Apple Support: Honeybadger

by {"name"=>"Aaron Gustafson", "twitter"=>"AaronGustafson", "googleplus"=>"AaronGustafson"} on 26 January 2016

My iPhone fell clumsily out of my pocket when I was sitting down in the kitchen the other day. Thwack! It fell face-first onto the tile from my seated position a mere 18 inches up. Of course the screen cracked. Protective case be damned, the cracks spread across the screen like a spider web cast from razor blades.

I was crestfallen.

Thankfully, apart from the very finger-unfriendly hellscape the screen had become, the rest of the phone completely functional. If I was careful where and how I swiped, I could do pretty much anything I needed to. And I did exactly that for a few days while I looked into my options for fixing it.

It was an iPhone 6 I purchased right when they came out, so a warranty repair was not an option. And I don’t see the point of paying for phone insurance or Apple Care1, so I was on my own to cover the cost of the repair. No biggie; it was my fault for putting it in the loose pocket of my pajama pants anyway.

I began researching my options:

  1. I could cover the broken phone with a rugged case and just deal with it.
  2. I could use one of our old iPhones until the next version came out.
  3. I could upgrade my phone with AT&T.
  4. I could self-repair as the process is pretty straightforward, but in talking with a friend who repairs smartphones for a living, I discovered the replacement screens weren’t that great.
  5. I could have Apple repair it.

Apple offers screen repair for $109, which isn’t too bad, but that takes a few days to ship the phone back and forth. They offer an expedited option where they just send you a new phone, but at $299, it seemed silly.

I contacted the local authorized Apple repair center to see if they could do the repair, but it turns out that they would just be sending it on to Apple anyway, so it seemed like my best bet would be to go back to the source. After all, who could know better how to replace a broken iPhone screen (and digitizer, since they’re fused) than Apple Support?

I chatted with an Apple Support rep about doing the repair and confirmed that the repair would cost $109. The rep told me, however, that they would need to authorize my card for $299—the out-of warranty replacement cost—in case they discovered other damage to the phone. I agreed (it was my only option) with the understanding that Apple would run some diagnostic utilities to determine what (if any) additional issues the phone might have.

A day or two later I got the mailer to send the phone to Apple, I shipped it to them and waited. They confirmed receipt of the phone the next day and, two days later, I got an email saying the phone was en route back to me. I was thrilled with the quick turnaround!

Then Kelly asked me why Apple had charged us $329. I said I wasn’t sure. The authorization was for $299, but the repair service was only supposed to be $109 (plus tax and shipping, naturally). Perhaps they billed the whole amount and then returned the unused portion in a separate transaction. We decided to wait and see what would happen.

The next day, a phone arrived. I say a phone because it was not my phone. Apple Support had sent me a refurbished replacement phone and charged me the full replacement cost. Why? “After thorough diagnostic testing, it has been determined that a replacement iPhone (enclosed) is necessary.” Vague.

I was curious what their tests had revealed. What gremlins were lurking in my heretofore fully-functional device? I decided to investigate with another support rep and was not thrilled with what I found.

Note: I spent the next few hours in a chat session with two different reps at Apple Support. Both were incredibly friendly and did everything in their power to help me get to the bottom of why my screen repair had turned into a complete replacement. Credit where credit is due.

In the conversation with the first rep, Josh, I made it clear that the phone was working perfectly before I sent it to them. It merely needed a new screen/digitizer. I offered that I was disappointed to see that they’d replaced it without explaining what would require that level of remediation and without giving me the option to have the phone returned to me as-is. From the beginning, he clearly saw where I was coming from:

Oh good grief, I’m really sorry you’ve had to deal with this. That’s not at all what we want from this process.

After a few minutes of doing some research, he came back to me:

So basically from what we’ve been discussing, the service center does run a plethora of tests on the phone once it’s sent in. That’s to be sure that it’s working properly in all ways, rather than just the screen repair itself, though trust me, I do fully understand that the only thing you wanted was the screen to be repaired, so I’m just compiling all of the data to see what happened.

A few minutes later…

[I]t’s looking like basically what ended up happening was there were tests that were run which will test the phone for a bit of additional damage than the tests that were run. From there, they look into what will give you the longest lasting phone, basically so that you don’t run into an issue with what their diagnostics tests detected down the road, and then need to pay again for it to be repaired.

I replied

[That] assumes I plan to keep the phone long enough for it to become an issue… I appreciate them looking into potential issues, but making unilateral decisions about how to proceed is not good customer service in my opinion. Letting someone know what the issue is and how much the repair would cost is just common courtesy. Even my car dealership does me that courtesy.

Josh was right there with me:

Exactly, which I know is not always a proper assumption, and I can entirely agree. I’m even still looking into additional data for you. I really don’t like how this was handled, so I’m seeing if I can come across anything additional on the matter.

He asked if I knew of any other damage to the phone and I told him that it was always in a case and I was not aware of a single other issue with the phone, cosmetic or otherwise.

He was completely empathetic:

I’m really sorry about this whole thing, Aaron. It’s looking like some sort of damage was found with the phone, which is what caused that price to be charged, rather than just the screen repair, so ultimately they decided that it would give you a longer lasting phone to replace it, so that way you wouldn’t have to deal with the hassle of having additional issues down the road. Honestly, I cannot express enough how much I understand the situation, and especially at least being informed or asked if that can be done. That’s just why the full out of warranty/replacement charge has to be held initially, is so that they have authorization to run those tests, and if needed, replace it, rather than just repair it. I’m so sorry that the process wasn’t elaborated to you, and that they didn’t at least let you know of what was going on.

