Friday, September 12, 2008

Apple: Fumble and Recovery

Ah, the Genius Bar, where Mac Geniuses crowd to answer any and all questions you may have. Aside from the pretentious name, the Genius Bar is a great customer service tool in the Apple Empire. In my days of PC ownership, I never had the option to go to a PC retailer and have my questions answered about how to set up scheduled diagnostics, or install a wireless network. But at the Apple Store, any Mac owner can ask unlimited questions and have them answered by people who really understand the product.

Last week, I took my MacBook to the Apple Store on Boylston Street because the deck plate was cracking. (This is the official name for the piece of plastic that covers the surface area around the keys on the keyboard.) Particularly, the resting spots for my hands were covered with cracks and pieces of it had broken off on the right side of the mousepad. I was not happy, so I consulted the Genius Bar to find out what could be done about this.

Matt, the genius I met with, was the most unhelpful Apple customer service person I'd ever met. His seemed unconcerned with the breakage, and told me it was a very common problem, without offering a solution. When I pressed him, he told me the deck plate could be replaced, but it would take two or three days. When I pointed out that I am in business school and can't let my laptop go for that long, he just shrugged. As I continued to argue, Matt motioned to the Genius Bar scheduler to send over the next person in line, essentially telling me that he was done listening to me. Needless to say, I left angry, frustrated, and unsatisfied.

Two hours later, my husband, who was just as upset over the issue, came by and said he would fix the problem. He took my Mac and left me to chat with a friend over a snack at a nearby cafe, and returned in about half an hour. "Victory!" he declared, and let me know he had just dropped it off and we could pick it back up at 9 the next morning. What did Nate do differently? He told them a sob story about me being a Dragon Lady MBA student who would tear him limb from limb if their didn't fix the problem.

I was insulted by this, not just because my husband made up an unflattering story about me to get what he wanted, but because it worked. I was unable to stand up for myself and argue for the needed service, but a man making a sexist point about me succeeded. As you might expect, this seriously darkened my attitude toward Apple. I was fairly certain I wouldn't be back anytime soon, at least not to that location.

And yet, yesterday, I found myself there again anyway. My Bose Tri-port Earphones had broken, and while Bose will replace them, it takes a while to send them back and get a new pair. In the meanwhile, the only pair I had around the house were some severly beat up earphones from an old Discman, covered in that yellow foam that disintegrates and scratches the skin in my ears. When I'd first gotten my iPod, I loved the earbuds that came with it, and remembered that a new pair cost just $11.

On the second floor, I found two similar looking packages, one called "Stereo Headset" and the other called "Earphones"; both were $29. I took one of each to a salesperson and asked him what the difference was. He explained in a friendly and non-patronizing way that the stereo headset had a microphone piece attached that could be used with the iPhone. "You probably don't need that," Scott explained. "You should probably just go with the earphones."

"That's great," I said taking the earphones. "But why are they so expensive now? They used to be $11." Scott looked at the book thoughtfully.

"Stay right here," he told me, "I'll go ask." Five minutes later he returned with a new pair of earbuds, wrapped in plastic but taken out of the box. "Those earphones you have now look really uncomfortable," he said, gesturing toward the ripped foam on the ends of the buds. "Since you're a loyal Apple customer, we'd like to give these to you." He handed over the new earbuds.

I was really amazed. The best part was that I knew this was a genuine gesture; this wasn't someone trying to make up for the poor treatment I'd received the week before. It was a small gesture for Apple to give away a pair of earbuds, but it meant far more to me. It took away from my anger toward the "genius" I'd dealt with, and I was particularly pleased that it was framed in the context of "we want to do this because you're a loyal customer." This is true. I could have gone to a convenience store, or Best Buy, or any number of places for new headphones. But I chose to go with Apple, because I like their products. Scott could also see that I'd invested a lot in my iPod (it's a 60 gig Video iPod in an Apple Store retailed case). I was being rewarded for my loyalty to Apple.

From this I'd say that my faith is restored in the Apple Store in general, but I will continue to be wary of the Genius Bar. If I need to visit it again, I know I will specifically ask for a customer service person other than Matt.

1 responses:

Florinda said...

I had that same problem with my MacBook, but a much better experience when I took it to the Genius Bar at our Apple Store (Simi Valley, CA). I had to wait 15 minutes to talk to a Genius, which wasn't bad for a walk-in. He confirmed that it was a common problem, and could be fixed by replacing the whole keyboard (it's all one piece) - the length of time would depend on whether they had the part.

They had the part, and I had my laptop back in a little over an hour - and no charge, since my MacBook is less than a year old.

I know it doesn't always go that well - and obviously, from your experience, not all the Geniuses are winners. Could always be worse, though; you could have to go to Geek Squad :-).

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