Apple CEO Tim Cook Apologizes to Chinese Customers After Service Criticism

CEO Tim Cook has issued a public apology to its Chinese customers over the company’s warranty policy.

Apple CEO Tim Cook posted a letter of apology to Chinese consumers and said the company would change its customer service and warranty policies. Photo: Kris Van de Sande/Flickr

Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote an open letter to Chinese consumers, apologizing for misunderstandings about its customer service and warranty programs and saying that the company would change the policies for the iPhone 4 and 4S.

From China Central Television to the People’s Daily newspaper, government-controlled media outlets bashed the world’s largest technology corporation for its “arrogance,” protesting among other things that its current one-year service warranty was far shorter than in other markets.

The attacks quickly backfired, though, and were mocked by the increasingly sophisticated Chinese consumers who revere Apple and its products. State-run media also inadvertently revived complaints over shoddy service by Chinese companies.

Apple, which initially dismissed those criticisms, on Monday promised to overhaul its consumer practices. Cook has previously said the world’s second-largest economy is a crucial market for the iPad-maker, says Reuters.

“We are aware that a lack of communications…led to the perception that Apple is arrogant and doesn’t care or attach enough importance to consumer feedback,” Cook said in a Wall Street Journal translation of the letter, which is written in Chinese and posted on Apple’s China website.

“We express our sincere apologies for any concerns or misunderstandings this gave consumers.”

In his letter addressed to Chinese consumers, Cook said he was addressing the warranty issue in four steps.

First, improving the repair policy of the iPhone 4 and 4S, replacing broken phones instead of repairing them and extending warranties for any phone repaired after April 1, 2012.

Then update Apple’s warranty policy on the Chinese website so it’s “concise and clear.” Also tp improve training and supervision of Apple retail partners in China. And finally make it easier for customers to send feedback to Apple.

“We always harbor immense respect to China,” Cook wrote. “The Chinese consumer is always the top priority of our hearts.”

Cook’s apology, unusual though not as rare as during his predecessor Steve Jobs’ tenure, highlights the importance of the market for Apple.

“ It was responding to complaints from consumers who said Apple provides only one-year warranties on the mainboards of its MacBook Air computers sold in China. Chinese rules require manufacturers to provide a two-year warranty on a computer’s major components,” the China Daily reported.

The country is typically the brightest spot in Apple’s quarterly financial statements. Revenue from Greater China – which includes Taiwan and Hong Kong – totaled $7.3 billion in its fiscal first quarter, up 60 percent from a year ago.

Cook said in the lengthy letter that Apple has “much to learn about operating and communicating in China.”

China has long been a prime market for Western corporations hoping to capitalize on its growing economic power and increasingly affluent middle-class. Still, companies face many pitfalls operating in the country.

Chinese observers accused People’s Daily of gross hypocrisy and pointed out that the newspaper had maintained a stony silence when Chinese companies were implicated over food safety, pollution and other scandals.

Meanwhile, CCTV was shamed when it emerged that celebrities had been recruited to blast the company on Weibo, China‘s version of Twitter, in what had been billed as a grassroots campaign, writes the Time.

“The public responded in two ways to this incident,” popular commentator Shi Shusi wrote on his Weibo account. “One group supports this criticism but quite a number of people felt that there are state monopolies which have severely violated customer’s rights, but which are not being exposed.”

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