My Google Store Travail

Google Store’s bureaucratic ineptitude is beyond belief. My recent, unresolved customer crisis is an experience in artificial unintelligence. For a parent company whose core competency is supposed to be indexing, crunching, and disseminating information, it’s inconceivable that something so simple as fixing a single order error could escalate into a tragically comic Catch-22. I should have abandoned all efforts long before reaching the point of penning this post and looking back to the Apple Way.

To summarize: I received the wrong Pixel phone nearly a month ago. Google Store struggled to process a return authorization, because the device in hand didn’t match the one in the order. I eventually agreed to keep the thang, so long as the retailer could transfer the extended warranty—so-called “Preferred Care”—that I had paid for. But the process proved to be complicated, then necessity, after I unexpectedly needed to file a damage claim. You’ll have to read on for the sordid punchline, but suffice to say it all ends in a comedy of compounding errors.

Problems resolved! Please see:Thank-you, Google Store

Hey, Google
My story starts innocently enough, on Oct. 9, 2018, when I preorder a Pixel 3 and XL—both “Clearly White” and 128GB—from Google Store. My wife’s phone, the Pixel 3,  arrives on October 17; mine is scheduled to deliver in another six days. But, surprise! I open the shipping box to find a Pixel 3 XL “Just Black” instead. Uh-oh. That isn’t right. I ask if she would want the larger phone. Nope. So I contact Google Store support; fill in an online form with your number and a specialist rings back. My intention: Arrange an exchange. Simple, right? Oh, I wish!

The first phone call, and the second, quickly descend into chaos. The reps can’t generate a “return merchandise authorization”, or RMA, because the make, model, color, and IMEI don’t match the ordered phone. One of the gents questions the legitimacy of my request by claiming that the IMEI indicates a Pixel 3 XL meant for third-party retail. There is an absurdity about Google Store making me prove the error by providing photos of the shipping label, phone, and product box because they’re “vital for our investigation”. I oblige about the label, because the correct order number is on it. Request for phone pic comes later, and to that I balk. The IMEI should identify model and color, but the image is necessary to truly confirm color is black—or in Joe’s new parlance “Not White”—a store shipping specialist explains. Google Store’s “investigation” shouldn’t be my obligation.

During the first two phone calls, support reps say that the process would be this: Receive shipping and RMA labels by email, return the XL, and wait for a refund to my credit card. Obtaining Pixel 3 “Clearly White” would mean placing a new order, which I do late-day on the 17th—but for “Not Pink”—before making support call three. Well, that goes to hell, because the process story changes: Google would need to obtain those photos, conduct its investigation, request return of the XL, and replace with the smaller Pixel 3. And what about that new “Not Pink” processed earlier? It’s too late to cancel the online order; the handset ships the next day. (My wife uses the phone and loves it, BTW).

Lingering concern: Google Store won’t generate a RMA until completing the aforementioned “investigation”, which could take weeks—or so I am told. I worry that, given the confusion about white versus black, even if the device is returned to Google Store it might vanish into some dark nebula and I would be out the pretty price paid for the thing. I consider keeping the phone, as concession. Then the unexpected occurs: On the morning of October 18, Google Store sends email stating that estimated delivery for the Pixel 3 XL “Clearly White” is delayed; new estimated ship date is now November 6-7. Suddenly, bird—or phone—in hand makes most sense. So I contact store support, and a specialist says that I can keep the phone in hand, for cost of the Pixel 3, and get the “Preferred Care” transferred. Excellent! I cancel the other order.

Artificial Unintelligence
Ah, the stupid decisions that we make. I foolishly set up and started using the Pixel 3 XL “Just Black” on October 18. Six days later, while wearing sunglasses, I observe several splotches in a single row below the surface of the screen against any predominantly white background—such as Gmail. At first, I think maybe that polarization reveals sensors beneath. To confirm, I drive over to the local Verizon store and look at Pixel 3 XL display models while wearing the same sunglasses. The screens are pristine.

Strange screen splotches seen through polarized sunglasses

Upon return, I email one of the more helpful Google Store specialists, asking him to call me the next day (he doesn’t): “The screen may be defective, and, if so, I would want to return for refund rather than transfer the warranty (which would be cancelled with refund, anyway)”. Already, transferring “Preferred Care” is bear of a process, despite my phone-call nagging for resolution. I would only consider keeping the Pixel if extended care is in place.

