Apple’s Most Over-Looked Innovation

Harry C. Marks / January 1st, 2014

Do you own a computer, cell phone, or tablet? Has that device ever stopped working for no reason (or have you ever dropped it in the toilet and not told anyone)? Do you experience feelings of dread in your basement or attic?

If the answer is “yes,” then you’ve probably tried to have that product (and others like it) repaired or replaced at some point. For most companies, the customer support route is thus:

  • 1. Go to the company’s website and look for the Support page.
  • 2. Hunt for the support phone number so you can talk to someone about your problem. Oh, there are different numbers based on the type of product you’re calling about? Better find the right one.
  • 3. Call the number and navigate a labyrinth of menu options until you ultimately give up and repeatedly slam your head into the “0” in the vain hopes that a real person will pick up on the other line.
  • 4. Wait.
  • 5. Wait some more.
  • 6. Go through the motions of repeating every step on that support rep’s script, including powering the device off and on again, even though you’ve already done that and you really just want to know why the “Z” key keeps popping off the keyboard and nailing you in the eye.
  • 7. Be informed that your device either just crossed over the limited 1-year warranty deadline, or that your problem, no matter how easy it is to fix, is somehow not covered and you’ll have to send the product to their repair facility at your expense.
  • 8. Wait 6-8 weeks for the company to repair it, only to have it come back just as, if not more broken than before.
  • 9. Rinse, repeat.

Or:

  • 1. Go to your original place of purchase (Best Buy, Walmart, etc…)
  • 2. Be told your product is either out of warranty or that a repair will cost you money.
  • 3. Argue with the support technician.
  • 4. Leave with one of two things: 1) Your broken device still broken, or 2) Having spent several hundred dollars to fix the problem, including an extra $50 for a “diagnostic fee.”

Most electronics companies do not operate stores in the same fashion as Apple. If they do have stores, they’re either showrooms where you can demo the latest products, or they’re mini-stores that pop up inside larger “big-box” retailers. They may have staff trained to answer simple questions about the products, but they most certainly do not have one of the most valuable benefits of the Apple Store experience: the Genius Bar. Microsoft is the only company I’ve seen that has modeled its stores after Apple’s (in some cases, quite literally), with its own version of the Genius Bar–the Answer Desk.

Before we go any further, I’m sure there are plenty of readers who have Genius Bar horror stories, or who have experienced less-than-stellar customer service, but going off of my own experiences, I can safely say I’ve never had a better experience getting a product repaired or replaced than at an Apple Genius Bar. The Genius Bar represents the Apple we all romanticize, the Apple we imagine has our backs whenever we need it. The one that says, “We’re with you every step of the way, even if you stumble sometimes.”

The beauty of the Genius Bar is in its forehead-slapping simplicity: a place to take your questions and your broken products so you can yell at a real live person about them. Samsung doesn’t give you that in the U.S., though it does have Apple Store clones in certain countries around the world, like Australia. But little is known about Samsung’s “Smart Tutors”. Are they like Geniuses, in that they are able to provide actual technical support for customers’ devices, or are they there to answer simple questions, like “How do I send a tweet?” and “How can I get my email on my phone?”

HP doesn’t have anything like the Genius Bar. Sony has showroom stores, but forget about getting your busted VAIO screen fixed. With all the imitation happening on the product side, why hasn’t a company thought to clone what makes Apple truly special–the complete experience?

Obviously, money is a problem. Opening up and running retail operations won’t work for all companies. Samsung could do it, considering its extensive line of televisions, phones, tablets, and cameras, and it sounds like it might be experimenting with its “Experience” shops in Best Buy. However, something like this might be harder for the HTCs and HPs of the world, though a company could take a page from Apple’s and Microsoft’s books and start by opening up a few stores in some key areas around the country to gauge performance.

There are other ways to offer superior customer support if you can’t be there in person. Amazon has started to think outside the box with its “Mayday” button on its Kindle Fire tablets, allowing owners to press a button and talk to a live human about their devices. Hover, the domain registrar, promises that whenever you call, you’ll always talk to a real person–never a menu. For most companies, I’d even settle for fewer menu options.

On Samsung’s support page, there are six consumer-focused support categories and six separate phone numbers. That alone wouldn’t be terrible, but how the categories are separated makes matters worse.

