On Apple’s Customer Service – Missing The Mark

Generally, I won’t write about Apple. After all, I worked as an AppleCare agent for some time and was a Mac user for 6 or 7 years, I don’t have much more to say other than I admire the company Apple_graphite_airport_base_station_frontfor their competitive edge, industry stamina, and culture. We all know I’m a little biased to Microsoft, but if you think I’m “above” using a Mac or Apple product, you’d be wrong.

My favorite home/pro-sumer router has always been the Apple Airport. I’ve actually had one since they came out in 1999, back when they were shaped like a UFO (and graphite/silver, to boot!). The product was, and remains, stable. I rarely have to reboot my Airport.

Sure, things are a bit different with the product. You don’t get a web interface, and it can be a bit tedious to configure advanced features, like port forwarding. But it’s reliable, and doesn’t crash like other brands I’ve had in the past, and doesn’t cost as much as a Cisco or Juniper router (which requires another set of skills to manage).

Back in March I decided my 7 year old Airport Extreme needed replacing and again, as I have in the past, purchased the new ‘tower-like’ Airport Extreme. It’s been flawless, until recently when I noticed random slowdowns in DNS resolution. Without going into the technical aspect (boring!), when you visit www.google.com, a DNS server somewhere on the internet converts that into an IP address. For me, www.google.com is 173.194.37.104, might be different for you. Anyway, it takes time (usually in milliseconds) for this to happen and changing DNS servers to one that performs better for you is often a great idea. In fact, I have an entire list of DNS servers here for that reason!

With the Airport Extreme, I noticed at times (just randomly) things on wired and WiFi interfaces would get very slow. Then it would quit. I did the normal troubleshooting, called my ISP to see if it was at their end, maintenance, etc. Normally, I wouldn’t take their word for it, but considering my ISP is a local company to our county and is exceptionally reliable, I trust them. I couldn’t figure it out.

So, I phoned AppleCare. On my first of three calls, they told me they knew of a glitch with the new “AC” enabled Airport Extremes with the IPv6 Settings. If the Airport was set to IPv6 Mode: router, it could/would cause chaos on the network, so they asked me to change it “Link Local Only”. Same for the Airport Express I use to extend my WiFi network. This seemed to help until it happened again.

So, I called AppleCare and after speaking to their Tier 2 support they determined it was highly probable there was something wrong with this specific unit and allowed me to exchange it. I had two options: Allow them to ship me a new one (would be here in 3-5 business days) and give them my credit card number for a $199.00 hold (in case I don’t send back the old one) -or- go to the Apple Store and exchange it in person. Considering I need my router for work and pleasure, I opted for the local Jacksonville Apple Store. Before I left my home, which is about an hour from the store, I asked if I needed an appointment with the “Genius Bar”. No, they told me, since this is a easy exchange, zero troubleshooting required, I didn’t need an appointment. Awesome!

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We arrive at the Apple Store and are greeted by what used to be called “Concierges”, not sure on their title now, but they are the people who work the front door and direct you to the proper sales people or area for what you’re attempting to do or buy. They direct me to the gatekeeper of the Genius Bar, someone straight out of the 60s hippie love era, no joke. We exchange pleasantries and he asks if I have an appointment. My answer was “No, I just spoke to AppleCare and they said since it was an easy exchange which required no troubleshooting, it would only take a few minutes, no appointment needed”.

He promptly and with zero hesitation says “I’m sorry sir, but you’ll need an appointment. We booked at the moment, so you’ll have to come back tomorrow.”

Sorry, come again? I want to exchange a product for another, and that requires an appointment? That’s ridiculous. I could understand if I needed to do a complex procedure, such as upgrading the memory in a Mac, or exchanging some complicated large order for something else, that requires a lot of time. But an Airport Extreme is very simple. Scan the return into the PoS and scan the replacement out of the PoS.

Also, what company tells people they need to come back tomorrow? When Wal-Mart’s customer service area closes at 9 pm and someone shows up at 8:58 pm, they don’t tell you to go away, come back tomorrow. That’s perhaps the most rude and inconsiderate thing I’ve ever heard with regard to customer service.

I managed to persuade him to let me wait, due to the simple nature of my request (a product exchange, tit for tat), and booked an appointment for 8:50, 10 minutes before they close. In the meantime, I placed my third call to AppleCare – to lodge a complaint. Now, it is worth noting, I work in customer service. Part of my job (a large part of my job, really) is to ensure our team is providing excellent customer service to our customers, and doing all of the things that come with that exceptionally well. Part of that does not include telling customers to call back tomorrow because they are about to go home due to it being the end of their shift. Due to this, I’m a bit sensitive to customer service faux pas, especially from a company like Apple.

I also had an ulterior motive: in case the Apple Store Genius people tell me “Oh, sorry, it’s too late, we can’t see you today”, would AppleCare be able to send me an Airport Extreme without having to have my credit card information. The answer to that is no, apparently that’s not possible, at least at the level I was working with. However, after speaking with an AppleCare Supervisor, they informed me they would log my complaint against the store (for their appalling customer service; the hippie dude) and against the previous agent for misinforming me about not needing an appointment. They also phoned the Apple Store manager to see if there was any possible way to expedite the request, considering it was quite an easy job.

At 8:40 pm, Pete, who was very nice, exchanged my Airport Extreme. It took all of 5 minutes.

In case you haven’t picked up on this already, what boggles my mind wasn’t that I had to wait in the store. It was the breakdown in communication at multiple levels within Apple.

  • Agent tells me I don’t need an appointment when I really do.
  • Apple Store Guardian of the Genius Bar says sorry, come back tomorrow

It may seem silly, but it’s incredibly frustrating when you drive over an hour to the store just to get bad news and asked to come back tomorrow. I told myself in the store, if only Steve could have seen this. The sad fact is, the companies retail customer service is lacking – in this store. This store has been a thorn in my side since it opened, managed by a team who believe we should kiss the proverbial ground on which it is constructed to even pay a visit, let alone be granted “time with the Genius”. The culture of this store is a testament to the arrogance of man, the arrogance of the wealthy, and the arrogance of the ignorant. In no other Apple Retail store have I experienced such an abomination, nor would I expect to. If I didn’t have to drive 2 hours or more to get to another Apple store, I would never visit this store.

In the end, after writing this, I will craft this information, or succinct bits of it in an email to Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Retail and Online Sales, and CC it to Tim Cook. Perhaps they will never read the e-mail (I’m sure they have a PA or two for that), but perhaps it will make a difference. If it were up to me, the majority of the Apple Store Jacksonville, FL store would go thru some serious empathy and customer service training. Such a shame that Jacksonville a city without many higher end retail boutiques (we don’t even have a Macys!) is forced to endure this hell.

Edit 7/4/2014

I wanted to add a screenshot of the e-mail I sent to Angela Ahrendts and Tim Cook. Click for a larger version.

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