[Updated: see below] I have been singing the praises of Apple from a technological point of view. Now that I am a new Apple customer, I find that the genius of Apple is being destroyed by the stupidity of its management and service practices. [Incidentally, here is an article about the Apple AppStore rip off.]
How sad it is when the technical brilliance of Steven Jobs and his crew meets a brick wall when customer service goes down the drain.
Apple has got a lot to teach the world. Unfortunately, the very basics of customer service are overlooked, and in the end, customers will soon forget the miraculous miniaturisation and remember the hideous frustrations.
My first dictionary of computing was written on the first Apple Mac; the one that did not even have a hard drive. It worked well, and my fond memories of Apple’s product quality never faded, even after being forced to switch operating systems to conform to the corporate jungle. So, recently, I purchased a new MacBook Pro. It is not perfect, but it is a million times better than my old Windows rubbish.
I was at the George Street Apple Store one rainy afternoon, and I placed an order for the MacBook Pro, a large monitor, and a range of accessories, plus I paid for three years of service and one year of help/training. The product was wheeled out, but at that moment, their cashier system broke down, and they could not process my order. I asked if they could take my card details and process it the next day as a phone order and then have the products delivered to me. They said that it was impossible. And they said that they do not take phone orders. Oh well, their loss. When I got home, I conducted some research and noticed that an even larger Dell monitor was $800 cheaper. So they missed out on that sale and I went with the Dell monitor. I finally purchased the MacBook Pro with the service and training.
Alas, I was led to believe that any issues with my product can be dealt with via courier or post. Again, a lie, it seems, because my Mighty Mouse has been faulty, and now it does not work. It set me back three days in my work. After waiting for Apple to come back from holidays, and waiting fifteen minutes to speak with someone, they said that I would have to take the mouse in for assessment or repair etc. I explained that it was not feasible to travel such great distances, and hassle with parking etc, for something that can be dealt with, as I was misled to believe, by mail. The phone operator escalated the call to a Josh, who informed me that he was the most senior person on the help desk. I told him that I will be protesting most strongly and most vigourously, and he was not phased. A brick wall.
If a company wants to take my money, my perfect money, and dish out products that do not work, and take more money for support and warranty, then it had better not waste my time. I paid $122.55 for One on One training and $521.10 for extended warranty. Isn’t it absurd that one purchases a quality product from a quality company, and then pays $521.10 as insurance in case the product fails? Yes it is silly of me, but you see, I would do anything for peace of mind and to save time. My time is worth more than any headache of running around trying to fix a vital business tool. This money that Apple pocketed is the cream. It provides them with millions of percent profit. It is free money for nothing at all. Just money for nothing in return. And they know it. Any product fault would surface quick-smart, and beyond that, the product is stable. And who keeps a product for three years anyway? Nonetheless, I just wanted peace of mind, and now that my Apple Mighty Mouse ($94.05) is faulty (8 months in), I can see that I have been ripped off, big time.
Also, the One to One training has not been used, and can never be used, because silly me did not ask the right questions. When people of decency deal with a company of reputation, we somehow take people at face value and accept what they say to be plain English. Now I realise that I should have asked more questions. If I had been told more about the One to One training, I would not have taken it up. I was not told what I should have known, and I did not think to ask something that did not occur to me. I was misled on that score as well.
You see, the One to One training, I now find out, can only happen for a one-hour session at any one time in any one day! Having spoken with a few people at Apple George Street, and the help desk, there is no way that I can book two sessions. I live 30 km away from the store. They want me to drive 90 minutes in, pay $20 in tolls, not to count the petrol and my time, and park my car at around $35 to $50, just to have one hour. Then 90 minutes back plus petrol and time and car expenses! I wanted to go in and have training on a range of applications so that I could become a power-user and leave the Windows environment. It would not make sense to drive in just for one hour. They said that they could not provide more than one hour. It was tough luck. Well my dear Apple, if you knew this, why don’t you make it clear when making the sale? How can you stand there and take money from people, knowing that the customer has not asked you the right questions? It was sold to me in terms of ‘all the training you like’. Never a mention of the limitations.
I once upgraded an old phone, to a new space-age phone. When I got it home, I found that it did not have a countdown timer or stopwatch, which I need while on stage. Who would have thought to ask about such a basic feature, when my previous seven phones all had this feature. I just assumed that it did. Much like you would now assume that any phone you will purchase tomorrow will contain a clock. Silly to ask the question. So you see, I did not ask about the One on One training, because it was put to me in such a grand way to make me feel that I could have as many sessions as I had wanted. That was a lie. It was deceit. It was unfair. It was unethical. To this day, I have not been able to take up this offer, so that is another million percent profit for Apple.