Mobile phones is one category and Laptop, Printer, Galaxy Tabs (Wifi Only) is another. Tell me:

  1. Are Galaxy Note 10.1 tablets considered mobile phones, or part of the Galaxy Tab category?
  2. Where do the Galaxy Tabs with cellular capabilities fall?
  3. Why not just make a “tablets” category with its own number?

On Sony’s main support number, the first thing the eerily perky prerecorded voice tells the customer is to go to esupport.sony.com first to try to troubleshoot any problems. In other words, Sony doesn’t want its call centers to be a customer’s first destination. It wants that person to flounder for a while before throwing in the towel.

That’s the case with almost all of these corporations. They bury their contact information and live help links deep within the bowels of their support pages while shoving the DIY solutions in your face first. They want you to do the leg work before you have to rely on their employees and even then, it’s no picnic. Below are some choice horror stories pulled from Consumerist:

Samsung Wants To Patch Up My Defective Phone So It Can Break Again

3 Years Is The Warranty Length, Not How Long It Should Take To Get Your Computer Back

HP: No, Downgrading To Windows 7 Doesn’t Really Void Your Warranty“–On this last one, an HP Enterprise support rep originally told the customer that downgrading to Windows 7 would void his computer’s warranty. The customer then found out that wasn’t true, but what’s maddening is that he was told that in the first place.

Apple is not without its own problems. There are less-capable Geniuses, as well as employees who may not be as forgiving or helpful as others. No customer support entity is perfect, but being able to hand your computer to a properly trained individual and have him or her look at it in front of you is incredibly satisfying. You don’t have to hope your technician is familiar enough with your device or problem and you don’t have to wade through a script on the other end of the line, as Apple has specific Geniuses designated to specific products. There’s an iPod guy and a Mac girl and an iPad dude, all of whom are presumably familiar with anything life throws at the products they’re trained in.

This brings us to the other benefit of Apple’s in-person support system. A random voice on the other line isn’t a face. It isn’t a real person to the customer, nor the support rep. However, seeing a person and talking to him or her one-on-one adds a sorely-needed dose of humanity to an otherwise inhumane process. The Genius can see the horror in the customer’s eyes when she realizes she just lost all her photos. The customer can see that the Genius is doing everything in her power to make her client happy. I’ve had several occurrences where my laptop was just outside of its warranty and the Genius I’d spoken to had waived a fee or replaced a broken power cord free of charge just to make sure I was happy. Those little things make a difference and it’s evidence that Apple isn’t just ahead of its competitors in the consumer electronics space, but in the customer support space as well. This is a huge phase of the product life cycle that needs to change across the board.

Today’s tech companies need to provide easy and clear ways for customers to receive support for their devices. Traversing the Wild West landscape of telephone menus and online support forums isn’t how loyalty is won, nor is having to deal with the ineptitude of non-official support services. These tired practices don’t instill confidence in buyers when making their purchases. I know that when I buy a new Mac, iPhone, or iPad, I’m not only getting a high-end machine, but also a high-end support experience with it.

That’s not to say all companies should open retail locations and Genius Bars, but if they are going to provide only telephone- and/or internet-based customer services, those services have to be as streamlined and user-friendly as possible. They should want their first lines of defense to be the last, not the first of six or seven.

And yes, I understand Apple does not have stores in every country, nor in every city in the U.S., but its presence is definitely felt and its support philosophies extend from the Genius Bar to its other support avenues all over the world. Apple Stores may not be everywhere, but the steps the company is taking to push customer support forward are not being followed almost anywhere else.

People can (wrongly) lament the lack of innovation in Apple’s products all they want. They can cry about how their Retina iPad minis don’t have TouchID, or how their iPad Airs are still too heavy to hold in one hand, but they need to check their priorities. When their tablets and phones and computers break, there is a company behind them to fix them. There are real people to talk to in-person who can hopefully come to some consensus about how to solve these problems. Customers don’t have to wait for return postage in the mail, they don’t have to hope their devices make it back to the repair facilities once they mail them out, and if the problems are easy to fix, they can most likely have the services performed on-site while they wait–or have the device swapped out for a new one entirely.

Without us even realizing, Apple revolutionized customer service by doing what it does best: thinking like a consumer.

