One woman's small nightmare with a demo iPad Air sold by AT&T

Monica Hall went to an AT&T store to buy an iPad Air. It turned out to be a demo model. What followed is the stuff of complete confusion and customer frustration.

Shouldn't they all be new?

So you bought an iPad Air that turned out to be a demo model. So what?

That was the reaction of some after a Canadian woman was sold one at Target . She found photos and contacts already loaded on it and didn't think this constituted a brand-new tablet.

"What is so hard about plugging it into your computer and doing a factory restore from within iTunes? Rocket Science," offered one CNET commenter to her story.

So please, now listen to a different tale. It's that of Monica Hall. At the end, please consider what sort of science -- psychology, perhaps -- might be involved to resolve this.

She told me:

I purchased an iPad Air from the AT&T store in Mesquite, TX, on 11/15. When I got home and was ready to use my new iPad, I couldn't get my apps to load, nor could I get any apps to load -- new ones or from the cloud. I couldn't lock the iPad. I called Apple Support and after trying several things and about 2 hours on the phone with them they finally realized the issue.

Yes, this was a demo model.

"Apple walked me through resetting and restoring the device. Everything seemed to be in order after a 2-3 hour phone call," said Hall.

Until:

11/18 I was trying to text my daughter and when I started to type in 'Je' on my phone, it was bringing up all these people I had no idea who they were. So I looked in my contact list and I realized I had over 300+ Apple employee contacts in my directory. I am sure they are fake for the purpose of being on the demo model, but when AT&T loaded my iTunes account and cloud onto the iPad, it merged all that info onto both devices. I cannot just wipe and restore my iPhone, as the new iOS system is not compatible with my company e-mail. They will have to be manually deleted one by one.

Ah. But Hall must have a vast contact list. What does it matter?

Unless:

I only have at best maybe 80-90 contacts that are truly mine and now I have over 400 in both devices. I called Apple on 11/18, spent another hour on the phone trying to rectify this, and this is the only solution to the problem. But deleting one by one takes quite some time since it will be over 300 contacts to delete.

Hall says she began to delete and then thought that this was a pain she shouldn't need to endure. You'd think someone at the AT&T store would be able to solve it, right?

Well:

11/19 I tried several times to call the AT&T store to speak with someone, and I kept hitting '2' to wait for someone and after hitting '2' three or four times, it just eventually hangs up on you. I did this a few times in hopes of reaching someone. I went back to the AT&T store and spoke with a manager.

At least the manager finally solved it. Almost.

Hall says:

He was no help. I only had my phone with me, not the iPad. He wanted to see the iPad, as if I wasn't telling the truth. Not sure how he thinks I got all this Apple contact info any other way?? But none the less, I waited almost an hour to sit down with him just to find out he was unable to do anything for me at all.

So what now?

12/2 I decided to try and tackle this issue again and I called AT&T at approximately 11.15am and filed a formal complaint with AT&T. Then the rep said I have to take this up with Apple. So I called Apple.

Apple has great customer service, so finally Hall had her problem solved. Didn't she? Almost.

Apple said this isn't for them to fix. This is an AT&T issue because they sold the device and sent it home with a consumer in Demo mode. I called AT&T back and explained all this and they still insisted I have to call Apple. I did this back and forth game from 11.15am to about 2pm and the last straw was when the last AT&T rep I spoke to was rude and didn't seem to care about my issue and said the only thing she could do was offer a $50 credit on my bill. I told her NO, that was not acceptable to me. I have been through too much and was still going to have to spend hours fixing AT&T's mistake. She started to raise her voice at me and before I got ugly and wanted to cuss at her, I just hung up the phone.

Hall was not going to give up. She's not much of a giver-upper. You can decide that having to delete 300 contacts was not such a big deal. But, being the customer, why should she have to?

So she persevered:

AT&T had made me a 5pm appointment with the store, so that is where I went Monday afternoon. Again, I told the story for about the 40th time and Anthony and another rep tried to come up with solutions. But there is only one solution and that is manual deletion. He offered a $100 credit, and, to me, that is still unacceptable.

Hall has been a loyal customer of AT&T since the Cingular/AT&T days. Perhaps she's this stubborn because she works in logistics.

She told me: "I am in a very customer-service-oriented job myself and when something of this magnitude happens, you find a way to try and correct or resolve the problem as quickly as possible and to minimize the inconvenience to your customer."

But now we get to the one piece of customer advice that we always give those who buy something without first opening the box: Open the box.

"I didn't open the box," Hall admits. "AT&T does that and gets it all set up for you before you leave the store."

Should Hall, therefore, be forgiven for not personally inspecting the iPad Air? Is the trouble she perceives worth more than the $100 she says she has been offered by AT&T?

Or isn't it time that stores made sure they don't palm demo models onto customers, as if they were new customer models? To show goodwill, how about having a store employee handle all the deleting?

On the other hand, perhaps Hall is merely another difficult customer who should manually delete and accept that this was a small error.

I have asked AT&T to share its side of the story and will update, should I hear.

What seems clear is that stores should know when they are in possession of demo models and ensure that customers aren't confused. (Hall says that the store told her: "Oh, that's where the demo model went.")

In the vast system of consumer life, her problem isn't the worst. Something annoying happened. And with every attempt to get it solved, the irritation increased.

But in customer service, what begins as a small confusion or a lack of foresight can escalate into a large annoyance.

Hall says she only knows one of these people in her address book. Monica Hall

Update, 8 a.m. PT: I am delirious that, following this post, AT&T contacted Hall and a solution was found that makes everyone feel the holiday spirit. AT&T spokeswoman Mari Melguizo told me: "We were disappointed to learn about our customer's experience. In addition to correcting the problem and apologizing to the customer, we are taking steps to ensure this doesn't happen again."

 

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