Rotten Apple

Steve Jobs needs to spend some time reading Seth Godin between his visits to the altar of Jonathan Ive. If only Apple placed as much emphasis on customer service and support as they do on the design and marketing of their products…

I am a lifelong fan of Apple — I taught myself to program on an Apple ][, own every flavor of iPod available, use a 17″ PowerBook G4 for work (and suffer the inconveniences associated with being a Mac guy in an office full of PCs), have three Macintoshes at home, buy a new one every year and upgrade to the latest and greatest versions of Mac OSX and iLife as soon as they become available. I can only assume that I must be the kind of loyal customer that Apple should care about keeping happy and in the fold.

I have a dual-processor PowerMac G5 in my recording studio, which I had not yet upgraded to Tiger because I was waiting to be sure that the latest and greatest version of ProTools was working smoothly with the new OS. Last weekend I decided to upgrade the Mac in my studio. Well, it turns out I was unable to do so because the Tiger install DVD failed verification and then crapped out midway through the install. The installer instructed me to call Apple Support to resolve this issue, leaving my studio out of commission in the meantime.

Since I was heading down to Palo Alto to run some errands, I decided to stop by the Apple Store and bring my Tiger install DVD with me, along with the box it came in, so I would have sufficient proof of purchase. The friendly (yet ultimately unhelpful) guy at the Apple Store told me he wasn’t able to replace my DVD for me and that I would have to call Apple Support, a task I was trying to avoid given the long wait times and the fact that the voicemail maze seems to me to be an immune system designed to prevent customers from actually speaking to real people.

So on Monday, I called Apple Support and spent twenty minutes on hold waiting to talk to a real person. Once I got through to a human, this friendly (yet ultimately unhelpful) person explained to me that since I bought the new OS more than 90 days ago, she couldn’t help me and that I’d have to buy a new copy. When I protested, she told me that since I had installed it successfully on two of my computers already, I must have scratched the DVD so I’d have to buy a new one. Given that I put the DVD back in its envelope and back into its box and it sat on my shelf for several months, I think it is unlikely I scratched it, and more likely that the slot-loading drive on my PowerBook or my iMac was the culprit. But in any event, when I buy software from Apple, aren’t I buying a license to the software and not the physical disc itself?

But I digress. I told the friendly (yet ultimately unhelpful) person that I didn’t find this to be an acceptable solution. She told me she would be happy to connect me with a “specialist” who I could explain my situation to in more detail. So then I had to wait another ten minutes and listen to Apple’s hold Muzak until this specialist became available (there’s that customer-support immune system again, trying to outlast my persistence and make me go away). After recounting my story again to the specialist, he grudgingly told me they would send me another copy of the DVD, though he took pains to point out that they were making an exception for me and wouldn’t normally do this.

Sadly, Apple squandered multiple opportunities to be “insanely great” to me. I know the main goal of the Apple Store is to showcase their products and win new converts, yet they are missing a chance to keep existing customers happy. The guy at the Apple Store should have given me a new copy of the Tiger DVD, no questions asked. Instead, he ended not only making me frustrated, but told me that I had to go waste more of my time by calling Apple Support. Then, Apple Support missed yet another opportunity to make me happy. Once they had my name and number, they should have been able to see how many thousands of dollars I’ve spent with Apple over the last several years, and should have done their best to please me. Instead, they treated me like a guy who was trying to shake them down for a free copy of software, which forced me to be an a**hole on the phone before I could get my problem solved. Unbelievable.

OK, now I feel better. Rant finished.

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  • Al

    Not just Apple, I’m getting a similar headache from Alienware. Seems the latest generation of “Customer support” is more focused on today’s bottome line and forgets tomorrow’s.

