Apple Has A Repair Problem In The World's Second Largest Smartphone Market

There are no Apple stores yet in India, and iPhone users have been stranded with third-party service providers, who they say do not live up to the premium brand’s promise in the rest of the world.

If Apple wants to own the smartphone market in India, it has more problems to solve than mere price, if you ask its customers there.

When the battery on Deepika Mehrishi’s two-year-old iPhone 6s started draining after just a few hours, she trudged down to Futureworld, a chain of Apple-authorized service centers in New Delhi, India, where she lives.

A new battery failed to fix the problem. So a Futureworld technician handed her a risk-waiver to sign — acknowledging that her out-of-warranty device could be permanently damaged during service — so they could open up the device. Twenty minutes later, Mehrishi’s phone was dead. Her only recourse was a $350 replacement, roughly the cost of rent in parts of Delhi.

Globally, Apple is renowned for top-notch customer service, but India is another story. Despite Apple’s long-held view that there are “huge opportunities there for us” in India, where it now has just 1% market share, fewer Indians are buying iPhones. And as the company struggles with slowing iPhone sales in China, its third largest market, rampant dissatisfaction with service options in India only complicates Apple’s problems overseas. The company did not comment on how such complaints affect its goals in India.

Apple does not operate any stores in India, where government regulations stipulate that foreign retailers must get at least 30% of their manufacturing materials from vendors in the country. For Apple customers like Mehrishi, the only option is third-party service providers — listed on Apple’s Indian website. There are two kinds: Apple premium resellers (which have large product showrooms) and Apple authorized service providers (smaller stores that may offer only service without a showroom). The stores may adopt aspects of Apple’s aesthetic, but they have their own names — like iZenica and Futureworld — and are independently operated.

Customers in India say these outlets often provide terrible service, can take weeks to complete minor repairs, and set their own policies when devices are out of warranty. It’s a far cry from the experience they expected when they chose Apple.

In a survey measuring customers’ willingness to recommend a company’s products or services to others by Mumbai-based business analysis firm RedQuanta and shared exclusively with BuzzFeed News, Apple scored - 22, among the lowest in the industry. RedQuanta, which counts companies like BMW, Ford, Google, and Microsoft among its clients, interviewed 550 Apple customers at 80 Apple authorized services centers in India. “Anything above zero is considered good,” said Anushree Tapuriah, associate vice president of sales strategy at RedQuanta. (Back in 2016, Apple had earned high customer experience scores in India in a Forrester survey, although that score is not based solely on customer service metrics.)

In RedQuanta’s survey, Apple had some of the lowest scores for customer satisfaction, issue resolution, and empathy of store staff to customers and their problems. RedQuanta said 60% of respondents found staff in Apple service centers in India to be “arrogant,” and common complaints included staff not being receptive to customers’ concerns about their devices. “The entire process seemed very transactional and non-personal, which isn’t expected from a brand like Apple in the rest of the world,” said Tapuriah.

By contrast, Samsung and Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, companies that sell a majority of smartphones in India, top RedQuanta’s charts for customer satisfaction with after-sales service in India. Both companies scored significantly better on metrics like accurately diagnosing the problem with a product and immediate resolution, Tapuriah told BuzzFeed News.

When Mehrishi contacted @AppleSupport on Twitter about her dead iPhone, hoping for a resolution, the company responded via Direct Message:

In India, Apple does not own any service centers or retail stores whatsoever. Instead, we work with independent service companies called Apple Authorized Service Providers. These companies are authorized to work on your device without voiding your warranty, but as independent companies not owned by Apple, they are free to set their own policies about pricing and service costs and availability. These are not in any way determined by Apple.

Apple did not comment for this story.

India recently became the world's second-largest smartphone market, but requirements for foreign companies to source from India before setting up company-owned stores has meant that Apple has had to rely on third-party retailers. Apple currently makes most of its products in China. In India, the company assembles some lower-end iPhone models, but is still exploring building higher-end models in the country. The possible migration of sourcing to India, and the subsequent arrival of Apple stores in the country, may help the company get past critical issues with customer satisfaction reported at third-party service centers.

Customers in India pay a premium for their Apple products due to import taxes — a $1,000 iPhone Xs in the US, for example, costs about $1,400 in India. So “expectations in terms of service delivery are rather high,” said a RedQuanta spokesperson. As a result, frustrating interactions at these service centers make Apple’s Indian customers particularly dissatisfied.

Navkendar Singh, an associate research director at IDC, said while service problems are “not the reason for [Apple’s] below average performance in a highly value-conscious country like India,” having “a controlled and curated retail experience” like an actual Apple retail store in India can “help strengthen the halo around the brand.”

