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Up front, we are the kind of customers Apple dreams about: fiery, unpaid brand evangelists. I’ve owned every iPad. I’ve owned every iPhone. I’ve owned every Apple Watch. In addition to the latest and most expensive versions of each of these, our family also owns an iMac, a MacBook, and an Apple TV.
And we don’t just own a lot of Apple tech — we sell a lot: to friends, to family, to colleagues, to strangers in the Apple Store. Years ago, I even wrote a book called 101 Reasons to Switch to the Mac (Que Publications). Many of you reading this are reading it on Apple devices we helped you buy, set up, and learn to use.
We are passionate about Apple because — no exaggeration — Apple’s technology has improved our lives. Preparing a manuscript for my publisher on a Windows laptop took weeks because of repeated crashes; on my stable MacBook, I finished in a day. My husband and I have just lost about 40 pounds each; one reason for my husband’s success has been his obsessive dedication to closing his Apple Watch creativity circles every day.
Clyde ordered his iPhone 8 and Apple Watch Series 3 as soon as they became available and arranged to pick them up at our local Apple Store in Atlanta’s Lenox Mall on launch day. You can imagine our disappointment, then, when his iPhone 8 turned out to have a bad GPS chip (rendering Maps useless) and his Series 3 watch activation Clyde’s health data, shattering his 255-day streak of exercise perfection.
He spent two hours on the phone with Apple’s tech support before the frustrated rep said, “I’ll make you an appointment with a Genius who will fix this right up.” That proved to be a false promise, though, because Clyde’s visit to the Genius Bar was astoundingly, stunningly, jaw-droppingly bad. It’s so bad, in fact, I doubt I could design a more inflammatory, off-putting, alienating customer experience.
– Clyde was repeatedly asked, “Where did you buy these items?” and “When did you buy them?” (Um, six days ago, on launch day, right here, from you.) Frankly? He felt a little grilled — as though he were being accused of having stolen the items.
– Despite detailed notes from Clyde’s discussion with phone support, the staff at the Apple store couldn’t seem to grasp the nature of his two complaints: corrupted data and a bad GPS chip.
– Once the Genius did understand the issue with the corrupted health data, he simply dismissed it. “We can’t help with that.” (Who can? And if this happened to Clyde, it’s likely to be happening to others. How are we supposed to trust Apple with our most intimate personal data if, when things go wrong, we get no more than “We can’t help with that”?)
– At this point, Clyde began to be passed from staffer to staffer. The Genius told him, “You can return the iPhone and Watch, but all you can do is place an order for new ones, and we don’t know when they will come in” — a solution that would leave Clyde without a phone or watch for weeks.
– When Clyde complained about that, he was told, “You can keep the ones you have, but your new Watch won’t come in until after the return date for the current one, so you’ll end up with two watches.”
– When Clyde objected, the Genius checked with a manager, who instructed the Genius to tell Clyde, “We will probably take the watch you have back, but if you scratch or dent either the iPhone or the Watch, we won’t take either one back.” Clyde explained he had just spent $1600 on new Apple hardware, had bad hardware and corrupted data as a result, and that this response was unacceptable. He asked to see a manager.
– The manager had a terrible, aggressive attitude, repeating the same line over and over: “Obviously, if you choose to keep this merchandise until the new items come in and you damage them, we can’t take them back.”
By the end of this two-hour transaction, Clyde had complied with demands that he pay for a second iPhone 8 and a second Apple Watch — now $3200 of our money tied up in this mess — and he left the store with his problems unresolved and no idea when they would be.
When Clyde told me this story, I was furious. This is not the gleaming, brightly-lit, joyful consumer experience Angela Ahrendts touted on stage at the Steve Jobs Theater. This is, instead, the kind of crap you expect from used car dealers and Nigerian scammers. This is the kind of disastrous customer support you get when untrained, ignorant people are being told to favor profit over customer satisfaction.
This is the kind of experience that converts your most loyal customers and brand evangelists into disappointed, outraged, outspoken critics. It lends truth to the idea that Apple, for all its design savvy, has lost its way. Things no longer “just work.” The Geniuses feel less like Apple employees and more like the staff at an old Circuit City. And for access to flawed products and bad treatment, we are still paying a premium price.
Clyde — a meek guy — at this point wants to cancel all orders, return all merchandise, and get our money back. (The only thing making him hesitate? The Genius told him that, if he did this later on, he’d have to stand in the long line outside the store to do so.) In fact, returning the merchandise may be our next step. It probably should be. But we’ve felt so passionate about Apple for so long, we retain some faith that, if we can just reach the right person, this mess can be amended.
All that remains, at this point, is for Apple to recover well.
It remains to be seen whether Apple can do that.