Microsoft launched its Surface Pro 3, billed as “the tablet that can replace the laptop,” in 2014. The software maker had a five per cent share of the overall tablet market in 2014.
In my view, Microsoft won’t be a contender unless it beefs up customer service. I recently heard from two people who said their attempts to get help were frustrating and time-consuming.
Cindy Xing bought her Surface Pro 3 at the Microsoft store in Buffalo, N.Y., in August 2014. She paid $849 (U.S.) for a unit whose list price was $999 and gave it to her 15-year-old daughter.
“The tablet worked well until this April, when my daughter found the upper quarter of the touch screen did not work. Since it was still within the one-year warranty period, we hoped it could be repaired,” Xing told me.
Her daughter called Microsoft on June 22. She was told she could use the Advance Exchange Program and get a new Surface Pro 3 right away. Then, she could ship back her older device for repairs.
“To guarantee that the original Surface product is returned, we will need to take your credit card number,” Microsoft said in its written terms and conditions.
“Your credit card will not be charged,” it said in capital letters, “provided you return the original Surface product within 14 days of receiving the Advanced Exchange Product.”
In another clause, Microsoft said it may charge customers a replacement fee if their original unit was damaged — and therefore excluded from warranty service.
Xing’s daughter was not told of the damage clause on the phone, but only in a later email outlining the conditions. She was upset because her device had a small crack at the lower left corner of the screen that was not related to the problem she had reported.
Her parents called Microsoft several times. They had the idea it would cost nothing to send back the replacement after their original device was repaired, but they were charged $999 (U.S.) on their credit card.
On June 30, their daughter called to check the status and was told the tablet wasn’t covered by warranty because of the crack. The credit card charge would remain.
“My daughter handed the phone to my husband, who asked if we could reverse the whole thing. Microsoft would send us the old Surface and we’d return the new one. We learned that the old one had been sent to recycling and could not be retrieved,” Xing said.
Paul Birkbeck bought a Surface Pro 3 along with an extended warranty last December. He was advised to try the Advance Exchange Program after reporting a problem last April.
“I admit I didn’t read the fine print about returning the broken unit within 14 days,” he said. “I returned it within three weeks of getting the replacement.”
Microsoft charged him $1,808 for the new unit, but kept telling him it had no record of a credit card charge. There was only a hold on his Visa account.
Only in July, two months after he returned the unit, did the company say a refund was out of the question because he had waited too long to send back his device.
He was also out of luck when he asked his credit card issuer to investigate the charge. Microsoft had made him wait so long that he’d missed the 45-day window for filing disputes.
“My wife and I have four boys and don’t have $1,808 to throw away. No one seems to want to help us,” he said.
Xing got a refund of the credit card charges when I forwarded her complaint to Microsoft. Birkbeck was contacted by Microsoft and hopes his refund will be coming shortly.
“We’re committed to providing our customers with the outstanding choice, value and service they’ve come to expect from us,” said a spokeswoman for Microsoft Stores. “As part of that commitment, we work with each customer to help find the individual solution that best suits their needs.”
To Microsoft: Give customers 30 days to return a defective Surface unit under the Advance Exchange Program. You offer a 30-day return period for purchases. Fourteen days is too short.
And make your return policy crystal clear. Don’t rely on written disclosure.
To customers: Don’t give your credit card number as a formality unless you are 100 per cent sure the card won’t be charged. Even a corporate giant can abuse your trust.