Learning more and more about customer service from real life. The saga of buying an iPhone with a defect.

Portrait of the back of my head, by Amy Smith.
On a shoot for the Pedernales Electrical Co-op.

I'll admit it, I abused my iPhone 4S. I decided that the industrial design was so beautiful that putting it in a protective case or sleeve was inappropriate. Sometimes it lived for days on the floor of my car; even days when the temperatures crested 105 degrees. It got dropped and it got rained on. In short, I was a test case for real world use.  Sadly, that cute, perfectly sized phone gave up the ghost on Sunday and went to phone heaven, where the ambient temperature never gets above 68 degrees (f) and the humidity always hovers around 50%.  It just wasn't up for another week of overcharging, coffee drenching, etc. 

So, when I knew the end was nigh I pointed the car to the AT&T store, near downtown, and threw myself on the mercy of one of the clerks who was most helpful, and who walked me through the process of spending even more money on phones that I had ever imagined to be possible in the days of yore. 

I played with the big screen iPhone 6s+ but I already have an iPad so I couldn't imagine why on earth I would need two tablets with big screens. Then I played with the 6s (regular size) but compared to my 4S the phone seemed positively monstrous. I finally settled on the iPhone 5s which felt just right. I figured that all of them were capable of making phone calls in real time, right?

We set up my Space Gray, 16gb, iPhone 5s and it was a fairly quick and convenient procedure. The salesperson was so fun that I popped for buying a protective case there even though I was pretty sure I could get the same case on Amazon.com  for a lot less. I headed home with a happy feeling of sheer, unadulterated consumer joy.

After dinner I headed back out to the studio to play with the incident light meter iPhone attachment that someone at Lumu had sent me. It's a really cool incident light meter which has an app for the iPhone. The incident dome plugs into the auxiliary (headphone) jack of an iPhone. I meant to try the meter a few months ago but my iPhone 4s headphone connector stopped working nearly a year ago. I wanted to set up the Lumu and use it for the rest of the week so I could write a review about it....

Sadly, the new iPhone 5s had one defect; the headphone jack didn't work. No sound and, by extension, no meter. It's always vexing to buy a new product and discover something wrong. I called the AT&T store but they quickly disavowed any responsibility, even though I'd made my purchase there just a few hours before. Nice but unhelpful. They sent me to Apple. The AT&T point of view was that this would be Apple's problem. But at the moment it felt very much like my problem. 

I went online and looked up Apple's customer support for phones. I had the best online chat I've ever had in the history of the web, with the Apple representative. I explained the problem and the service representative suggested I take the phone right back to AT&T. I explained to her that AT&T had just pointed the finger at Apple. I expressed frustration. The Apple rep rallied immediately, making the statement, "We will make this right for you!" 

I don't know what sort of agreement they have with AT&T but the support person from Apple immediately assumed all responsibility for the rest of the transaction. She set up an appointment for me with the closest "Genius Bar," she guaranteed, in writing, that they would be happy to swap out the phone and do all the set up for me. She basically held my hand over the internet and made everything okay. If you depend on your phone for business you know how fragile I was feeling in the moment. How abandoned I felt by AT&T, how I was pessimistically waiting for this to all turn into a customer service debacle in which I would be relegated to sending the product back to Apple for "warranty repairs." 

I was still reticent and paranoid when I headed to the Apple store at Barton Creek Mall with my plastic bag full of receipts, the box, and the accessories for the damaged phone. Then an in-store Apple service rep sat down next to me, shook my hand and introduced herself. She listened attentively to my tale of consumer woe. And, when I finished my rant, she looked me in the eyes and said, "I am so sorry. I understand how uncomfortable it is when something is wrong with your phone. I'm sorry you had to experience this. We'll take care of it right now." She looked on her iPad to see if a replacement was in stock. It was. She went and got the replacement and then walked me through the paperwork to switch phones. At this point store procedure mandated that she turn me and the new phone over to someone at a different station to do the transfer of all my info from the old phone to the new phone but! she sensed that I was uncomfortable being passed off to someone else and immediately decided to do the whole transaction herself. Everything from setting up my thumbprint I.D. to making sure my music library transferred and that my headphones worked perfectly. 