I reiterated that someone really should have asked if I wanted the additional work done. I understand Apple’s “heart” might be in the right place, but they failed to do what I had hired them to do. They didn’t consider my wishes or expectations in their process at all. Nor did they give me an opportunity to decline the replacement and get my broken phone back.

Josh pleasantly informed me that by agreeing to the repair, I was out of luck:

[Replacement] was actually authorized to be used when you initially setup the payment. When the full $299 (plus taxes and shipping) was held from your card, that was authorized that if needed, it could be used for the repair if additional damage was found. Since it was found, they used the remainder of that money to replace the phone instead.

I countered:

I understand that you required the $299 + tax in order to start the repair, but that was my only option if I wanted you guys to do the $109 screen repair. Like I said, had I suspected anything else was going to be done to the phone, I would have taken my chances buying a replacement screen and doing the repair myself. … I typically replace my phone every other version, so I would have limped along with the broken screen even rather than pay the full replacement fee.

Josh, to his credit, was still on my side:

Right, trust me, I fully understand, or alternatively we could have taken it into the local Apple Authorized Service Provider, which would have been able to diagnose the phone as well in order to determine what had to be done, and then give you a price right then and there. … I’ve actually covered cracked screens in cling wrap so that I didn’t need to risk furthering the damage, or hurting myself. I can also fully understand the process of not expecting that there was any further damage, since you were able to sue the phone just fine, and that’s why you ended up getting it setup that way.

Ultimately, however, it didn’t really matter:

Basically, again, as much as I wish there was something that could be done on the matter in order to basically reverse what happened, it’s just not possible. Since it was authorized when it was initiated, and I do see where the previous advisors let you know that the full charge would be taken if additional damage was found, but if the only damage found to the phone was the screen cracks, then all but the screen repair fee of $109 plus taxes and shipping would be reimbursed. It’s just that additional damage was found, which is what caused that full charge to be taken.

After a bit more back-and-forth, Josh recommended I file a complaint with Apple (I have), said he would make sure the process was reviewed internally, and connected me with a Senior Advisor, Alexander, to help me get a few more details regarding the “damage” that prompted the replacement. I thanked him for his time and for his empathy toward my situation.

The next few minutes involved getting Alexander up to speed with what had happened. He was equally helpful:

Okay, I know how a sudden cost like this $299 can be concerning, especially when you don’t feel adequately informed on the situation. I can certainly clarify anything and get this figured out with you though.

Then he dropped the bombshell:

So the main bit of information that I want to address is not that the phone was replaced to address issues that may arise down the road. In this case, a screen replacement was attempted and did not yield a functioning device. When that occurs, our only option is to replace the device. I do see from your chats with Michelle and Teresa that they advised this was the procedure that we have

Wait. What?! They didn’t find any problems. In replacing the screen, the tech bricked the phone.

No, not at all. Just that they were unable to have a fully functioning unit after a screen replacement. That does not mean that the tech bricked the phone or messed up when replacing the screen, it means the phone was not able to work after the screen was replaced.

Um, sounds to me like they bricked my phone. Alexander tried to clarify, but was ultimately saying the same thing:

While the issue was only a cracked screen, that does not mean that the screen can be replaced and yield a functioning device. Unfortunately we can never know if a screen replacement will work until we try.

So… iPhones are only occasionally repairable. In other words, it’s a crapshoot. Comforting. No one had mentioned that they could brick the phone when attempting to repair it:

I was never advised that the repair could yield a non-functioning device. This is even more strange than I expected.

Alexander towed the company line:

I’m looking at the chats you had with us when setting up the repair, and both advisors did say how it could be $299. I also don’t see anything from either one that says the depot would reach out to you if the repair price was not going to be $109. I’m really sorry that this happened to you Aaron, but this is how our process works and everything looks to have been done correctly here. … I see them saying that they will attempt to replace the screen and if that works it would be a $109 repair. If there were additional issues, it would cost more up to the $299 max for a full replacement unit.

I clarified that they had said it could cost more. There’s a difference between “could” and “would”. I mentioned that I could have just kept the broken phone and upgraded with AT&T and spent less money. Alexander didn’t miss a beat:

That certainly was an option you could have taken Aaron, and I do sympathize with not taking that option to end up paying more than you expected. I really wish the repair process was clearer for you, and I can only advise that you leave some feedback about the repair process to us at Apple Feedback. I don’t see any mention in these chats of the depot contacting you if the cost would be more nor an advisor stating that would be the case.

I stuck to my guns:

I agree they didn’t state that would happen, but I think in the repair world it’s pretty common. … Explicitly stating that would not happen might be a good thing.

Alexander conceded that the process was less than ideal:

I don’t disagree, but that does vary from place to place and device to device. Our procedures are in line with most of the mobile phone world on this though. I will certainly leave some feedback for those advisors to be more clear about this process when a repair is set up though.

We talked for a few more minutes, but it was clear I was out of options. I could file a complaint with Apple (and have), but I am skeptical they even pay attention to that stuff. I know they don’t chime in on their own forums. My only other option was to share my story with you, in hopes you might avoid a similar situation.

So consider yourself warned: If you send your phone to Apple for something as simple as a screen repair, they just may brick your phone and charge you for the convenience. Oh and the replacement phone only has a 90-day warranty. Hooray!

  1. This is the first device I’ve broken in more than a decade of (ab)using expensive smartphones.