As the market moves toward cheaper alternatives, sales of Apple smartphones in India in 2018 fell by nearly 50% from the previous year, according to estimates from Counterpoint Research.

Left with few other options, Apple’s Indian customers have left hundreds of angry posts on social media about the service provided by its third-party providers.

@tim_cook Apple needs to improve customer service and device repair system in India. It's really ridiculous to wait for half a month for device to be repaired. I hope you get it streamlined

@AppleSupport apple india has made me jump through hoops for the last week and offered no solution or updates during the time, kudos for a multi-billion company who pride themselves on the customer service.

One of the biggest concerns being an Apple customer in India is bad customer service by third party companies who are supposed to repair our devices. @tim_cook @AppleSupport @Apple

“Indian here. Been with Apple for a decade. It sucks,” wrote a user on a Reddit page full of people complaining about after-sales service options for Apple customers in India. “The support is literally non-existent.”

Reaching out to Apple directly doesn’t guarantee tenable solutions either. One person said Apple told him to get his device repaired outside the country while traveling or on vacation, or to mail it to “a friend or a family member in a country where direct Apple servicing is available, have the work completed, and then mail the device back.”

Even having an in-warranty product doesn’t guarantee a smooth experience with authorized service centers in India, according to customers. Providers said they follow the same servicing policies as Apple’s own stores, but multiple iPhone owners in India told BuzzFeed News that stores refused to honor their warranties, claiming there was physical damage when there was none, and taking weeks to carry out minor repairs like battery replacements.

“The worst part is that you are completely at the mercy of these Apple authorized third parties without having anyone to escalate things to if you’re unhappy with the service they provide,” said Neha Soni, a New Delhi-based investment analyst. While Apple’s warranty says the company will repair or replace defective devices during the warranty period, Soni was shocked that an Apple reseller in the city refused to replace her iPhone 6 after the camera stopped working within 24 hours of buying it, instead swapping out only the faulty camera. “Their service is extremely unpredictable and inconsistent,” she said. “You never know what you’re going to get.”

Rajneil Kamath, a digital media entrepreneur from New Delhi and a longtime Apple loyalist, said he now uses a Microsoft Surface laptop after his new MacBook Pro kept failing. He had it repaired repeatedly when he felt they should have replaced a defective product. “People who know me are shocked, because they know how much I love Apple,” Kamath told BuzzFeed News. “But I’ve had it with this company.”

Out-of-warranty products come with the additional risk of steep charges: Multiple authorized service providers told BuzzFeed News that they were free to set their own policies about repairs and servicing for out-of-warranty products. They can set their own markup on spare parts, for instance, and charge diagnostic fees, they said in interviews. Apple did not comment about service on out-of-warranty products.

Managers at the servicing chains iCare and Futureworld who asked to remain anonymous told BuzzFeed News that they required customers to sign a risk waiver for out-of-warranty products on a case-by-case basis.

“Usually, if I am not 100% confident that I can successfully repair a device without damaging it further, I make customers sign the risk-waiver document,” said a FutureWorld technician.

Managers at iZenica told BuzzFeed News that franchisees order their replacement parts from Apple, which can lead to delays. “That’s the reason why even minor repairs can take weeks,” said a manager at an iZenica store in Noida, a satellite city near New Delhi, who also requested anonymity. Apple also declined to comment on the slow speed of minor repairs.

Meghna Singh, CEO of Apple reseller Aptronix, told BuzzFeed News that new practices — such as allowing screen repairs to be done in-house rather than shipping them out to be fixed — have improved turnaround time for repairs at authorized service centers. Yet high costs and holdups have led some customers to turn to service providers that aren’t officially affiliated with Apple at all.

“About 40% of my customers are Indians who are pissed off with Apple’s service in India,” said Harsha PJ, founder of iRepair India, which services Apple products but isn’t an Apple authorized service provider. PJ said to improve speed and cost, iRepair gets spare parts directly from factories in Shenzhen, China, where Apple makes most of its products. The parts aren’t Apple-branded, but they do the job, PJ claims. And while an official Apple service provider in India would often recommend replacing large chunks of a device for relatively minor problems — swapping out an entire motherboard for a malfunctioning charging port, for instance — iRepair narrows down a problem and replaces only the parts that are necessary.

In the near term, Apple’s partners are preparing to open a number of “flagship” premium reseller stores that will, at the very least, be larger than ones in India today, although it’s not clear if that will smooth out service. As for an actual Apple-owned store in India, the company declined to say when one could arrive.

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