Apple Customer Care: Making Strides in Automated Cluelessness

I recently exchanged some messages with Apple's iTunes Customer Care mail-reading/replying artificial-intelligence system. As one might expect, artificial intelligence systems are still not quite up to the task of replacing the cognitive powers of a human, but as you'll see in the progressively-humorous transcript that follows, Apple's artificial-intelligence system has evolved enough to mimic the quintessential nature of human cluelessness.

I contacted Apple to ask about a restriction in how one can pay for things at iTunes. Now that my PayPal nightmare has been straightened out, and now that I have an iPhone, I thought I'd get some cool apps for the phone at iTunes, paying with the money in my PayPal account.

Unfortunately, it turns out that Apple allows PayPal accounts only if the account has a credit card registered to it. That restriction sort of defeats the purpose of using PayPal in the first place, and at first glance, the restriction seems silly and arbitrary. But I don't know everything.... perhaps there's a good reason for it. I know they won't change their policies for me, but understanding the reason behind the restriction may well assuage the feelings of frustration it has generated, so I asked them.

Here's what I submitted on the iTunes “contact us” form...

I have plenty of cash in my PayPal account. Why do I need to add a credit card or debit card to my PayPal account in order to use the money that I already have in my PayPal account? I have the money and I want to give it to you (in exchange for tunes, of course :-). Why may I not without some unrelated fourth-party card?

Thanks.

A day later, I got the following reply from “Jernise”. It's just a form letter, but the tone is pleasant and chipper...

From: iTunes Store <iTunesStoreSupport@apple.com>
Subject: Re: Account or Billing; Follow-up: 5054303
Date: Wed, 17 Sep 2008 14:56:42 -0700 (PDT)

Dear Jeffrey ,

Greetings from California! My name is Jernise. I hope this email greets you in good spirits. Your request has been escalated to me and I will help resolve this issue to your satisfaction. To create a new iTunes Store account that uses PayPal as its payment method, or to change an existing account's payment method to PayPal, follow the steps outlined below:

  1. Make sure you are using the latest version of iTunes. It can be downloaded free of charge on the Apple website at: http://www.apple.com/itunes/download
  2. Open iTunes and go to the iTunes Store.
  3. If you do not yet have an iTunes Store account, skip to step 7.
  4. Sign in with your account by choosing “Sign In” from the Store menu. Enter your account name and password and click Sign In. If you no longer have the password for this account, you can simply have the password reset by visiting Apple's iForgot page at: http://iforgot.apple.com/
  5. Once signed in, choose “View My Account” from the Store menu.
  6. Click the Edit Payment Information button to be taken to the Credit Card Information screen, and then skip to step 8.
  7. Since you don't have an account, choose “Create Account” from the Store menu.
  8. On the Edit Payment Information screen, select “PayPal” as your method of payment. Note: In order for you to set up your PayPal account for use on the iTunes Store, you are required to have a valid credit card associated with your PayPal account.
  9. Click the Continue button to be directed to the PayPal website. Follow the on-screen instructions.
  10. Once your Billing Agreement has been created, click the Return to Merchant button to return to the iTunes Store (do not close your browser without clicking this link). If you experience difficulty with this step, please try following the above steps again using a different web browser.
  11. Once you are back in the iTunes Store, enter your name, address and phone number into the form, then click Done.
  12. Select your County, then click Done. Your account should now be using your PayPal account as its method of payment.
  13. Click Done one more time to be taken to the iTunes Store homepage.

I hope this information proves helpful in answering your questions. If not, I await your reply with the necessary information so that I can assist you further. Thank you for being a member of our iTunes Store community.

Have a great day!

Warmest Regards,
Jernsie
iTunes Store Customer Support

Please Note: I work Tues - Sat , 6-2:30PM PT California

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to assist you. You may receive an AppleCare survey email; any feedback you provide would be greatly appreciated.

The tone was refreshing, but it didn't at all address my note, except that it repeated in step #8 the restriction that I was asking about. I'm sure that they have to plow through a lot of correspondence, so I can understand the slip, especially when you consider that she sent it almost half an hour after her shift had ended.

I replied...

From jfriedl Wed Sep 17 17:00:26 -0700 2008
To: iTunesStoreSupport@apple.com
Subject: Re: Account or Billing; Follow-up: 5054303

|> Greetings from California!

Hi Jernise,
I used to live a mile and a half from Infinitiy Loop, near 85 and De Anza. Cupertino's nice, isn't it?