Harry C. Marks

Harry Marks is a novelist and web columnist from New Jersey. He owns and operates CuriousRat.com and has written for various publications, including The Magazine, The Loop Magazine, and Macgasm.
  • redoak

    Well said. My experiences with Sony in particular have been a mess, going back years

    • twilightmoon

      Had a Sony product destroy a number of my CDs before which are no longer in print and not replaceable. I cannot imagine buying another Sony product again. The root kit spyware fiasco that they perpetrated on paying customers is also impossible to forgive or forget.

  • Enon

    Good observations.
    I had grown very blasé about computers until I switched to Apple devices a decade ago. My experiences at my local Apple store have indeed “surprised and delighted” me; AppleCare warranty coverage is truly remarkable.
    Even though it’s not an in-person experience, Apple’s telephone support is also excellent. In your on-line support profile, you can specify the phone numbers you use to call support. In that case, you are greeted by name and the process is streamlined. Another example of Apple sweating the details.

  • FalKirk

    The article is perfectly titled. Apple’s customer service is oft over-looked. Great customer service is one of Apple’s greatest – and least emulated – innovations.

  • Mauryan

    The Geek Squad in Best Buy is one of the worst teams I have dealt with. I have been to the Apple Genius bar and they have been quite helpful. It would be great if all the other companies “copied” this model of Apple. They copy Apple in every other way. Customers must feel good in the stores. That is what sells.

    • stefnagel

      Last time I dealt with the geek squad, they wanted $100 to take software OFF a PC my friend was considering, software my friend didn’t want in the first place. Bought a Mac instead.

  • steve_wildstrom

    I have generally had excellent Genius Bar experiences. One of the things I like best is that the Geniuses tend to be very good as assessing the knowledgeability of the customer and treating them accordingly. I recently had a problem with an iMac that refused to boot. I made a Genius Bar appointment schlepped it to the local Apple Store. They booted off an external drive, ran diagnostics, and concluded the problem was a corrupt but physically OK hard drive. I volunteered the fact that I had a current Time Machine backup and the Genius suggested reimaging the drive with the bare OS. I agreed and 20 minutes later was on my way back home, where I plugged in my time Machine drive and reloaded the apps and data. Best of all, there was no charge for the service–and this on a four-year-old system.

    Another salient point is that even if there were such a thing as a Windows Genius, Microsoft has never made it simple to rebuild a machine in this way. No matter how you do it, it’s a complex matter that requires considerable expertise. On the Mac, all I really had to do after reloading from the backup was rebuild the Keychain.

    • Bill Smith

      I agree with Mr. Wildstrom. Apple is one of the few places that doesn’t ask me “have you tried turning it off and back on?”

      What’s truly a matter of beauty is recovering a failed device. Laptop failed due to crashed hard disk. It was the middle of the night, so I ran out to Fry’s before they closed, picked up a new drive, spent an hour trying to improvise a microscopic Torx screwdriver, but finally got the drive out and replaced. Opened the lid. The machine said something like “Boot failure. Would you like to restore from a Time Machine backup?” Mind you, I hadn’t even entered my Wi-Fi credentials. An hour later, it was as if nothing happened.

      Apple’s tech doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s exhilarating.

      • klahanas

        Okay, here’s the semi-humorous omission from my other post.

        I bought a 2011 i7 Mac Mini Server. I had a spare 256 GB SSD. After practically needing to take the machine apart (including a partial motherboard removal) I got the drive installed, but in so doing I broke the IR sensor. Of course, it was my doing, and I wanted to buy the replacement part. I wasn’t looking for a warranty job. Made a Genius Bar appointment. Based on my either extreme experiences, I was wondering what adventures lay ahead.

        Once at the store, I was greeted by a nice fellow. I didn’t want to go into it with him because I was headed to the Genius Bar. I was holding the machine, and I told him I had an appointment and I would just head there. At his insistence he asked me (nicely) to please tell him why I was there. I’m thinking “Please just go away so I can conduct my business”, but I showed him. I popped open the bottom disk cover of the computer to point out why I was there. He was aghast, shocked, and told me I just voided my warranty. (Where do I find these people?). I told him that I didn’t, in fact, that’s what you need to do to add RAM, and it’s even described in the manual. He said “Only Apple Certified Technicians” are allowed to open machines. I told him to go away and leave me alone.

