Vic Son placed his trust in two of the country’s mightiest corporate titans, Apple and FedEx, and both let him down badly.
It should have been a simple matter for Son to get his defective Apple Watch replaced under warranty, but Apple and FedEx turned it into an ordeal. (The $309 watch had stopped charging after four months; Son had paid an extra $49 for an extended, two-year AppleCare warranty.)
In February, Son, 70, a retired salesman, had arranged with Apple to have a new watch sent to his Dedham home. It was delivered by FedEx. Under the terms of the warranty, the old watch had to be returned to Apple within two weeks, or else Son would be charged for the new one.
Following Apple’s instructions, Son placed the old watch into the box the new one had arrived in, taped it closed, and fixed the Apple-supplied FedEx label to it. He promptly dropped it off at the FedEx facility in Dedham.
But when his credit card statement came last month, he noticed a $328 charge from Apple, apparently the cost of his new watch.
In his first call to Apple, Son reached a customer service representative named Jeremy, but only after his call had been transferred four times, over a period of more than two hours.
Jeremy, after a few minutes on the phone with Son, said Apple charged him for the new watch because it never received the old one, according to Son.
Son offered Jeremy the FedEx tracking number. Couldn’t Apple work with FedEx to track down the watch? After all, it was Apple that had made all the shipping arrangements with FedEx and had paid the cost, Son said.
Nope, said Jeremy. Son had to call FedEx himself.
Son did as he was told, spending 90 minutes on the phone with FedEx, mostly on hold. Couldn’t FedEx determine the whereabouts of the watch with a few keystrokes in its computers? And couldn’t it deal with Apple?
FedEx wasn’t interested in the tracking number Son offered. The only way for FedEx to investigate was for Son to file a claim, the FedEx customer service representative said.
Son did as he was told. He filed his claim. But, a few days later, FedEx e-mailed him that, “upon completing our investigation, we must respectfully decline your claim.”
Why? FedEx gave this inscrutable explanation: “Our records indicate an addendum was added to your contract stating you agreed to not file claims resulting from transportation services provided by FedEx.”
That was it — no further explanation in its denial letter.
“What ‘addendum?’ I never agreed to an addendum,” Son said. “I know nothing about an addendum. This is crazy.”
Son immediately called FedEx for an explanation. A customer service representative promised a callback. But no call came.
Son also called Apple, finally reaching Jeremy, who, for the second time, told Son he had to resolve the issue with FedEx.
“Basically, he said I had to deal with FedEx,” Son recalled.
Son called FedEx for the third time. “I don’t understand this addendum,” he told FedEx. “Why is it blocking my claim?”
The FedEx customer service representative told Son he had to deal with Apple because Apple apparently had some agreement to hold FedEx harmless in the event of lost packages addressed to Apple.
For the third time, Son called Apple, but a promised callback never came. Back and forth he went.
“Apple and FedEx kept pointing the finger at each other,” Son said. “And I was caught in the middle. I felt like the ball in a Ping-Pong match.”
Frustrated, Son asked me to help. After reviewing the documentation, I pointed out to FedEx in an e-mail that Son had not agreed to an “addendum” and that he had no idea why his claim was denied.
“FedEx appears to be treating him unfairly,” I wrote. “Please contact me.”
Within 24 hours, FedEx replied, not to me, but directly to Son. This time FedEx’s explanation was understandable: “Due to a contract agreement FedEx has with Apple, and because Apple’s account was used to ship this package, Apple will need to file this claim on your behalf. Please reach out to Apple to have them file this claim.”
Why didn’t FedEx say that in the first place, in its denial letter? How many FedEx consumers in a similar position as Son give up before getting a comprehensible explanation?
A similar scenario played out with Apple. A day after I e-mailed Apple, Son got a call from a manager in Apple’s corporate executive relations team.
The Apple manager told Son that Jeremy had been mistaken when he — twice — referred Son to FedEx. “He said I should never have been directed to FedEx,” Son recalled.
Apple promptly credited Son for the $328 charge on his credit card.
At this point, Son turned the tables on Apple.
The Apple manager had been profuse in his apologies, but Son wanted more than words. When he was a salesman, and something got badly messed up, Son tried to make it up to his customers. And so he told the manager that Apple owed him something.
“What do you want?” the manager asked.
“An iPad Pro Plus,” Son said. (The cost of an iPad Pro Plus is more than $800.)
They settled on a pair of Apple AirPods, which have a retail value of about $175 and arrived at Son’s house last week.
Good job, Vic.
It pleases me that Son got something for all his aggravation. But what really troubles me is the likelihood that the vast majority of consumers finding themselves being bounced between giant corporations, give up and wind up losing money, let alone getting compensated with a “gift” for their lost time.
Got a problem? Send your consumer issue to email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.