When is Good Customer Service Bad?

Apple computers almost always have some major hardware issue within the first few years of their life, so it’s always a good idea to buy the AppleCare extended warranty. In making use of my AppleCare warranty just a few days ago, I got to experience why Apple has earned a stellar reputation for customer service. Or did I?

My new iMac had a problem right out of the box, and when I called Apple support to address it, they had no idea what was the problem might be. After 10 minutes of hold time and 10 minutes of talking, the first technician said I should reinstall the system software and create a new user. This is what Apple typically recommends as a last resort when they have no idea what the problem is. I asked to be transferred to tier 2.

I sat on hold for one hour.

Pre-sales takes priority over prepaid contracts
A technician came on the line. “Why did I just have to sit on hold for an hour?” I asked.

He said, “Our sales department has been rerouting pre-sales technical questions to our department, and those calls are taking priority. I’m really sorry.”

How good is that? My prepaid warranty support calls take a lower priority than pre-sales calls. I guess since they already have my money, it makes some sort of perverse sense from their perspective.

We spent another 27 minutes trying in vain to diagnose the problem. Then the line cut off. At the beginning of the call, the first tech had asked me for my phone number, “Just in case we accidentally get disconnected,” and I gave it to him. I waited for the call back, but the phone sat there, a picture of silent calm.

Apple SOS line’s new mantra: Pass the buck
I called the Apple SOS line, explained what had just happened, that I had been disconnected after one hour and 47 minutes and received no call back. The operator said she would transfer me to the iMac support line. “No!” I protested, “I’m not going to sit on hold for another hour.” I asked for the customer relations department, and she put me through.

Customer Relations holds the power
Customer relations was truly surprised to hear that pre-sales tech questions were taking a priority over AppleCare contract calls. She told me she would find a local tech in Seattle to do an on-site repair. ‘Ok,’ I was thinking, ‘that’s not bad.’ Twenty minutes later, she called back. “I have called several certified Apple techs in your area, but no one is willing to do an on-site repair, so we are going to replace your computer with our best model.”

“Will that solve the problem?” I asked.

“I hope so,” she replied. And she proceeded to tell me exactly how Apple would be replacing my machine. I am now sort of satisfied, but this is going to cost me some time, and I still do not know if the computer will have the same problem.

Let’s add this up:
• $2200 for a new computer and warranty
• Approximately 2 hours on the phone and a fair bit of frustration
• Apple pre-sales calls take a priority over prepaid support calls
• Support lost the call and my number, or never made an effort to call back
• Customer Relations resolved to make me feel good by whatever means necessary
• Apple is replacing a working machine with a minor, yet irritating, problem
• I have to do a complete system backup and repackage the computer, losing about a half day of work time
• I have to send the computer back before they will ship a replacement, leaving me without my main system for about a week
• Apple is sending a new, beefed up computer
• Apple will likely diagnose, fix and resell my computer at near-full price
• I paid for this service

Who gets the short end of the deal on this transaction? Obviously, the customer. Sure, I am happy to take the new computer, but I would have been happier with a quick resolution and no down time.

The best customer service?
It is pretty easy to see that Apple has run the numbers on service and has figured out that their first priority is to get existing customers off the phone as quickly as possible. It must be more profitable for them to replace computers, then resell the defective ones as refurbished units, than it is to diagnose the problem and attempt to fix it over the phone. I suppose this is good for their bottom line, but is it really good for their customers or their reputation?

Kelly Hobkirk - teaching marketers how to harness strategy, goals, reality, and purpose to connect and do better work.


Kelly Hobkirk has been helping companies succeed in creative ways for nearly 25 years. His work has been featured in Time Magazine, and books by Rockport and Rotovision. Get exclusive articles when you sign up for his monthly newsletter.

Thank you! This is going to feel good.

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