        Once at the GB, I laid it out for the tech (who was great), he put in my order, I paid, and I was done. But you DO get condescending behavior. It DOES happen. Not all the time, but it does.

        • Bill Smith

          @klahanas:disqus As with any company, Apple doesn’t have each store stocked with folks who can do everything from replacing motherboards to setting up Active Directory. You will encounter “warm bodies” as well as helpful geniuses. Just stay polite and leave positive comments with the manager when you encounter someone who knows their stuff. In fact, it’s more important to praise the competent than to trash the lemming; by not saying anything negative, you’ll have other agents hoping you’ll praise them too.

          • klahanas

            True, more flies with honey… But this happened after I was soured, as described below.

    • Enon

      Good points, Steve.
      So often I get treated like an idiot luser when calling tech support at other companies, by low-level support personnel reading from scripts, even though I was using Unix before Linux existed and well before Apple merged FreeBSD and NeXTStep to create OS X.
      OTOH, you’re right that the Geniuses recognize that I know what I’m talking about, because I do, and treat me accordingly.
      Another advantage of OS X is that, without all the hoops you have to jump through with Windows, it’s extremely easy to create a bootable clone with Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper. Then, if you have problems with the internal hard drive, you can always boot from the clone, continue your work and seek a repair or replacement of the internal drive on a schedule that’s convenient to you rather than as an emergency.

    • klahanas

      “Microsoft has never made it simple to rebuild a machine in this way.”
      Agreed. It should be easier, but when you support ALL the hardware in the world, it’s not easy.

      • steve_wildstrom

        That is true. But Microsoft has made it difficult by design to transfer an application from one machine to another or even from a backup to the machine that backed it up. About the only way to do it is to save a full disk image and then reload the image. But only the obsessive would make a disc image everyday to have an up-to-date backup.

        • klahanas

          No question that architectural mistakes have been made along the way, some of which linger (registry?). I have a home server, so count me among the obsessed.

          • steve_wildstrom

            Apple builds into every Mac software that allows a user with essentially no technical knowledge to set up a continuous backup system that allows a near bare-metal restore (you do need an operating system installed on the disk.) All the user needs to do is supply an external hard drive and turn the service on. when you start up a Mac with a new OS, it offers you restoring from a Time Machine as a startup option. At the same time, Time Machine offers all the advantages of traditional backups, including reversing accidental file deletion and version selection.

            Windows offers nothing like this, not built in and not as a third-party offering. Yes, you can do an image backup that allows a bare-metal restore, but it is a monolithic process. At best, it is only practical do do it once a day, generally overnight, and you cannot selectively restore files. A typical secure Windows backup consists of an occasional image backup and a separate system for continuous or incremental data backups.

            This isn’t too big a problem for corporate IT managers, whose standard solution for all PC problems is to reimage the disk from a standard image and reload user data from a backup. But it is a phenomenal pain for individual users. And, unrelated to break/fix issues, I am convinced the inability to transfer applications is one of the things that strongly discourages system upgrades and hurts Windows sales.

          • klahanas

            True. The Mac model of backup through Time Machine is a simpler procedure (as long as you can get the OS back on the machine). If you don’t have the OS back on, it is just as involved.

            A nitpick on your comment, there are third party programs that do a continuous backup, including versioning. Seagate includes it on all their external drives, for instance. Secondly, Windows, through shadow copies also does versioning. These solutions also cover all data files on all disks, not just the boot drive. Unless you start playing with symbolic links, which the intended Time Machine user would have no idea about, non-boot drives don’t apply on Time Machine.

            The point is that these ARE complex tools, ease of use won’t always win if you’re in trouble.

          • klahanas

            PS-Application migration is a major pain in the …
            They should be drawn and quartered for this. 🙂

          • steve_wildstrom

            You would think that 20 years since the introduction of the Registry in Windows NT would have been enough time to fix it.

          • klahanas

            Agreed! They suck! For entirely different reasons, but they suck.

          • Bill Smith

            @klahanas:disqus Remember that all recent Mac models (since 2010?) allow Internet recovery of the OS. Hold down CMD+R during the *bong* The feature is part of the EFI image, so even if the hard disk is replaced, you can still reinstall the OS over Wi-Fi.

          • klahanas

            Tomato, Tomahto. Personally, I prefer a physical device. The ideal would be either way.

