Beyond mocking the system Apple uses to control customer service in the post title, in today's riff I'll describe a recent series of events that show how annoying of a customer I can be, and also that Apple customer service is deteriorating.
My claim is that Apple's customer service is showing signs of aging. I believe this is due to a huge surge in their market growth over the past four years. There are tens of millions of new iPhone, iPod, and iPad users in addition to steady growth of Mac laptop and desktop owners. Not too long ago I could casually stroll into any Apple store and get help from customer service within a few minutes. Alas, those days of service are long gone.
I had an issue with my iPhone which was completely my own fault. I dropped the phone while out walking, blogging, listening to music, and poorly juggling a single phone. You can imagine my shock and horror when I saw the device tumble gracefully through the air until it bounced on the concrete shattering the front glass pane. Concerned over getting glass shards in my fingers, I made the wise decision and went that evening to the Apple store for repair or replacement, fully intending to pay out of pocket. When I got to the store I got my first taste of over burdened customer service.
The Smithhaven mall Apple Store was bristling with browsing teens and a mix of other folks of all ages at 7pm. I was cordially greeted at the entrance and then after explaining my dilemma I was told to make an appointment to see a genius. I responded explaining that I could wait, but didn't know ahead of time when I could stop back in the store again. The greeter told me the appointment was my only option so I left determined to try back another time.
I stopped back into the Apple store a day or two later hoping to catch a genius between smoke breaks, or eating fruit, or whatever apple geniuses do between changing file permissions and giving customers refurbished devices. I knew they couldn't hide all the time and was determined to pounce from the shadows. No such luck. I had a similar experience as my first visit but this time I was more frustrated.
Side visit to the Competition
Without much luck at the Apple Store I figured Best Buy's Geek Squad might be able to sell me a front glass cover, or point me to a junkyard of broken iPhone 4s where I could rummage about and find the proper components. I was surprised that they had such a huge selection of Android phones and tablets, and after trying a few out in the store I found the apps on par to their iOS variants. After talking to a guy there I found out the display on the iPhone is an integrated component so there's no easy way to just replace the front glass. It all made sense, the retina display feels like it's built into the glass, when in fact it is.
Third visit to Apple
Before I bought a new phone from Apple or Android I was determined to give the random visit one more try. This time I was able to stop by the store early in the morning before work and I desperately tried to schedule an appointment through the store app with my broken but functioning phone. My hope was at that time all the kids were safely in school, and other Apple product owners were safely nestled in their beds. I failed at making the appointment (none free) but...
When I arrived the store was just about empty and I ran up the Genius bar with glee. The courteous gentleman at the genius bar told me the same as I'd heard on visits one and two. I would have to make an appointment to see a genius to look at my phone. Beaten by the cruel bureaucratic fate of customer service through appointment only, I asked if I could just buy another unlocked phone for $600. As you may have guessed, I purchased my original iPhone 4 without a data plan, and make calls by wifi with Google Voice, GV Connect and Talkatone. Out of nowhere a genius juggling another customer and training the gentleman that was helping me leapt to action and told me not to buy another phone. She looked up my account, saw that there were no other issues with the device since I purchased it, perhaps noticed that I'm the poster boy for Mac and iDevice purchases ($10k+ in the last 12 months) and gave me a new phone.
While the story ended well for me, I was taught a valuable lesson. No business, no matter how successful, can expect to maintain superb customer service in the face of exponential growth. With saudade1, I regrettably accept that the days of Apple as the pinnacle of customer service are now over.
- Thanks to my Brazilian friends on our mailing list for that term. Our mailing list has been alive and well for a couple of years now and it's members are Daniel Bastos, Rafael Cunha de Almeida, Elias Gabriel Amaral da Silva, Andre Vasconcelos, Patrick Drummond, Eli Sacks, and myself