I contact Google Store several more times over the following days, waffling about returning or keeping the phone. There is still lingering doubt in my mind that the retailer can create a RMA and, as such, later issue a refund. Meaning: I have no confidence in the operation’s inventory management. Finally, on October 29, the ever-helpful specialist emails: “I can confirm that the device has successfully been added to your account with the ‘Preferred Care’. I understand you probably don’t want to wait for a new device to be shipped out to you if you return the device”. Not long later, insurance provider Assurant sends coverage information. But it isn’t what I expect or was promised. I email Mr. Helpful (and he truly is, honestly):

When will this nightmare of errors end? Your reassuring email arrived at 3:55 p.m. PDT. Thank you. However, at 4:45 another arrived with the Device Coverage documentation—for the Pixel 3 white! Listed IMEI is for that device, which I understand in your system is designated as returned for ‘buyer’s remorse’–or that’s what [another rep] told me last week. I’ve had enough. This shipping error is just beyond ridiculous. It’s time to return the phone for refund and start over. But I’m scared to death that returning a device with different IMEI and the ordered one being listed as returned, the end will be no Pixel and my payment evaporated.

The next day, by email, Mr. Helpful asks if we can set up a phone call on Halloween morning. He has consulted his colleagues working somewhere in the higher support tiers and is assured that “Preferred Care” has been transferred. I am a disbeliever by nature and am more so given all that has transpired in this transaction. So I ask if we could do a three-way call with Assurant to confirm. No words can express Mr. Helpful’s surprise when the Assurant rep says that there is no contract for the IMEI of my wayward Pixel 3 XL.

Time has come to clear the slate. I want to return the phone and order another. The mistaken order. The strange screen splotches seen wearing sunglasses. The problem transferring the extended warranty. Mr. Helpful understands. I start the new order process online while we talk and receive estimated November 6 ship date for another Pixel 3 XL. We agree that he will ring me on the 7th, after I have (hopefully) received the new device and transferred data from the old. During that forthcoming call, he will initiate RMA; doubts about that successfully occurring still give me the willies.

Careless Coverage
Disaster strikes 2 days later. I typically carry my phones bareback. But because of problems transferring extended protection coverage, I try to be extra cautious and use one of Google’s fabric cases to give more grip. On this unusually hot autumn afternoon, with my hands ever so sweaty, the Pixel 3 XL slips from my fingers—largely from fiction of fabric on fabric—as I pull it from my pocket. The phone falls face down on the sidewalk! The screen shatters. The irony: Had I not been over-protective and as such carried the device cased, drop almost certainly wouldn’t have happened. In 21 years using cell phones, never have I broken a device before.

I immediately finger-peck the splayed glass to the Google Store page in Chrome and cancel the other order. There is no way Google Store will take back the Pixel 3 XL now. Warranty replacement or repair is my only option. But has the “Preferred Care” contract been properly applied yet? I rush home and ring Google Store support yet again. Each call confuses every new specialist because the whole mess has become so convoluted. The next guy, whom I must call Mr. Unhelpful, goes through the motions then transfers me to Assurant but without giving the claims handler any background. So I tell her the tragic tale of the history to date. She takes the information and files the claim, promising that some higher-ups will evaluate and make a determination within 24 hours.

Saturday November 3 dawns, and I wait until the afternoon to check the status. Of course! The claim has been rejected, because there is no coverage associated with the phone’s IMEI. I call back Google Store support that day, and the next two, looking for some kind of resolution. Each representative’s promise melts before the harsh reality of circumstance.

November 7: Mr. Helpful rings as promised. We discuss the damaged phone and my filing an insurance claim. Once again, he exuberates confidence that “Preferred Care” has been transferred and is active for the black Pixel. Sure enough, he conferences in an Assurant rep, who confirms that the IMEI is assigned a contract. Outstanding! But—and of course there would be a but—some of the information Assurant has about the phone doesn’t match up with my device. While the gent processes the claim, Mr. Helpful, who had long exited the call, emails: “It has been a long journey that has now come to an end. I’m sorry for the inconvenience this has caused. Due to the original error I have credited $25 USD Google Store credit to your account that expires in one year. I know it’s not much, but I hope it helps”.