  • Xatic/Xandy

    >I would have to call Apple Support, a task I was trying to avoid given the long wait times and the fact that the voicemail maze seems to me to be an immune system designed to prevent customers from actually speaking to real people.
    So because you were “trying to avoid” the system Apple set up to serve customers, they should make a special case for you?
    >the fact that the voicemail maze seems to me to be an immune system
    What kind of a “fact” is that? We’ve used the system quite a few times and don’t recall ever being exposed to voicemail. It has menus of things to choose, and when you have millions of people calling your support line, you’ll give them menus too.
    >Once I got through to a human, this friendly (yet ultimately unhelpful) person explained to me that since I bought the new OS more than 90 days ago, she couldn’t help me and that I’d have to buy a new copy. When I protested
    Did you read the support terms before you protested? Did you accept them? Or do you think there shouldn’t be any written support terms, that they should just give you what you want whenever? What if it had been a music CD you’ve had for 90 days that suddenly wouldn’t play in your stereo, and you suspect the stereo? Should the record store just give you another CD, “no questions asked”?
    >I think it is unlikely I scratched it, and more likely that the slot-loading drive on my PowerBook or my iMac was the culprit.
    And you explained this to the support person?
    >But in any event, when I buy software from Apple, aren’t I buying a license to the software and not the physical disc itself?
    Are you buying a license to perpetual replacement of discs, even when the disc is not faulty?
    >there’s that customer-support immune system again, trying to outlast my persistence and make me go away.
    Trying to piss off customers? That’s how Apple became successful.
    >After recounting my story again to the specialist, he grudgingly told me they would send me another copy of the DVD, though he took pains to point out that they were making an exception for me and wouldn’t normally do this.
    >Sadly, Apple squandered multiple opportunities
    They’re making an exception for you and you feel they’re not making an effort to “keep existing customers happy”?
    >The guy at the Apple Store should have given me a new copy of the Tiger DVD, no questions asked.
    We still don’t get why you are entitled to a new item of merchandise, from a person not in the support side, without being asked questions, when you already believe your own hardware damaged it? And that this person “told me that I had to go waste more of my time”? “Sir, go waste more of your time calling Apple Support.”
    >Instead, they treated me like a guy who was trying to shake them down
    How did they treat you like that while being “friendly”?
    >which forced me to be an a**hole on the phone before I could get my problem solved. Unbelievable.
    What’s unbelievable is that we wasted our time reading your rant. Nothing in it changed our attitude about Apple.

  • Support and helpdesk lines are what ultimately makes or breaks a company!
    Few years back, I bought a Compaq laptop, but kept suffering crash after crash, and evry time I called the Helpdesk, the best they could offer was “Re-install Windows, and that should do it!” I eventually took the damn thing back to the shop and received a full refund, which I promptly spent on ordering a Gateway laptop, made incidentally in Ireland! Again, there were a few problems, but the difference in the Helpdesk guys I spoke to, truly amazing! Nothing was too much trouble, no question asinine, no queries unsorted! Result, next PC I bought; guess which? That’s right, A Gateway!

  • This is funny because, MANY years ago (mid 80’s) I worked at Apple, in Cupertino, as a support analyst. My first job there: Figure out how to improve Apple’s customer support. My internal experience at the company reflected my external experience as a customer.
    Apple doesn’t DO customer support. Never has. The base philosophy within the company has always been: Our products are so good, they don’t need support.
    I’m not kidding. This is really how they think. They know it’s not true, but, deep down, it’s what drives their actions around Customer Support. Call it an Apple DNA trait.
    So, as part of your ‘being a loyal Apple Customer’ ritual, add ‘put up with lousy support’ as part of it.
    It’s part of what you buy, when you buy Apple products.
    Scott
    P.S. And here’s the funny thing: I LIKE APPLE to this day. The reality is you really don’t need much support compared to other companies products. Your right though that they just don’t get it and I doubt they ever will.

  • Abby

    I’ve been really unimpressed by Apple Store support, but I’ve had good experiences with their telephone support, especially their Education customers support line.
    It does almost seem as though the the Apple Store and the phone people are two separate companies. They don’t communicate at all.
    I got the same exception language once too. My power cord sparked. I did get them to replace it, but, to be fair, my computer is no longer under warranty/AppleCare.

  • Thanks to everyone for sharing their comments and experiences here. Though “Xactic/Xandy” might not believe me, I very much respect Apple for the quality of their products and will continue to be a loyal Apple user. I know there are any number of structural reasons why customer support at Apple and many other companies just isn’t very good and would see my problem only as a request for special treatment, but my point is simply that the status quo isn’t good enough, regardless of the many good reasons why it is the way it is, and that if any company would have a shot at fixing it, it would be Apple, a company with a committment to excellence in many areas and strong reputation for thinking outside the box.

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