I was wondering whether there's any chance to get a reply directed at my original question. Your reply was in response to “how do I use PayPal?”, but I didn't ask that. Here's what I asked:

I have plenty of cash in my PayPal account. Why do I need to add a credit card or debit card to my PayPal account in order to use the money that I already have in my PayPal account? I have the money and I want to give it to you (in exchange for tunes, of course :-). Why may I not without some unrelated fourth-party card?

I thought the whole point of PayPal was to offer an alternative to credit cards. I already have the money, and I want to give it to Apple. I don't want to use or involve credit.

Thanks,
     Jeffrey

A day or two later, Jernsie replied...

From: iTunes Store <iTunesStoreSupport@apple.com>
Subject: Re: Account or Billing; Follow-up: 5054303
Date: Fri, 19 Sep 2008 10:04:19 -0700 (PDT)

Dear Jeffrey ,

Hello again Jeffrey . I'm sorry for the inconvenience you've experienced while attempting to set up your iTunes Store account to use PayPal as its payment method.

I urge you to try using your operating system's default web browser when setting up a new or existing iTunes Store account to use this method of payment. The problem is occurring when you click the Return to Merchant link with an incompatible browser.

If you continue to experience problems after trying this alternative, you may wish to contact PayPal to be sure your account has been properly verified according to their records.

PayPal
http://www.paypal.com/

Thank you for being an iTunes Store customer. Apple appreciates your business.

Warmest Regards,
Jernsie

iTunes Store Customer Support

Please Note: I work Tues - Sat , 6-2:30PM PT California

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to assist you. You may receive an AppleCare survey email; any feedback you provide would be greatly appreciated.

Wow, I have no idea what problem she's responding to, but it has nothing to do with anything I wrote.

Since I was only looking for info – I had no hopes of actually getting around the restriction – I decided to just drop the issue rather than continue to exchange mail with what I was starting to suspect was not an actual human. I didn't reply.

However, I eventually got this unsolicited followup....

From: iTunes Store <iTunesStoreSupport@apple.com>
Subject: Re: Account or Billing; Follow-up: 5054303
Date: Sat, 20 Sep 2008 09:47:45 -0700 (PDT)

Dear Jeffrey ,

Hello .I hate to bother you but I want to make sure the issue you had was corrected to your satisfaction. I am a big fan of Customer Service . I want to be sure you are taken care of.

Have a great day !

Warmest Regards,

Jernsie

iTunes Store Customer Support

Please Note: I work Tues - Sat , 6-2:30PM PT California

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to assist you. You may receive an AppleCare survey email; any feedback you provide would be greatly appreciated.

Well that's unexpected.

I didn't want to bother them (nor myself) any more with this, but they asked nicely, so I owed them at least a quick reply...

From jfriedl Sat Sep 20 14:00:35 -0700 2008
To: iTunesStoreSupport@apple.com
Subject: Re: Account or Billing; Follow-up: 5054303

iTunes Store <iTunesStoreSupport@apple.com> wrote:
|> Dear Jeffrey , Hello .I hate to bother you but I want to make sure the
|> issue you had was corrected to your satisfaction. I am a big fan of

Hi Jernsie,
No, when I saw that your second reply, like your first, had absolutely nothing to do with what I asked , I just decided that it was a waste of time to have contacted Apple customer care.

Do you even get to see what the customer asked before you reply? Your two responses to my query showed no indication that you did.

     Jeffrey

Perhaps I worded that a bit stronger than I should have, but it's not like I have to worry about offending an artificial-intelligence program.

The reply only bolstered my belief that it wasn't a human responding....

From: iTunes Store <iTunesStoreSupport@apple.com>
Subject: Re: Account or Billing; Follow-up: 5054303
Date: Sat, 20 Sep 2008 14:55:34 -0700 (PDT)

Dear Jeffery ,

Hello Jeffery . I apologize for the misunderstanding regarding your issue . I have issued you 5 free song credits for you troubles , again I truly apologize .

Thank you for your patients . Apple appreciates your business .

Warmest Regards,

Jernsie

iTunes Store Customer Support

Please Note: I work Tues - Sat , 6-2:30PM PT California

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to assist you. You may receive an AppleCare survey email; any feedback you provide would be greatly appreciated.

Well, $4.95 is a nice gesture (and again, it's half an hour after “her” shift has ended), but, uh, what about the whole point to this entire exchange (my original question)?

I sent the following with the thought that it was not actually a human reading these messages, just to see what would happen. Still, I made sure to be polite enough so that I wouldn't be offensive, just in case I was wrong and there was a humana heretofore clueless, but pleasant human – on the other end.