But the journey is far from over. My response to him the next day best explains: “Of course Assurant rejected the claim! Google provided the wrong make and model for the IMEI (Pixel 3 white)…Ridiculous doesn’t describe how far this bureaucratic nightmare has gone. It’s time for Google to replace the phone directly or take it back and issue a refund”.

“Not White”
I had expected the rejection. A day earlier, the Assurant rep added copious notes to the claim, explaining the phone’s history and that the IMEI shown as Pixel 3 “Clearly White” in their system was really a Pixel 3 XL “Just Black”. He hoped that the exposition would move along approval. Nope. But that may be fortuitous. When later calling Assurant for explanation about the rejection,  another rep warns: Had the claim been processed and the phone swapped for another, the mismatched model and  color—even with correct IMEI—would almost certainly cause Google to charge my credit card for the purchase price. That’s the procedure when people don’t honor the terms by not returning the damaged device or by trying to sneak one different than covered. I would then have paid for two phones but possess one.

Google compounded the original shipping error with commingled misidentification. I am baffled. If inventory is properly managed across the supply chain, IMEI should always correspond with the correct make, model, and color device. Uh-oh. I observe that the original online order in my Google Store account has changed, too: The IMEI has been updated and corresponds with the phone that I possess. But the listed device is Pixel 3 “Clearly White” 128GB. Ugh.

November 9: Another phone call commences: The responding support specialist bumps me to another higher tier handler, who asks for five business days to fix things. We talk on Friday afternoon. Monday, November 12, is Federally observed Veterans Day. I give him until Tuesday to remedy my customer service malady. “It’s the end of the line”, I tell him—and much more. “My patience is exhausted”, I say, before my tirade begins. Finally, I yell at someone. I apologize but continue to rant nevertheless.

The holiday weekend passes and deadline day arrives, but with it something strange: The gent’s email follow-up to our lengthy phone call and my responses to it has vanished from Gmail. I am dumbfounded and can’t contact him. I would never purposely delete such communication. Surely something should be in the Sent folder if nowhere else. There is nothing. How suspicious.

So the process starts over, on November 13: Calling support, explaining the convoluted circumstance, and being put on hold while upper-tier staffers are consulted. The day’s specialist works diligently to resolve the situation, but the story is the same: His system shows the IMEI associated with a Pixel 3 XL “Just Black” 128GB. Like everyone else with whom I have spoken, he cannot understand why my order page shows the right IMEI but Pixel 3 “Clearly White” 128GB, which, to reiterate, is the information Assurant has. He ends the phone call, promising to email an update. I request a phone call instead.

Sometime later, his message burrows my inbox: “Just reaching out to you to let you know that I’ve gone over the information provided and contacted my Tier 2 Support. From contacting my Tier 2 and they have assured me that you are able to contact Assurant and file the claim. Thank you for your patience while I look into this matter and thank you for contacting Google Support”. I call Assurant to confirm. Once again, I am misled. The insurer still has the wrong make, model, and color.

Simply Unbelievable
November 14: Last Day. I am ready to accept that there will be no resolution forthcoming. That Google Store has ripped me off for the price of a Pixel 3 plus so-called “Preferred Care”—which I obviously haven’t received. My last support phone call begins, with the most helpful agent yet. He really tries. The phone call lasts for two hours, while he works with the upper tiers to find a way to resolve the situation that day. So that an Assurant claim can be immediately filed. Otherwise, the operation needs to submit another “bug report”. Logging the first led to the commingled correct IMEI for the wrong device seen in my updated order history and given to Assurant, BTW.

Five months ago, I switched from Apple to Google platforms. Until the Google Store order catastrophe, the digital lifestyle change completely satisfied. So desperate to stay, rather than go back, yesterday I shook the tree by tweeting: “@GoogleStore sent me wrong #Pixel but couldn’t generate RMA to return. So I agreed to keep it. But then @Google screwed up warranty transfer. So when I dropped the phone, @Assurant rejected repair claim. 15+ hrs wasted support calls. Q: Should I go to #AppleStore for #iPhoneXS?”

