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Busman's Holiday
Apple's Dirty Laundry
by Steve Wood
Febuary 25, 1999



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Earlier this month I "came out of retirement" to post a column in which I severely criticized Apple Computer's refusal to make a refund on a defective refurbished monitor they sold me. It was a quick rant about some outrageous behavior by Apple Computer's customer service. I posted it in hope of spurring some positive action from some incredibly arrogant and unhelpful folks at Apple. Unfortunately, all it did was fill my email with Apple horror stories!

When Apple posted it's much publicized "Tell Steve" complaint page, I immediately sent them the whole story, "in three part harmony," as Arlo Guthrie would say. In less than a week, I received the following encouraging email from the "Tell Steve" folks at Apple:


Thank you for your recent email regarding return/refund for your newly purchased 720 display.

We are very concerned to hear of your experience and would like to resolve this issue for you. As such, we have forwarded a copy of your complaint to The Apple Store Customer Service Team for a timely response, as that is the office best suited to address this matter.

Should you prefer to contact the Apple Store directly you may do so by visiting The Apple Store web site at <www.store.apple.com> or by calling 1-800-676-2775.

We appreciate the opportunity to be of service to you and thank you for taking the time to write.

I held off on repair, legal action, or any further columns, hoping that the Apple store customer disservice folks would make good on the bad monitor they sold and refused to back up. I really didn't want to repeat calling "The Apple Store Customer Service Team," as I'd already gone head-to-head with them and now knew their game...delay and deny. I really should have known better. After waiting in for over a week with no response from "The Team," I returned to the "Tell Steve" form, only to find that it didn't work!


From my experience, it appears that the "Tell Steve" campaign is just more Apple smoke and mirrors with no real attempt to solve Apple's growing customer service problems. There has been no further contact from Apple.

While Apple will attempt to repair defective units they sell, it appears that they do not intend to make refunds to customers who receive POS parts and respond after their 7 day deadline, regardless of any mitigating circumstances. A former Apple employee, who wishes to remain annonymous, wrote:

I worked in austin customer relations, and know the situation all too well... if you try and "help" the customer, it's looked down upon... REALLY! the old apple arrogance is alive and well in austin... much of it stems from "(name deleted)" who runs the place... he moved up the ranks on "disservice"... less cost...

The writer went on to say:

to be fair... apple gets 6,000 calls a day... and MOST of them are handled well, but I assure you... if you fall outside "policy" you might as well give up...

While Apple is riding a tide of success based on the iMac and the G3's, it is important to remember that this is a company that just pulled one foot out of the grave. As I've written in many other columns, Apple needs to be "doing it" better and cleaner than the competition if they are to survive as anything else than a niche company.

Unfortunately, that simply isn't the case. Even with Apple providing solid customer service in some situations, they are still trying desperately to cover their poor customer service tracks elsewhere by trying to require non-disclosure statements! A quick look at web message boards and postings such as the one on Ric Ford's Macintouch reveal many similar negative experiences. Remember as you read this, the folks doing the postings aren't the WinTel Apple-bashing crowd. They're once-loyal Macintosh customers.

My immediate response to this situation has been to set aside the defective MultiScan and replace it with a new Sony. It cost within a few dollars of the Apple refurb. And, it works as it should. The Apple refurb has done nothing to enhance Apple's image with the students (future computing customers), parents, and teachers (current computing buyers) who come in and out of my classroom.

When Syquest went belly-up awhile ago, a Mac and Syquest toting friend remarked that I was fortunate that I'd chosen Iomega over Syquest for external storage. I didn't respond to the comment with my true thoughts, but I remember when I purchased my first zip drive that one of the reasons I went zip was Syquest's terrible reputation on customer service. Since that time, Iomega hasn't endeared itself to the purchasing public with some of its stunts concerning rebates and the click-of-death, but they're still around.

This kind of thing also brings us back around to the issue of the clones. Once upon a time, for a very short time at that, a few companies were knocking the socks off of Apple by producing Macintosh compatibles better, faster, and cheaper than Apple. I really can't attest to their customer service, but at least there was a choice of suppliers of machines running the MacOS. I can honestly say that if the clones had remained, I'd not have an Apple-branded Mac on my desktop because of the many problems I've had with Apple.

Faced with the choice of going to another OS or staying with a company that I find consistently arrogant and even proudly unhelpful doesn't make me much of a Macintosh zealot. A recent "for instance" might be illustrative. Some longtime friends recently purchased a computer from GateWay. They had previously purchased an off-brand clone that was plagued with problems and had fought their way to a refund. Needless to say, they were more careful buyers the second time around.

As with all electronics, something can easily go wrong. The new GateWay performed flawlessly, with just a couple of exceptions. These were quickly remedied with a call to customer service/tech support--without interminable periods on hold. Then there was a possible power surge or lightning strike. While the new GateWay owners expected to be told they would need to consult with their homeowner's insurance company, the GateWay representative--without significant time on hold and with no argument--agreed it might be considered a homeowners insurance problem. He then cut through the whole process and guaranteed GateWay true zealots for their brand. He immediately sent out a new modem, next-day delivery with the option for free installation by a field rep if desired! Macintouch now carries a page on GateWay service experiences that some folks at Apple should read and emulate!

Contrast that experience to the typical Apple customer who is guaranteed at least a fifteen minute wait on hold before speaking to a human being, who, in all likelihood will transfer the call elsewhere initiating another fifteen minute period on hold.

While I did hear from a couple of readers who thought I'd received that "one, odd, unfortunate experience," most wrote relating their horror stories in dealing with Apple. One was particularly pertinent, as the reader had dealt with the same person and routine I did:

I read with great interest your tangle with Good old Jason in Austin Texas. Your story is my story--a refurbished 750 monitor that quivered after 30 days use. I finally got them to reimburse my Visa just this month. It only took three months of threatening law suites. Jason is the complete example of the peter principle in action, totally inept and just didn't know what he was talking about. He also told me his supervisor was in meeting and would return my call. I would now be dead if I was still holding my breath waiting for the call. I got service from another person in a different part of the same building. She got the big boss in some other state, and he told her to refund my money. I truly thought I was the only person that was being treated like this by Apple employees! Seems I was wrong. I am forever an Apple fan but if I had employees working in my store like Apple's, I would fire them on the spot.

Like Ralph, I love using Macs, but find dealing with the company that sells them pretty distasteful. I think Scott Adams must have experienced Apple's "Customer Service" after reading these two Dilbert strips ( 1 2)!

For those who may be caught in a similar experience with Apple, short of legal action, I can only suggest that you be quick to protest defective products with Apple. Sending your complaint to Apple by certified mail will help back up when you protested, if you have to go to court.

Mine goes in the mail tomorrow!

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©1999 Steven L. Wood

reposted to the new MATH DITTOS 2 site 6/5/2000