They did. 

I felt.....taken care of. I felt that Apple was honoring their commitment to a customer. I left the store with a working phone and a good feeling about an American company. 

Had I tried to do the logical thing and make AT&T responsible I would have had a bad aftertaste for the whole transaction. The product and service would be equally tainted. But what I found at Apple was an incredibly consistent (and wholly successful) effort to satisfy an aggrieved customer and make things right for me. It was the right thing to do. 

The simple message is to deliver what you promise.  Maybe even delivering a bit more than you promised. All the time. In a way that makes the customer feel wanted, needed and special. But this retail "magic" was happening all around me. 

Across the table, at the Genius Bar,  sat a young couple and they were waiting for a service person to help them with their issue. The guy had an iPad mini and it had some issue which made it shut down randomly. He was a military person and told me he was deploying to the middle east on Sunday. He wanted a working iPad so he could send messages back home. His Apple "Genius" arrived,  listened to his story first (an important part of the formula of making people happy) and then informed him that they'd be happy to swap out the product.... if they had the product in stock. She checked and I could see, looking over at her screen, that they did not have the base model in stock. The Apple rep asked the couple to wait for a few minutes; she said that sometimes they got in new stock that hadn't been entered into the system yet. She would go and check. 

She came back a few minutes later with a new iPad mini. It was the 64 gigabyte model, not the 16 gigabyte model that the young couple had brought in. I had already calculated the difference in price between the two and was ready to offer to pay the difference for them. It seemed like a kind and cool thing to do. But Apple beat me to it and offered them the more expensive model at no extra charge. Just to make it right. Then the rep sat down with them and helped them set everything up. 

I was impressed. Floored, actually. I have worked with lots of more mercenary and short sighted technology companies who would never have "thrown away money" on something like this. What they don't understand is that the story is the most important part of both of these transactions. That each person walked away being more than satisfied with the end result. That doing the "right" thing took short term precedence and will probably mean two life long fans and customers. And each of us who were well served today will tell our stories to our friends and our families. 

And now for the embarrassing coda to my part of the story. I brought the phone in because the headphone plug wasn't working. Neither the headphones or the incident meter accessory worked in the first phone. When I plugged into the second phone I had a similar problem and the Apple person adjusted the protective case I'd bought and realized that the first phone was NOT defective, the jack just was being blocked from being fully inserted by the depth of the case and an off center hole in the case where the jack would go in. 

I was embarrassed and I said to my Genius, "I feel so dumb. You must have realized that it was the case that was the problem." She said, "I wasn't sure and you seemed pretty upset and pretty certain it was the phone. My job was to make you happy with our product. Doesn't matter if we needed to give you a new phone. As long as you leave satisfied, and remain satisfied." 

By this point we had already transferred all the data and reset all the passwords. My rep went out of her way NOT to make me feel like a dumbass. She was also 100% intent on fixing MY immediate problem. My complaint. She was far less concerned about proving me wrong and her right. 

Would I ever buy a phone from any other company? Not likely. But more importantly the Apple rep (and by extension, Apple) showed me how good gracious customer service could feel. That's what I want to do for my customers. Not necessarily for more profit but mostly because----it's the right thing to do. 

I'm a little embarrassed. Not that I didn't troubleshoot my phone correctly but that I sound too much like an Apple fanboy. But I have to tell you, there are only two companies I know of that consistently give me this kind of service. One is, of course, Apple, and the other one is Precision Camera. The owners of that camera store have trained their staff to have the same dedication to customer satisfaction. 

I count myself lucky. And I will pay attention and try to apply the same philosophies to the companies I serve. I just re-learned how good exemplary service makes our customers feel. And why that is important. Bravo Apple.

disclaimer added today: Since I wrote about Apple and praised their service I think I am duty bound to state that while I am not paid by Apple, or given free product, and am not an employee or contractor of the company, I do own stock shares in the company. 


amolitor said...

