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.