            You CAN make a Mavericks Install disk, but it’s also too involved, and unsanctioned.

        • Gerald

          *cough* That’s what Time Machine / Time Capsule does. It’s built-in to the OS. *cough*

    • Bill Smith

      [Actual transcript of Steve Wildstrom at the Apple store]

      *Steve enters the Apple store and everyone freezes in place*
      SW: My iMac does not boot. This is sacrilege!
      Apple Genius: Mr. Wildstrom, we’re so sorry sir. You may beat me 40 lashes while we get this fixed, sir.
      SW: Oh no, not necessary…well…maybe a few lashes. It has been a stressful day.
      *three cracks of a whip*
      Apple Genius: Please don’t tell Tim, Mr. Wildstrom. I have a family, and a newborn on the way.
      SW: Oh, of course not, it is Christmas after all. This whipping does not amuse me. I think I’ll assemble a new prototype for my friend Jony Ive while I wait. I shall call it Mac Pro Deux, a New Mac Pro made completely out of balsa wood. It is so environmentally friendly that when you turn it on it French kisses Gaia.
      SW: You may sell this and use the proceeds to cure cancer. Tell Jony to make an appointment with my PA.
      *a teenage girl faints somewhere out of frame*
      *Apple Genius hands Steve the repaired iMac, and proceeds to grovel at his feet.
      *Flamboyant, tattooed Apple genius (there’s always one) screams “We love you, Steve!”
      SW: Alright, now back to work (laughs deeply like Santa Claus.
      Apple Genius: God bless us, every one!

      • klahanas

        Priceless!
        A these prices, I would have chosen mahogany 🙂

        • Bill Smith

          …anything for you, my friend…

      • steve_wildstrom

        Not quite sure how I’m supposed to react to that. If I take it a tiny bit seriously, it’s just to say that I have no reason to believe that I have been treated differently from any other customer at the Bethesda Avenue store.

        • Bill Smith

          Just teasing, Steve. At least in the Bay Area, there is a *list* of local celebrities that branch managers are expected to watch for. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone with your reputation gets spotted, perhaps not for “red carpet” treatment, but for “don’t mess with this guy or Tim will have your head” oversight by the manager.

          • Bill Smith

            Besides, we all know that Jony calls you Sensei.

  • Will

    Sorry, I live in the UK and that is certainly NOT the Apple experience I have each and every time I went there.

    Once, they wouldn’t fix my iPod but would definetly offer me a 10% discount if I trade in my old iPod for a new one. Rubbish.

    Not to mention you need an appointment at least 24h in advance.

    • Bill Smith

      Better to have an appointment in 24 hours than be up the creek forever…

      I will also note that Apple provides their agents with great discretionary capabilities, and their agents are still human beings. A peer walked in complaining that his ***ing phone broke the first time he dropped it and reading them the riot act; he walked out with a $200 out-of-warranty quote for replacing the front panel. I took the same phone in, was playful and polite…walked out with a brand new phone…for $0. Similarly, a few months ago, I brought in a broken power adapter for my 2008 MacBook Pro 17…asked if they could fix it (it’s $100 to buy a new one). Walked out with a new, free power adapter and the MagLock widget to let me use it with my newer machines as well.

      • Bill Smith

        Oh, and note that you WILL get better support for a device purchased through Apple online or an Apple store, compared to a device purchased from a third-party vendor.

        • Will

          I doubt it’s better than Amazon for instance but whatever. This is just a clash of opinions.

          • DesDizzy

            Well sorry to disagree with you Will, but I live in the UK and also have always had exceptional service at Apple shops. I had a failed iMac screen (for a 24″ iMac that I purchased when working in Amsterdam), and took it to Square, where I had bought previous Mac’s and the quoted me a price £500 for the repair and would not guarantee that this would fix the “dead” screen (they also charged me £80 for looking at it). After some cogitation I thought that I would try Apple, what could I lose, it was out of warranty, they could only say no.

            They were fantastic. They replaced my screen & the card that had failed and charged me £180! The new parts came with a years warranty and my iMac is still going strong (this is my second Mac the first a Quadra lasted over 10 years!).

          • Will

            To each his own I guess.

