Being nice isn’t enough: Customer service lessons at the Apple Store
Ian Lurie Aug 1 2011
In customer service, ‘being nice’ and ‘trying hard’ isn’t always enough.
Sometimes, you have to be competent, too. Capable, even.
Act 1: Undeath (of a monitor)
At work, I have a 30” Apple Cinema HD. It is a fantastic monitor. Alas, 2 weeks ago when I plugged it into my laptop, it went all cattywampus, then dark. I pleaded. I begged. I reset PRAM. I checked firmware updates, I replaced driver libraries. No luck. Power was getting to the monitor. My laptop could see the monitor. I just couldn’t see anything on the monitor.
That sucker wasn’t dead—it was un-dead. A display zombie.
Act 2: Hope (of a fix)
But that was OK, because with my $1300 monitor I also bought AppleCare Protection. See, it protects me. For a mere $99. Sweet!
I asked one of my team to take the monitor to the Southcenter Apple Store (about 1 mile from our office) and drop it off for repair. See, I was delegating, being all efficient.
My intrepid office manager and I boxed up the monitor. She hauled it to her car and schlepped it to the store. There, the Geniuses (I’m not being sarcastic—Apple calls support staff at their stores ‘Geniuses’) took a look.
Note I said ‘took a look’. They didn’t test the monitor. The Genius rolled some magical Apple Customer Support Dice, then told my manager the display needed a new power supply, which they’d have to order.
So, she then hauled the display back to the office (without complaint, I must add). I spent the week using my laptop, minus 30” of screen real estate. I complained a lot.
Lesson 1 of tech support: If you think the problem’s the power supply, turning it on is a great test.
Act 3: Despair (for humanity)
A week later, we got a new power supply. After MozCon wrapped up, I returned to the office, quivering at the prospect of a newly-restored 30” monitor. I plugged in the power supply. Turned everything on, connected the display to my laptop, and…
I couldn’t ask anyone else to haul my 50-pound Apple HD Paperweight back to the Apple Store. So I boxed it up and headed over.
Act 4: Anger (carefully controlled)
As I sweated across the Southcenter parking lot, I resolved not to get angry at the Geniuses. It wouldn’t help anything. I’d keep my voice low, my expression reasonable.
I trudged into the Apple Store, dripping like I’d just finished a 2-hour workout…
[and had to repeat the same information about my monitor 3 times, but I’m editing that out]
…and in a calm, reasonable voice told the resident Genius my tale of woe. And that I’d never buy anything from their store again if they shipped the stupid monitor to stupid Apple with their stupid poo poo head repair people.
Genius asked me questions and took careful notes on his Apple laptop (with MiniDV port, perfectly configured to test my monitor, by the way). He apologized politely. He commiserated sympathetically. He opened the box and peered at the monitor, hemmed, hawed and then said they’d have to keep it for a week.
I calmly explained my unhappiness. I didn’t raise my voice. Or let loose a stream of invective that would’ve burned the flesh from his body. Nope. I was being reasonable
He went to get a manager. He returned, sans manager. Apologized more. Commiserated more. Explained they couldn’t replace or repair the monitor there at the store.
So, the verbs we’ve got so far:
Notice the missing verb?
He didn’t plug the monitor into a computer.
Instead, he (politely) boxed the monitor up for shipping back to Apple.
Here’s the work order:
Really?! You didn’t have anything to plug it into? You’re at a frakking Apple Store, surrounded by Apple Computers, and you can’t plug the monitor in because you “didn’t have anything to plug it into?!!!”
Bzzzzt. My left and right brains tried to flee in opposite directions, collided, and simultaneously discharged every neuron. I froze, caught in the high beams of total stupidity. Thud. Bumpa bumpa bumpa. I was road kill.
No amount of nice-ness makes up for this. Sorry. It doesn’t. You’re title is ‘Genius’. You’re paid to solve problems. You’re not a goddamned shipping clerk. So solve.
Act 5: Acceptance (not really)
Genius clearly felt bad. And I have to say, he was nothing but polite and professional the whole time. He really wanted to “make this better for me”. First, he tried to sell me a new Apple thing called ‘Joint Venture’. I, equally polite, explained I really didn’t want to buy more Apple services right then.
So, he brought corporate sales manager. She listened to me with furrowed brow, then told me they had an idea: I would purchase a new display from them on my corporate credit card. Then, in 10 days, when my repaired display came back, I’d return the new one, get a refund, and pick up my restored monitor.
So, I was going to charge about $1300 to my credit card, take a new monitor and pray I didn’t break it, then return it for some other poor bastard to then buy.
What was left of my brain farted loudly and fled my skull. It’s still down somewhere behind my uvula.
I mumbled something about making do and fled the store.
Were they earnest? Yes. Did they really want to help? Maybe. But in the end, what really matters is whether they helped. And they didn’t.
They had options:
- Do an exchange. My AppleCare plan specifically says they can do that.
- Give me a loaner. For a small deposit, not $1300, and not by making me take a brand-new monitor.
- Make some small but real gesture—expedited repair, anything—to restore a smidgen of my faith.
- Or, at least, test the monitor.
Customer service that doesn’t serve is just annoying.
From now on, I buy online. And monitors? I’ll be buying Dells, thanks.
By the way, Apple, Rob Croll wrote a great review of The Thank You Economy. You might want to read it. Then read the book. Especially the ‘shock and awe’ part. That’s “awe”, not “awful”.
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Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint.He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More