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Sounding Off: iCatch-22

Paul Ireson By Paul Ireson

There was only one catch... but it was iCatch-22.

I'm a long-time Apple fan with a problem. I've bought the hardware (five CPUs and counting), I've evangelised to PC users, I've worn the (hard-to-blag) T-shirts, and I'm used to feeling good about using Apple products.

Sounding Off: iCatch-22Well, that was then. I've finally come down to earth and found that it is possible to be treated like an idiot without going over to the Microsoft darkside. The secret? All you need do is try to contact iTunes Music Store customer support. Whilst I will continue to say only good things about G4 Powerbooks running Logic, about iMovie, and especially about iPods, right now I get a little hot under the collar when anyone asks me about the iTunes Music Store.

Here, in hugely abbreviated form, is my story...

I bought three tracks from the UK iTunes Music Store; one of them (Kim Wilde's 'Four Letter Word') turned out to be three minutes of silence. (For those of you who say that's an improvement... yes, I know it's not her finest moment, but I maintain that it's a modestly lovely niblet of '80s pop, and it has particular nostalgic value.) Well, no big deal. How hard could it be to get my money back or replace the track?

I sent an email via the iTunes Music Store customer support/feedback email page, expecting a reply, as indicated, within 24 hours. Nothing.

After a week of radio silence, I sent another email. No reply.

I made a series of phone calls to Apple Customer Support and Customer Relations, only to find that Apple does not provide any telephone support whatsoever for iTunes Music Store customers. The only option, apparently, is to send an email via the support/feedback page (see above) — a Catch-22 if ever there was one. I guess you can understand my reluctance to spend any more time pursuing that route, particularly after one of the support staff suggested that there was only one person assigned the task of reading these emails.

I sent an email to the iTunes Music Store in the US, and (at the suggestion of one of the otherwise entirely unhelpful telephone support staff) to a general Apple feedback address. No reply to either.

By this time I was getting a little ticked off, and decided that the only way to attract attention was a formal snail-mail requesting a replacement or refund. So I phoned Apple again to ask for the iTunes Music Store postal address... which they were unable to give me. I found it on the Apple web site, and sent a letter requesting a refund, plus the cost of postage, and explaining why I had to put something on paper.

Finally, six weeks after I first tried to contact them by email, a month after I first phoned, and a few days after the statutory time limit passed for replying to a formal written complaint, I received an email acknowledging the original problem and offering to refund my 79p. I asked which of my messages they were replying to; it turned out to be the letter. In a short exchange of messages they denied receiving any emails from me, and did not acknowledge my (OK, rather petty) request for a refund of the cost of sending the letter. There was no explanation of why it was impossible to reach them by any other means, nor any apology for the poor service and support.

The original problem was entirely trivial — a minor annoyance. The way in which the iTunes Music Store dealt with my complaint, however, heaped frustration on frustration: the email support seems unreliable, there is no way of taking up complaints on the phone if emails are ignored, telephone support staff are unable to provide information which is available on Apple's web site and written communication is not acknowledged within time limits set by UK consumer protection law. It really is not good enough for any company to offer such shoddy service; it is still worse from Apple, a company which promises (and usually delivers) more rather than less. Their last message to me read (sorry, but I just have to share this gem of off-the-shelf customer relations bullshit):

"Dear Paul,

Thank you for your email with feedback for improving our business practices and products. The iTunes Music Store Team recognises that our best advice comes from our customers and we appreciate the efforts you have made to share your opinion.

The catalog of songs grows every week. Visit often to preview the latest.

Sincerely,

The iTunes Music Store Team"

I will send a bottle of champagne to the first person who can point me to a less sincere use of the word 'sincerely' in a genuine email from any part of Apple Computer Inc. Like I said, you don't have to have that bloody Office Assistant on your desktop to be treated like an idiot. I think I'm going to revert to buying CDs for the foreseeable future...

About The Author

Paul Ireson is a former Editor of Sound On Sound, and now spends his time writing, editing, and messing around with Macs..

Published December 2004