I bet I can name a third company.

I bet Kirk Tuck Heavy Industries works pretty hard to provide the same level of customer service. Their CEO is pretty attentive, I hear.

Cpt Kent said...

That's why I have an iPhone, and will continue to use them. For the service if something goes wrong.
Some folks gripe about the price, but I don't think they understand that the experience (when it works and when it doesn't) is included in the price.
I've tried the 'others' - not worth the heartache.

Khris said...

Love your honesty Kirk, and I've learnt over time that the fault is usually mine with an Apple product. I'm the dumb ass. I'm 20,000 miles from you and the Apple Store and Genius Bar are just as helpful. Someone's teaching them all from the same script, and they get it. So do I. They got me with the customer service. And you're right, that's how you get return business, phone or photo.

Paul said...

I'm afraid my experience with Apple was the complete opposite. My iPad died and I ordered a new one off of the Australian Apple Store. Delivery time came and went and on contacting Apple Australia I was told that they no longer carried stock and the products were now despatched from China. I was given a tracking number for the courier and they informed me that the parcel had been delivered to an address in Germany. The parcel had my name but an incorrect German address. I contacted Apple and they told me to claim on the couriers insurance. The courier said no their insurance wouldn't cover it as Apple's representative had made the error when they addressed it incorrectly. I contacted Apple again nod they said I should wait to see if the person at the address in Germany returned the item. I escalated the issue and the regional manager suggested that I buy a product from a rival Korean company as Apple Australia had no stock, but I would have to wait for my refund to see if the person in Germany sent the iPad back to them. I escalated the issue again and got talking to someone in the States and after a week of arguing they finally relented and sent out a new iPad. Apple failed to acknowledge that they had made an error and it took over a month for them to finally make good on my purchase. I'm not happy with them, I'd like to change to another company but all my current computing is done on OSX and I have no desire to try and repurchase all the software on the Windows platform and switch everything across. So for now I guess I'll treat this as a one off stuff up, but come upgrade time for my laptop and desktop and I get mucked about like this again I'll definitely swap systems.

Kepano said...

No need to be apologetic about enjoying your experience with Apple. They recently swapped the display on my 2012 MBP due to the anti-reflective coating wearing away. This machine is outside of warranty and AppleCare. They also swapped my iPhone 6+ due to what looked like dust on the sensor. Upon inspection, the corner of my phone was a bit dented (unknown to me as I use a case). Yet, the tech swapped my phone for a new one.

I try to not let my previous employment by Apple skew my opinion of them from a consumer standpoint, but they have earned their business from me. The death of Aperture (without a comparable or improved replacement as we have seen with Final Cut) is the one sore point I have with Apple today. Otherwise, paint me an unapologetic fanboy.

cfw said...

I too had a terrible experience with AT&T and will never, ever, buy another product or service from that company. In my case, the sales person just flat out lied to make a sale, then passed complaints to the parent company who then passed it back to the local sales people, etc. It remains unresolved three months later and the bitter taste will not go away. It did not involve an Apple product, but an AT&T "contract."


dasar photography said...

the only comment that comes to my mind is that Apple MUST give such a customer service, at least to justify the huge margin they get from each piece of hardware ... (where huge means "at least 5 times the real cost of the tool")

Anonymous said...

Similarly positive recent experience with replacing an iMac. I ordered a custom config over the phone with an Apple rep, and when the computer somehow lost the order at the 90% point, the sales rep knocked $100 off the price for the inconvenience of walking me through the whole order again.

Pick-up 2 weeks later was seamless. When I discovered later that they had given me a model with the small, rechargeable keyboard instead of the requested extended keyboard, the store swapped out the keyboard and gave me the $50 difference back in cash, with no questions asked.