      • Will

        You bought a broken item and are amazed Apple changed it for free… Now that is exceptional service /s

        • Bill Smith

          I brought in a 7-year old, well-worn power adapter for a product that was at least 4 years out of warranty, had no receipt and, actually, didn’t bring in the laptop either. I could’ve found the power adapter in the dumpster out back.Apple had zero obligation to fix something that old, much less give me a new one. Try that with Toshiba.

          • Will

            That’s insane? What country was this in?

            I guess we just had different experiences.

          • Bill Smith

            In the US. Pardon my ignorance, but I don’t understand your response.

            What is insane?

          • Will

            Edit: “That’s insane!”

            As in unbelievable. I was impressed by the service you got.

            Alas, I was just making a point that Apple stores outside the US do not have the experience described unfortunately.

          • Greg ZX

            It’s not unbelievable. Apple does this all the time. I had a $2500 G5 Powermac that was one year out of warrantee that started leaking liquid cpu coolant. I took it to the Apple Store, and as the liquid coolant could be toxic if ingested, the Genius Bar rep considered an product safety issue.

            They no longer made the G5 PowerMacs anymore, as they had already made the switch to Intel a year ago or so. So what did the Apple Store do? They gave me a brand new Intel Xeon Mac Pro worth $2500 right there, on the spot.

          • Will

            So Apple replaces out of warranty devices?! What’s the point of a warranty/Apple Care then?

          • Greg ZX

            My God, you’ll just look for anything to complain about, won’t you? You must be a lot of fun at parties.

            I bought AppleCare for that PowerMac. They replaced it almost a full year AFTER my 3 year AppleCare expired.

          • Will

            Alright fine. They replaced your device even after your Apple Care expired. Sounds like you didn’t need that after all.

            I however did! Why do you have such a hard time believing that somebody had a couple of bad experiences? I’m not denying anyone else’s experiences.

    • twilightmoon

      As per what Bill Smith said, it really seems like you were the X factor in why you got “Rubbish” customer service. In a short post on here you come across as a “wanker” and I expect you earned your own treatment there. Just a thought.

      • Bill Smith

        Well, let’s not presume that he went in declaring everyone’s father is actually the mailman. I’m just saying that Apple’s store agents are still people and, a little bit of civility goes a very long way. Most companies don’t give you a human to speak to, and try to make their customer support costs as close to zero as possible.

    • LadyGenius

      It’s highly recommended that you have an appointment when you visit any apple store, in an country. This is not unique to the UK. Perhaps you ought to look at it from a positive perspective–even though you might have to wait 24 hours for an appointment, at least you CAN make an appointment and be seen at a specified time. What, you’d rather play the game most other companies do an wait on hold or wait in line?

      And I firmly believe you had selective hearing when it came to your iPod repair. I doubt they “refused to fix it”…more likely the iPod is super old (a classification Apple call “vintage”)–so the parts required to fix it are no longer available–so they offered you an alternative (hey, better than “sorry, you’re shit out if luck”) OR your device is so badly physically damaged it’s considered beyond economical repair (ever ask yourself why replacement parts are cheaper than new ones? It’s because your old device gets recycled–if it’s too badly damaged, Apple gets no return on it) OR you were given options other than the iPod recycle program, with a strong emphasis on that option and you just heard what you wanted.

      I find most people who have unsatisfactory experiences at the Genius Bar do so because they are either complete jerks (yelling at your Genius and calling them names is no way to get good service), don’t listen, or have completely unrealistic expectations that can’t be met. Apple offers AppleCare (it’s the only extended warranty Consumer Reports recommends), so it would be stupid business practice to give everyone a free repair for everything. It is unreasonable to think that all repairs will be free or that you’re going to get a replacement because you want one (not all problems are hardware related–and replacements only happen when the hardware is malfunctioning).

      • Will

        Thanks for the detailed explanation. It is true, they could have easily say there was nothing they could do. Can’t complain about that. But their offer was a rip off. The charge to fix it was almost as much as the iPod itself. Plus, honestly, I did not have those terrible experiences at any other phone store, they all serve you within 15min on a busy day. Simply because they aren’t as busy.

        Vodafone for instance fixed my phone twice, for free, within 3 days. No appointment needed. Amazon replaced misplaced orders without questions over an email. Google replaced a broken Nexus 7 over the phone for a friend. What’s so special about Apple?

        Anyway… yeah, great for Apple for its customer service but I just did not have the pleasure to use it.

