Or, My Trip to the Apple Store. On the enjoyment scale, it did not rate ten out of ten.
[Edit – there is more to this story. Apple subsequently made amends, spectacularly. I’m leaving this post up because first impressions count, and the impression of Apple that I received yesterday was absolutely dreadful, but the company is clearly extremely concerned that it shouldn’t be perceived as being in any way arrogant or unhelpful. So… the story that follows here is why I got angry, and there’s another post detailing what Apple did about it.]
My nephew has an iPod. Unfortunately it doesn’t work; for some reason, it won’t charge. We’ve tried charging it via several different cables and a docking station, but it stubbornly refuses to suck up any power. It’s not just sick, it’s deader than Kerry Katona’s music career. Since I’m in Manchester city centre more often than anybody else in the family at the moment, my brother asked me if I’d take it back to the Apple Retail Store from whence it came and see if they could send it away to be fixed. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? It should have been simple. It wasn’t.
So, anyway, this particular tale of joy commences – and, actually, ends fairly abruptly – at the Apple Store in the Manchester Arndale. I walked in at about 3.30pm, and started heading towards the back of the store to talk to someone about the dead iPod. As always in an Apple Store, there were a lot of people hanging around playing with the MacBooks/iPads/iPods on display, but the staff appeared to be – well, the opposite of busy. I was stopped, about a third of the way towards the back of the shop, by an unfriendly young woman in a blue Apple T-shirt who asked me what I was looking for. I told her I was bringing back an iPod that wasn’t working, and this is where the experience started to become surreal. She asked me if I’d made an appointment. I hadn’t. When I told her I hadn’t made an appointment, her charming response, delivered with the most sarcastic inflection possible, was “You did know you had to make an appointment, didn’t you?”
Given that I’ve never in my life been asked to make an appointment in order to return a defective item to the shop it came from, that would be a no.
This charmless young woman then moved to a nearby MacBook, brought up a blank screen (!), and told me that there were no appointments available at any point for the rest of the day… at 3.30pm on a Monday, when the store wasn’t busy, with four-and-a-half hours left until closing time. I was, let’s say, a little surprised at this; when I started to say that all I wanted to do was return a defective product, that I wasn’t expecting anyone to fix it on the spot, and that I was prepared to wait, she cut me off in mid-sentence and started in with a lecture, delivered in an inappropriately hectoring tone, about how she couldn’t let me see someone – you know, for the three whole minutes it would have taken them to package the broken iPod up in a jiffy bag and send it away to be fixed – because it wouldn’t be fair to let me jump the queue in front of customers who had had the presence of mind to make appointments. And this in a shop in which approximately 60% of the visible staff were standing around chatting. I’ve put in my years working in retail, and I certainly don’t begrudge people taking advantage of a quiet period to slow down a little – I know what Saturdays are like on a shop floor – but this wasn’t a Saturday, the staff weren’t visibly busy, and I object to being told that nobody is available to help me when that very, very obviously is not the case.
ANYway. Apparently, it’s very difficult for Apple’s staff because they sell so many products – at least, that’s what Ms. Charm-of-Pol-Pot tried to tell me. Two kinds of laptop, three kinds of desktop, four kinds of iPod, iPads, iPhones, Apple TV and a few peripherals. As my nephew would say, big whoop. Compare that to, say, John Lewis, a full-line department store with thousands and thousands of product lines that sets the gold standard when it comes to customer service, and that does not, as far as I know, force you to book in advance if you need to bring in a faulty item they sold you so that they can send it away to the manufacturer to be fixed. I wouldn’t have minded so much if this woman had been remotely conciliatory, or even vaguely pleasant, instead of entering the conversation with an attitude so enormous that it probably needs to be housed on its own planet. Since I obviously wasn’t going to get anywhere, and since she didn’t appear to feel disposed to let me finish a sentence, I left – fortunately, in the middle of one of her sentences, which saved me from another thirty or so words of her spectacular condescension.
I am, obviously, in awe of Apple’s outstanding commitment to achieving excellence in the field of customer service.
I love my iPod. Or rather, I love my iPods, there’s one in a dock next to my bed and another one residing permanently in my backpack. It’s beautifully designed, easy to use, and I love the fact that I can carry thousands and thousands of pieces of music with me wherever I go. I’m sure, at some point, I’ll buy another one – I’d like one with larger capacity, and I don’t know of anybody who makes a better music player. And while my nephew’s iPod seems to have perfected an impersonation of the dodo, my two, so far, have been absolutely reliable.
I’ve also, for years, licked the steam off Apple’s laptops in various shop windows – again, they’re beautifully designed, and I have several friends who are absolutely devoted to them. And I’m intending to replace my laptop next year (it’s currently three years old, so by next year it’ll be time to start thinking about upgrading it), and I have to say that this afternoon’s experience does not exactly encourage me in the direction of buying a MacBook.
Here’s the thing: Apple sell design as much as performance, and they position themselves as offering premium products. For certain types of device, like music players, they dominate the market, but that can’t be said of every product line they sell, and some of the things they sell, like MacBooks, are significantly – as in a sum that’s in three figures – more expensive than equivalent Windows-based products that do essentially the same job, only a little less seductively. Part of that premium, sure, goes on design (both in terms of the look of the machine and the feel of the user environment), but part of the premium, equally, supposedly goes to pay for a certain level of service.
And yet this company, apparently, is so monumentally arrogant that it demands – unlike any other retailer I’ve ever encountered – that you make an appointment to take one of their products back to the shop it came from to get it sent away for repair, and their store management, on the evidence of my delightful experience this afternoon, can’t be bothered to train their front-line customer service staff to deliver even the most minimal level of courtesy. Unemployment is up, we may well be heading for a double-dip recession, consumer spending is flat, and yet when I attempted to take a relatively expensive luxury item back to the Apple Store where it had been purchased, the first and only staff member I had any contact with acted as though she was doing me some kind of favour by even deigning to speak to me, and sent me away – despite the fact that the shop was neither full nor busy – with the broken item still in my coat pocket because I hadn’t telepathically deduced that I needed to perform some kind of arcane online booking ritual before I entered the store. On the bright side, I suppose, it’s lovely for her that she feels so secure in her job that she doesn’t have to bother with piddling little inconveniences like being pleasant and helpful to her customers.
Doesn’t exactly encourage you to get out your Visa card, does it?