I know I paid more than an equivalent Dell or HP, but no way would the experience have been that painless. And when my new iMac stopped connecting with the internet, I got a great Tier 2 service tech who helped me clean up the junk that was probably interfering with the internet connection.

Edward Richards said...

It is great service, but they did sell you the overpriced case that did not work with their phone. You were entitled to believe that they knew what they were doing when they sold you that case - they make a big deal out of Apple approved accessories. So they stole a lot of your time through their own mistake and made you feel guilty about it. Steve would be proud.:-)

Rufus said...

Same experience here in the UK.

I do not understand why some people have some instinctive desire to dismiss Apple. I guess they feel they are being anti corporate.

I dropped my iPad. It was a week old. I was a dumb idiot and made a mistake. The gorilla glass was cracked.

The guy at the Apple Store heard my confession, went out back and gave me a new one.

I was stunned. I have never bought a phone , tablet or laptop that has not been Apple, since.

Kirk Tuck said...

Edward Richards, A careful re-reading of the post is in order. It was AT&T that sold me the aftermarket (non-Apple branded) case for the phone, not Apple. I was entitled to make sure their reseller was competent but when that proved wrong it was Apple who make good on the situation.

Steve should be proud for making at least three incredible companies along with making many millions of people more productive and, in many cases, much wealthier.

I'll stick with my good feelings about them. And my object lesson which I can apply, liberally, to my own business.

Peter Wright said...

"always vexing to buy a new product and discover something wrong" Great word – "vexing"! I am chuckling sitting here imagining you being "vexed"!

I have a somewhat different story about a different company: A little while back I was at a Photography show in Toronto checking all the latests Nikon goodies. I have in the past bought both new and used equipment. I asked the rep, "What happens if I buy a used Nikon lens or body, it later needs repaired, and it turns out not to have been originally imported by Nikon Canada? I have heard rumours that it won't be repaired." I was told "Our policy is not to repair such items, but we might. The same would be true (in reverse) in the USA or elsewhere." I replied that this was not exactly reassuring – it wasn't a very pleasant conversation.

I came away with the opposite impression to you: Feeling that I will carefully check other company offerings (that hopefully stand behind everything with their name on it) next time I'm buying.

Enjoy the new phone. Hope nothing vexing happens!

Kirk Tuck said...

I have always liked the word, "vexing." For some situations it feels like exactly the right word.

Anonymous said...

I'll second what cfw said - I had a couple of terrible customer service experiences with AT&T, and have never used them again - going on about a dozen years now. I absolutely hate AT&T like no other business.

By contrast, Apple has always given me good service, and that's why I keep going back to them. Sometimes the quality of service is well worth the price differential, as you get what you pay for.

BruceA said...

Even though I can buy or upgrade the four iPhones my family has with Verizon (the carrier), I have had nothing but issues with them on non-Apple phones in the past.

With the exception of my work PC laptop, all of our phones, desktops and laptops, and other technology is Apple. I always buy the Applecare policy -- in one case just about everything crapped out on an iMac and I ended up with a new motherboard, display, and larger hard drive at no cost. The policy saved me over $1000 in repair charges.

Both my kids managed to drop their iPhones in toilets (don't ask). Replacements were $49 and even though they could have been refurbished they looked brand new to me.

Michael Matthews said...

Next time I have a problem with my iMac or iPad I'll find my way to Austin. My experience with Apple, over the phone and over the counter, has been erratic. It seems to depend on where the wheel of misfortune clanks to a stop. AT&T, though is consistent: never has there been a company so dedicated to raising the blood pressure of its customers.

scott said...

". . . went to phone heaven, where the ambient temperature never gets above 68 degrees (f) and the humidity always hovers around 50%." Sounds like San Francisco.

I had a bad experience at an Apple store with an iMac. Perhaps I was just unlucky but I now know that such a thing is entirely possible.

Another company with superb customer service: Lexus.

Ross said...

My first extraordinary experience with Apple customer service was 15 years ago. They don't always get it totally right, but compared to any other major corporation they're insanely good.

