Apple and the Tech Support Factor

June 14th, 2006

Depending on whom you ask, Apple delivers just wonderful service in every respect, or treats its customers with an unreasonable amount of arrogance. What a wide gulf to traverse and indeed I am sure that both conclusions are perfectly true.

Naturally, I’m very pleased that plans to place a huge Apple support center in India didn’t come to pass. It’s not that I have problems with India as a country, or with the intelligence of its people. But offshore support has a bad, well-deserved, reputation. How many times have you called a company for help and spent most of your time on the phone grinding your teeth as you recite and spell your name over and over again. “Oh, your name is Jim,” they say to me after I spell “Gene” for the tenth time. Maybe I should change my name and be done with it.

When confronting with such obstacles, you can’t expect much in the way of a solution for your particular problem, but the fault is not the country in which the support center is located. It’s all about hiring people with proper language skills, familiarity with colloquial conversation in the country from which calls are received, and thorough training on how to help you and me navigate the trials and tribulations of using the company’s products or services. It’s hard enough getting good service in your native country.

On an objective basis, Apple Computer reportedly offers the best service in the industry, bar none. No other computer company is even close. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. The technical support survey scores Consumer Reports has posted for the company in recent years indicate what you’d regard as a “B” grade in a school exam. Good, sometimes very good, but certainly not great.

Alas, the rest of the industry is a whole lot worse, so if you think that moving to Dell or HP will bring you solace, think again.

So I’m not surprised to find people who just rave about the level of support they received at an Apple Store’s Genius Bar, or via telephone. I’m also not surprised when some of you talk about horror stories of the first order, where nothing worked. You went up through the support hierarchy, and they just couldn’t get a handle on your problem. Frustration mounts, and if you didn’t use any of those infamous “seven deadly words” during the conversation, you were sorely tempted.

Worse, there’s no way to be sure just what’s going to happen when you place that call, or get on the waiting list at the Genius Bar. The latter experience seems to fare far better, though the people are clearly overworked. I don’t think Apple anticipated there would be such a crying need for their work when it established the program.

But an Apple Genius has an advantage over the person on the telephone, because they have the chance to physically examine your Mac and determine the source of the problem. That’s equivalent to winning 90% of the war.

When it comes to doing the same thing via phone, all bets are off. They have to depend on your words to see a picture of the issue they have to solve. In fact, more and more PC companies are using remote access software to actually connect to your malfunctioning device over the Internet to personally see what’s going on and work their magic.

In any case, a lot more must be done. Whenever I hear an Apple war story, about a support request that went terribly wrong, it’s a sure thing that a lot more needs to be done to make the process work. I don’t know exactly what Apple does to monitor the success of its technical support, but when conversations appear to extend beyond the expected length, or higher tier support people must be summoned to set things right, clearly alarm bills ought to ring out real loud.

But now it’s your turn. If you have ideas on how Apple, or any other technology company, can deliver better support, feel free to post your comments. Whether your experiences succeeded or failed, please let us know.

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3 Responses to “Apple and the Tech Support Factor”

  1. Rob Steele says:

    While contracting as a developer we have used a product called BlackBox to “record” everything a user is doing as they reproduce an error. Then the log is send to us and analyzed. This is done with user consent because every keystroke is recorded. Great detail is provided and can be easily filtered so the support tech doesnt have to read a million lines of events in the log. On the flip side of things, it makes it easier for users because they dont have to verbally describe what happened. They just run the logging utility, repeat the actions that caused the error, then send in the log.

    This particular tool is windows specific. I wonder if a similar tool exists for a Mac?

  2. Christopher Murphy says:

    I took a G4/400 to the Genius bar in Kansas City. Spoke with “Genius” Mike and told him that after a friend had taken a hard drive out of the machine the machine would no longer recognize my optical drive. I mentioned that it might be a loose connection. Almost an hour after my appointment, this GENIUS opened the machine, made a comment about RAM and closed the machine and hooked it up to a monitor. When the monitor would not register my system starting, he told me my motherboard was fried. Then he told me there would be an $85 bench fee to take it and look at it. I agreed as I needed the machine. Then when making the appointiment he told me that Apple, as of last month, no longer accepted my vintage Mac for repair and that I was just out.

    I went home with the machine, opened the door, connected the optical drive and then went back to work on a machine this APPLE GENIUS said had a fried motherboard. Had he listened to the customer he could have helped me. Instead he had a foregone conclusion about what was wrong. This was not service in any since of the word. This experience has taught me the hubris of calling yourself a GENIUS when you don’t even use common sense. Machine is working fine by the way!

  3. gopher says:

    Well a lot has to do with luck. Yesterday my mailed in request for AppleCare for my iPod arrived at my home just as I came home from work! Finding the place on the website to put the enrolment number was a bit of a challange, but with patience, I discovered the correct location without having to resort to a phone call.

    Previously my iPod had to get shipped to Apple to be repaired, and when they sent the box for it to be repaired, the empty box got lost or stolen from my front doorstep, and I had to call to ask for a replacement box. The ensuing call, it took him 2 hours of struggling with his computer to void the duplicate charging it was trying to put on my credit card, given the fact it wasn’t my fault the box never arrived. Worse the shipping company signed off the package as having been delivered. When I sent it in, they found nothing wrong, and delivered back the old iPod. Took it to the genius bar, told them my story, and they finally replaced my iPod. It did take an hour of waiting for them to handle other customers while I was already taken care of, but the story finished.

    DHL had when I lived in a previous location returned my repaired Powerbook to a neighbor, and did not record the correct neighbor’s address. I had to learn spanish, only to find the neighbor did not have the package, and finally found it at another neighbor’s home.

    I’ve had two times where Apple replaced under Applecare, what usually would be irreplaceable. I took my Powerbook into the Genius bar, which had previous fan issues and finally was reporting on the hardware test that the fan was broken. This same Powerbook had a screen replaced from having fallen to the ground, and an optical drive repair that didn’t quite go well. The fact the fan was a pre existing condition not only gave me a replacement Powerbook, but a newer model at that! Similarly I had a refurbished Airport Express base station replaced which was constantly losing its signal and turning to an orange light on its own.

    On the other hand, my iMac G5 they would not even inspect unless I put back in the original RAM, or the original hard drive (I had upgraded it myself) for the capacitor issue when I took it to a genius bar.

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