  • hasslefree

    And yet some fools (I won’t mention any names) make comments on Tech.pinions like “Apple products are for people with more money than brains” or they label Apple’s customers “Apple sheep.” Clearly, there’s no law against stupidity in the tech world.

  • klahanas

    Reposting from a similar article by Mr. Wildstrom a couple of months ago. Still relevant.

    I’ve had both stellar and absolutely dismal experiences at the “Genius Bar”. Here I’ll discuss the latter, because the former was them doing their job. Amazing how computers have numbed our sensibilities over what we’re willing to put up with…

    1) I had a one year old 15” 2008 MBP which I gave to my daughter. I loved that computer. I went to the store and bought the 2009 model. Both computers were well over $2000 each. Upon setting up, I was looking for the Expresscard slot. It was gone! Disappointed, I went back to the Apple Store the very next day to exchange it for the 17” model, which I really didn’t want, but conserved the Expresscard feature. I was politely told that I could exchange the computer, but that there would be a 15% restocking fee (over $300). Despite it being the next day, they modified the model, etc. They held firm.
    Moral of the story…Apple did eventually abolish the restocking fee, and MBP users were stuck with USB2 or Firewire for a few years.

    2) I did a firmware update on a then 1 year old iPhone 3G. The phone was kept in a case since purchase, and was completely unmodified. As often happens in computerdom, the upgrade didn’t take, and the phone would very randomly and very frequently reboot. Time for an appointment…
    Once at the Genius Bar, the very first thing the tech (and his colleague, and his boss) did was shine a light on the exposed moisture sensors, claim the phone had suffered “water damage” and gave me no recourse. Now, this was a phone I had just handed down to my daughter. I pulled out my brand new 3GS and asked if “it” had water damage. Lo and behold! It did! Never mind that it worked perfectly, it was “water damaged”. I said the sensors are exposed and ambient humidity could set them off. They told me it was impossible. I suggested they open up the phone and look at the internal unexposed sensors, they refused. Basically, I was [a word that will trigger a filter]. They did offer me a used iPhone for $200 (+2 years) and I would have to give them the damaged one. I told them in no uncertain terms to “go forth and multiply themselves” and left. Once home I jailbroke the phone, the only time I’ve ever done it, and voila, the jailbreak fixed it. That phone worked for two more years until my son went into the ocean with the phone in his pocket. It was in the cards…
    Moral of the story… After being found culpable in the sensor case (i.e.- lying) Apple settled to the tune of $53 million. I filed my claim and I’m waiting (forever) for my $200 check, that I will promptly use towards a competitive product.

    There was one more, but less egregious, and this post is already too long.

  • Thanks for the great article. If you go back to the very first keynote Steve Jobs gave after returning to Apple (Macworld 1997), he analyzes Apple’s assets. The first on the list is “you all”, Apple’s loyal customers. He apologizes for mistreating us, and promises he is going to take better care of us.

    He did.

  • Chandan Gupta

    I don’t really yhink this is anything apple started. I have availed such services at local stores in my country since forever. Even big branded,chains here like Croma and Reliance Digital would offer this service right at my home. And the service guy is mostly at my place in 2-3 hours

    This might seem revolutionary on some countries.. But not here in India

    • Bill Smith

      Respectfully, you must be either a very intimidating desi, related to someone in government or perhaps the service guy, or you bribed someone. Maybe you’re just really handsome, and look like a Bollywood star.

      I’ve heard some pretty bad horror stories. If you can point to any forums that praise customer service in Bangalore for a major chain, particularly in English, it would be most useful for my research.

      • Chandan Gupta

        Just visit Delhi or Calcutta to find out. I have experienced it first hand. Again just be polite and friendly and you would not need affiliations or celebrity looks. I can say that since I have none. When you talk about India.. forums are not always the best source of information.. You have to be there to experience it for yourself.

  • JimGramze

    I dropped my iPhone 5 in a toilet, trashed it, and took it to an Apple Store. I bought it from my carrier but it was under Applecare warranty. The Apple employee, with protective gloves verified that it was toast, went in back to get me a brand new phone, set it up for me so that everything that could be remotely restored was done, and I walked out with a brand new working iPhone 5 with all my data for a $50 understood deductible. Anyone who expects similar while not under warranty is rather naive.