Google is silent, but Assurant steps up. Late afternoon, I speak with someone sincerely looking to solve my problem. But, as expected, the insurer must process any claim based on the information that Google provides. Misinformation is on file. Hours after the call ends and writing this story starts, I head off to the local Apple Store and table-test iPhone XS and XS Max. They’re pretty and responsive. But I hesitate purchasing, waiting to make a decision until after completing the narrative that you read.

Today, November 15, I stand on the precipice looking to Apple for relief. While I had switched to a Pixel phone and Chromebook and supporting services, iPad 10.5 and MacBook Pro 15 are still in my possession. I didn’t see any way to sell them for their true value and so held on to both devices for someday-gifting to relatives and for software testing meanwhile. About once a year somebody in the family needs some device replaced. For example, my daughter’s battered MBP 13 is four years old; days are numbered, as they say. As such, switching back would be easy enough, if I used Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program to soften the upfront cost  and make monthly payments. But that method would be a near-permanent commitment.

Got to say, I can’t imagine that Apple would have so much trouble managing its inventory as appears to be the case with Google. Purchased warranty would be honored, too. Coincidentally, days ago, a Millennial retail clerk at a jewelry shop explained how when she dropped her three-week-old iPhone, Apple Store sold her AppleCare+ backdated and fixed the screen. Now that’s customer service, and granted the cost is reflected in every pricey iPhone.

Beyond Baffling
If you aren’t confused by this story, you should be. Somewhere in this absurdity there is potential script for a comedy show. Should “Seinfeld” ever return… To simplify: Google Store sent the wrong Pixel. The phone likely was defective. Google Store couldn’t process a return. I later shattered the screen. The seller couldn’t honor the break-fix warranty. Granted, the damage done is on me. That’s my responsibility, and I am more than willing to pay the $99 replacement deductible. But, nearly two weeks after the fatal drop and about one month after receiving the thang, I am no closer to resolution. I considered having the screen replaced on my own, but a Google Store Support specialist has assured me that doing so would void the warranty.

For me, no customer service experience tops this one for sheer insanity or dissatisfaction. For all my criticism about Apple, the company has always given great customer service. Best example: Years ago, when the hard drive failed on a four-month-old MacBook Air, Apple Store sent me home with a new laptop. By contrast, I can’t process a break-fix warranty claim on a Google phone that I never wanted to keep. I didn’t trust that the original shipping error wouldn’t lead to others—something shown to be true by the mishandled “Preferred Care” transfer.

I switched platforms because of trust. I trust Google more than Apple about security. But this phone purchase experience has violated my trust in other ways that matter, too. Additionally, my preconceptions about innovation and brainy “outside the box” thinking are as shattered as the Pixel 3 XL screen. In my interactions with Google Store support specialists a pattern emerged: There are immutable processes they abide by. No one could get beyond conducting an “investigation” or filing a “bug report” to resolve what should have been a simple entry error in some database. Nor, despite my pleading, would Google Store step up and directly send a replacement phone. It’s like all the brainiacs have tunnel vision about process, unable to look to the periphery for a clever solution.

Dissatisfied, I look back to Apple. My wife will keep her Pixel phone and Chromebook. She loves using both. I chose to buy Pixel 3 XL mainly for the camera enhancements and promised improved security. But iPhone XS or XS Max would be good enough. Should a switch occur, I will demand that Google refund cost of “Preferred Care”, then possibly sell the screen-shattered phone as-is for whatever someone would reasonably pay.

Addendum: Late afternoon, after confirming with Assurant that Google hasn’t corrected the problem, I haul down to Apple Store and purchase iPhone XS Max. During setup, the Move to iOS app repeatedly fails to connect Pixel 3 XL with the Apple device. After considerable time spent troubleshooting, and following steps supposed to remedy the problem, I can’t coax connection. I am in no mood to cobble together work-around solutions for migrating data, particularly photos and texts, between devices. So I factory reset the iPhone and return it to Apple Store for full refund.

The story isn’t finished then, and Google Store has additional opportunity to step up. Please do. A fitting sequel would be my staying put. But will it be?

Editor’s Note: A version of this story appears on BetaNews.