.
Three more days passed without contact, so she filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. That was Sept. 27.
On Sept. 28, Waung received an e-mail from Virgin saying the case was escalated — for a third time. The rep offered a case ID and suggested Waung allow three to five business days for a resolution.
Oct. 3 brought a call from the new rep who would be handling the case. The rep was from Sprint, the parent company of Virgin.
The next day, the rep asked for some detailed information about the phone exchange at the Apple store, and the serial numbers of both defective phones.
Waung gave what she was asked for in an e-mail on Oct. 6.
The rep called on Oct. 9 to say Virgin had located the phone, “but could not provide the refund because I did not return the original phone.”
The rep said Sprint would mail the phone back to Waung.
“I explained to her that the reason that I did not return the original phone — possibly defective — was that I was instructed by the first customer care representative to get an exchange at the Apple store,” Waung said. “As per the second customer care representative, this exchanged and returned phone might be defective as well.”
That night, Waung said, she e-mailed the rep again to reiterate that the return of the phone to the family was not acceptable.
“I did not want a defective phone but the full refund of $695.49,” she said.
The next day, Waung received a call from another Sprint rep, who repeated the same explanation told by the first rep.
“I told him the offer was not acceptable,” Waung said. “I did not want the defective phone but the full refund. He said that he would send me the phone.”
Since that call, Waung said, she hasn’t heard from Sprint or Virgin. She hasn’t received the phone, nor has Sprint responded to her Better Business Bureau complaint.
Frustrated, Waung asked Bamboozled for help.
ON THE CASE
We reviewed Waung’s documentation and copies of her e-mail exchanges with Virgin and Sprint.
We then asked the companies to take another look at her case.
While they looked, Waung received Sprint’s answer to BBB.
“[Sprint said] that the refund was denied because the phone returned was not the original phone purchased online but the exchanged one from the Apple store,” Waung said. “I rejected their response stating that I was instructed by VM customer support to get an exchange, and both the original and exchanged phones were defective as indicated by the customer support. Sprint’s offer is to ship me back the defective phone.”
After taking several days to review the case, Sprint responded to Bamboozled.
“We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused the customer,” said spokeswoman Lorena Pino in an e-mail. “After thoroughly reviewing Ms. Waung’s case, executive care has issued her a refund in the amount of $695.49 back to the credit card used on the original purchase.”
We offered Pino an opportunity to explain what went wrong.
“The customer is truly our first priority and we are sincerely sorry for the delay in resolving Ms. Waung’s case as quickly as it should have been,” she said. “If it’s any consolation, her experiences exposed a number of internal processes and communication deficiencies we are making efforts to improve upon so that an incident such as Ms. Waung’s does not happen again.”
That what we at Bamboozled love to hear.
Waung said it’s a relief to put the issue at rest, but she’s sorry she ever had to contact Bamboozled for help after spending so many hours trying to resolve it on her own.
“I’m saddened to have experienced such an unethical business practice from a global company,” she said. “I know that I’m not the only customer having such an awful experience with VM/Sprint. I hope that VM/Sprint realizes that continuing this business practice would drive away the customers and eventually affect its bottom line.”
DON’T LET IT HAPPEN TO YOU
Unlike other phone brands, when you buy an Apple product, you’re able to make the purchase from Apple directly or from a service provider.
But if you switch up which entity you use for problems — Apple or the service provider — there’s often confusion about which company is ultimately responsible for the fix.
Consumers can avoid this confusion by having their Apple products serviced by whatever business made the initial sale.
Still, it’s not a slam dunk. Buying the phone at Apple could mean you’re not eligible for special promotions offered by the service provider.
The best answer? There’s isn’t one. It will depend on what deals are being offered by service providers and your habits as a consumer.
Your top protection is being an informed consumer so you can make an educated decision that’s best for you. And if that doesn’t work, well, you know where to find us.