    • imaginarynumber

      So you paid for “insurance” and then coughed up a $50 excess when replacing your phone. Erm.. isn’t that how insurance normally works?

      • JimGramze

        I have a Samsung Smart TV with extended warranty from Best Buy. The TV failed 364 days after purchase, or one day before Best Buy’s extended warranty kicked in. So it was still under the original one-year warranty with Samsung.

        With Apple I got same-day service. With that Samsung TV, $3500 list price, I had to wait ten days before someone came out and swapped out all the electronics in the TV — friendly 3rd party repair, but waiting 10 days with no TV set is not the same as getting it made right immediately.

        The $50 for a catastrophic mishap that was MY FAULT was the understood agreement. Their restoring all my data wasn’t necessary or needed, but Apple wanted me as happy as could be as quick as it could be. With Samsung it was their defective expensive hardware and it seemed like I had to wait forever. With Apple I screwed up and they bent over backwards to fix my screw up. Big difference there in my mind.

  • imaginarynumber

    Surely one of the biggest problems with Apple’s post sales “care” is the uncertainty it creates.
    I know many people that have had stellar customer services with Apple, for example, replacing out of warranty items, equally I know people that have had been treated appealingly with the genius insisting that they must pay to have a 13 month phone repaired.
    Here in the UK you have consumer protection for up to 6 years, Apple are the only major tech firm that only offer a one year warranty (Sony, Nokia, HTC, Samsung etc all offer 2 years). It is reasonable to expect a solid state device (not subjected to physical abuse) to last in excess of two years.

  • ThierryL

    Thanks Harry for this article, finally someone writes a comparative piece about Apple support, and I realized while reading it that it was a first for me… Couple of months ago, my early 2009 Mac Pro RAID array had trouble, one of the disk was defective so I took it to the Apple store where they kept it two days. They fixed it and I was astonished that they did not charge me anything for this. They could have told me that I was using non-Apple disks, or that there was a minimal fee, and I was expecting to pay over $200 I thought. No charge! I have the pdf invoice to prove it! For that time and other good experiences before that, I am a proud Apple fan that will never look elsewhere. Good support brings loyalty, it’s not rocket science.

  • darlaj

    Thank you Harry. I read so many blogposts in financial and tech media smugly harping on each technical feature or price difference of competing products that will surely doom Apple to obscurity. Whether Apple chooses to include this or that feature – now, later or never – is not the issue for most consumers. When I go to an Apple Store, I’m treated as if my patronage is valued. I do bitch about the initial cost, but the truth is, there’s tremendous value long after the purchase. I wouldn’t think of buying a different phone, tablet or computer, no matter how cheap, what ingenious trick it performs or how off the chart the specs. I don’t miss the musical chairs blame game among hardware, software, ISP and anti-virus companies. AppleCare agents will help me network with a PC and even troubleshoot Windows if the agent happens to use it himself.

  • Tony Velleca

    I am glad that you noted this as an “innovation”. Most people associate innovation with the device or technology but Apple has improved the business model. Apple is focussed in the entire customer experience.

    The legacy software companies (Microsoft, HP, etc) are struggling to adapt quickly. Microsoft is trying. In my view, one interesting difference between the Apple and Google strategy is that Apple controls the entire customer experience (quality of the hardware and software)… and you see that Microsoft is heading this direction with its acquisition of Nokia.

  • aardman

    Something funny going on with the 3.5 year old iMac, no Applecare. Based on internet research, could be graphics card or worse, logic board. Researched high and low for DIY directions and cost of replacing either. Decided, due to obsolete mental habits, that Genius Bar would be my last resort because for sure they would cost an arm and a leg. Replacement OEM graphics card was quoted at around 375, logic board at 800. Not to mention eye of merchandise-return needle I would have to go through if the diagnosis-through-replacement proved that neither part was the cause of the problem. So on to the genius bar, prepared to lose limbs. New graphics card installed in 3 days, $180 parts and labor. I believe!!

  • jfutral

    I believe a related Apple innovation is their entire brick and mortar store model. How many times have you walked around department stores trying to find someone so you can pay? Even at stores where there is a central location to pay, how many times have you held out getting in line or even just plain left because the line was too long? Apple has made paying for your goods and services in-store about as painless as it could possibly be. I’ve not seen anyone try to emulate this, anywhere. I don’t understand this.

    Joe

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