From jfriedl Sat Sep 20 15:16:54 -0700 2008
To: iTunesStoreSupport@apple.com
Subject: Re: Account or Billing; Follow-up: 5054303

iTunes Store <iTunesStoreSupport@apple.com> wrote:
|> Dear Jeffery ,

I appreciate the sentiment, but it's an answer to my question that I'd really be thankful for. I understand what your policy is (you require the PayPal account to be linked to a credit card), and I understand that you will not change this policy because I ask. I merely want to understand the basis for that policy. Perhaps understanding that the reason is, well, reasonable, will assuage the “big corporation doing randomly arbitrary things” feeling the unexplained policy fosters.

     Jeffrey

The reply took the artificial-intelligence cake...

From: iTunes Store <iTunesStoreSupport@apple.com>
Subject: Re: Account or Billing; Follow-up: 5054303
Date: Wed, 24 Sep 2008 10:52:28 -0700 (PDT)

Dear Jeffery ,

Hello Jeffery . Thank you for taking the time to contact Apple about improving iTunes. Apple recognizes that no one is better qualified to provide feedback about iTunes than the people who use it.

I encourage you to use the iTunes Feedback page to submit your comments:
http://www.apple.com/feedback/itunesapp.html

Your efforts to share your feedback are very much appreciated.

Warmest Regards,

Jernsie

(iTunes Store Customer Support

Please Note: I work Tues - Sat , 6-2:30PM PT California

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to assist you. You may receive an AppleCare survey email; any feedback you provide would be greatly appreciated.

Hahaha, I'm not sure how they expect the iTunes-user community to know the answer to an iTunes-policy question when Apple won't even answer it themselves in the first place.

Much of my retirement savings is bound up in Apple stock, a situation that I should perhaps rethink. I'm just not sure whether this episode tells me that I should sell it (because the humans at Apple are clueless), or I should buy more (because Apple has made such great strides in artificial-intelligence software). 🙂

Update one week later: See this followup post for more about this situation, curtsey of the Director of Account Protection at PayPal.


All 6 comments so far, oldest first...

Sometimes its name is Jernsie and sometimes Jernise.

It didn’t actually claim to be a “she” anywhere, now did it?

So artificial stupidity is as stupid as human stupidity. I’d sell if I were you.

— comment by The ise have it, sometimes on September 26th, 2008 at 3:31pm JST (9 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

Dearest Jeffrey
I was so glad to see this issue resolved so happily. Please feel free to contact me any time if you have any more questions or issues. And if you happened to kick through your Apple monitor in irritation, we will be happy to direct you to a certified Apple service center in your area. Customer service so important to us!
Warmest regards
Jernsie

— comment by Jernsie on September 27th, 2008 at 3:17am JST (9 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

You really are a well-mannered gentleman, Jeffrey. The rest of us Average Joes would have turned up the heat after the first or second reply. Your brute-force application of cool engineering logic in these situations is breathtaking and inspiring.

I encourage you to continue your correspondence with the Jernise-bot. I feel that you are just one or two emails away from having a workable script for a short film. I have a feeling she’s going to float the idea of elopement next. You’ve got her all knocked back her back on her heels.

I just got a Palm PDA from eBay using my PayPal account. Transaction went smoothly, but I had to resign myself to “unverified” status because they just don’t like us Americans who live abroad. I was “verified” originally (they make some small charge to your credit card, and then you report the exact amount on your statement to prove it’s you) but then mysteriously de-verified with no explanation. Subsequent attempts to get it straightened out just got me boilerplate messages, like you.

— comment by nils on September 29th, 2008 at 12:27am JST (9 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

I find it hard to imagine a bot getting the use “patience” and “patients” wrong.

But don’t you get it…. that’s the beauty of it. It’s a masterful design. Remember, it’s “artificial intelligence”, not “artificial perfection”. To be plausible, you must make plausible mistakes. My admiration for apple’s customer-care computer scientists just keeps going up. 🙂 —Jeffrey

I’m also unsure if a bot would spell your name “Jeffery”.

I think it’s a human (probably a non-native English speaker, living somewhere in Southeast Asia) with no real understanding of the product and processes, but with a hefty catalogue of canned customer care responses.

— comment by verena on September 29th, 2008 at 4:06am JST (9 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

“I’m also unsure if a bot would spell your name “Jeffery”.”

Sure it would. That’s why we haven’t seen it post here.

— comment by The ise have it, sometimes on September 29th, 2008 at 11:50am JST (9 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

Sigh, how very Google of them. Now if they could only make the bot effective so they can do without the bad grammar and typos, that’d be nice.

Then again, if I had money in Apple stock, I’d probably be happy with their advancements in resource management and innovation.

— comment by verena on September 30th, 2008 at 3:53am JST (9 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink
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