Today, I was let down yet again, and today, this minute, I searched the Apple website, and this is what they say, which is what I was led to believe, which is not what they delivered:
So today, while they were lying to me, and ripping me off, and making out that I had to drive in to get the Mighty Mouse fixed (or go to Rhodes), I was admonishing myself for being so docile. But hang on, this image from their website today proves what I was saying. I was told that life would be easy. I would just send it in the mail. It says so above. And so I thought to delve deeper and read the terms and conditions, and here is where the link goes:
Brand consistency is vital in any organisation. There are certain divisions within Apple who are leading the world. Unfortunately, they are being let down by their colleagues. In this case, Apple is to blame, even though the entire help desk function is outsourced to IBM. The sales person at the time was impressing me with the fact that all of Apple’s help desks are local. What he did not tell me was that they were outsourced.
Anyway, silly me for trusting anyone. They lied to me. They misled me. And now I have their faulty product, and they have my perfect money. That seems like a fair exchange.
P.S. For those who might assume that the mail-in service was for the MacBook unit, and not the peripherals, here are two points. One: it would be ludicrous to send out a MacBook Pro in the mail. It would be damaged! So any such repairs need to be hand-picked and hand-delivered, and not posted in the mail or be chucked into the courier bags. And two: their policy is for peripherals. I know this for certain, because my remote cordless keyboard was faulty within two months, and they replaced it via the courier/mail system. So now what’s the deal? They changed their mind after they had taken my money. They broke the contract. How convenient. It will not do!
UPDATE: I wrote a letter to the CEO of Apple. The next day, I received a phone call from one of the Apple Executives who was most concerned that a customer should have had negative experiences. The executive gathered information and contacted me the following day, apologising for this situation. He admitted that the help-desk supervisor was in error. An Apple genius has since contacted me about my training requirements. Also, a third Apple Executive contacted me several days later to check that everything was now satisfactory. At all times, I emphasised that I was not seeking any special treatment. I just wanted to know what my contract afforded me.
The speed and attention that I have received in the past few days is the kind that I would expect from a company like Apple. It sure is difficult to keep all staff members trained about all the aspects of the business. In the end, Apple was grateful that I raised this matter. It is not a situation that the company wants repeated. Full marks for the speed of response. Full marks for the professionalism displayed by the executives.
If consumers, along with internal staff members, do not speak-up when we see incongruence surrounding the brand-promise, we would be guilty of harbouring a phantom that gets too big for its boots. There are some companies to whom I would not bothers complaining. They are simply best left to rot. Others, like Apple, are excellent on so many fronts, that when we spot the seeds of negativity, it is in all our interest to speak up. The smallest shards of incompetence can grow to become invisible, mighty black holes wherein corporate cancer is incubated. Once a company is gripped by stupidity, there is nothing it can do to shake it off. For this reason, resolute action, at high speed, might seem an over-kill, but negativity in a company like Apple must be arrested with urgency and rigour. I am pleased to see that Apple executives know this. The attention that I received in the past few days has nothing to do with me personally, but with a corporate culture that understands the dangers of corporate cancer. We all fear it tremendously.
My, and Apple’s, abhorrence to ‘bad attitude’, stems from an understanding that it takes years to grow a fine corporate reputation, and only days to destroy it. It takes ages to nurture a healthy work-ethic, and only a few moments to smother it. In ‘How to Lose Friends and Infuriate People’, I wrote, ‘…atmosphere and attitude, if rotten, cannot improve. Their movement on the scale (from bad to good) cannot be gradual because they would never reach the midpoint because of the forces acting against them… Evil will triumph over good. A negative system can never evolve into a positive one. A putrid atmosphere cannot blossom. An obstructive attitude cannot gradually swing towards the constructive. If your organisation is spreading an epidemic through atmosphere and attitude, you need to destroy the carriers. Bringing in new blood, fresh ideas, new people (no matter how exceptional) will not generate a competitive advantage because they will become affected and/or infected faster than they care to realise. You need to destroy the silent, intangible, and merciless enemy.’
The swift response by Apple shows that the company fears bad customer-service. Not because they know that they could lose customers, but because they know that they could lose their heart and soul.