Anonymous said...

To be fair, you should probably use a different title for this post, since it gives the impression that it's Apple's fault. I understand you explain later that it wasn't so, but the lead should match the story.

Kirk Tuck said...

Anonymous, I disagree. I thing the lead is just right. After all, the one thing Apple did mess up on is not making AT&T and other carriers more responsive in servicing joint customers. Still two touches instead of one. But I don't really give a crap if the lead matches the story because this isn't a newspaper and it isn't a news story.

Dwight Parker said...

+1 for Apple....my job history has included working for various computer companies in the Austin area since 1975 in the capacity of a technician... I have worked for companies that were authorized service centers for Apple, IBM, Compaq, and HP....None of those companies provided "bad" customer service, but when I approached Apple on behalf of a customer with a problem, Apple would MANY times cover a repair even if the customers Applecare had expired, and many times they would cover a repair if there was a known defect even if the device was years outside of warranty. My experience with Apple is the same as yours Kirk, only my experience was being the middleman on dozens upon dozens of transactions over the course of 4 years with Apple going above and beyond what other manufacturers normally did (on a regular basis).

Christian S. said...

Good story Kirk and an interesting read!
I do hope you get around writing the review on that Lumu light meter. Would be very interested in your experience with it.

Murray Davidson said...

As an addendum to the proper fittingness of vex / vexed / vexation, there is a Scottish word which once applied is hard not to think of. When you take a (possibly instant) dislike to someone / something / a situation, it is known as "taking a scunner to ..." or being scunnered (with).
See if you can work it into a future post, e.g. a camera review, as in "nice technology, but I took a scunner to the menu system" :-)


William Beebe said...

I experienced the same good customer support two weeks ago with my iPad Air 2. I'd purchased it late November of 2014 with a Logitech Bluetooth keyboard cover. Over the time I used the iPad, the keyboard managed to chip away the non-glare coating along a line that ran across the middle of the iPad. Apple replaced both the iPad and gave me a new cover, one that hopefully won't do that same thing, free of charge.

I have moved from a mix of Android and Windows over the past year because I like the customer service I get at the Apple Store. I'm just about all into Apple now with an iPhone 6S Plus, the iPad Air 2, and a mid-2015 Retina Display MBP with 16GB memory, 1TB SSD, and the full-up i7 processor. From my perspective it's all good.

Anonymous said...

Had a very similar experience, but with a Samsung S6 bought directly from a verizon store. The Verizon store could do nothing after a while, and then blamed me. Contacted Samsung USA support directly, talked with a very knowledgable tech. He said send it to them, emailed a shipping label. I ended up with a repaired phone directly from Samsung within three days. Thanks for nothing, Verizon. But, why would I not buy a Samsung again?

For future reference, my approach is, they who took my money first own the problem. If AT&T charged your credit card, they are ultimately on hook to make it right. It's good you didn't have to bother dragging them over the counter and that Apple took care of you. But whichever merchant appears on your credit card line item is the merchant who took your money and owns making it right (unless there was some sort of warranty disclaimer that you had agreed to).

Andrea said...

It speaks very poorly for the state of the american industry that what is the norm here in europe (the proper customer care from the manufacture company, not from the service provider) you take as a sort of "bonus": you have already paid for their customer care seeing as little the phone costs to them and how much they overcharge to you...
But as I said, things here are a bit different...
Disclaimer: I'm not associated with any phone brand not I own any of their stock.

Edward Richards said...

My apologies - I forget that Apple does not claim the resellers as their own, despite completely controlling them through their reseller agreements. But I think there is more good customer service out there than we credit. I bought some boots this summer from a local bootstore. When I noticed a week ago that a chip had broken from the sole, they took them back and swapped me a new pair, no problem. While I think they may be in league with the devil, I have never had a problem with prompt and usually free returns from Amazon. Stranger than fiction, I even got good service from Cox Cable. In the camera world, KEH has always been terrific. (I live in the sticks, so there are no actual camera stores here.)