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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Apple Care: Empowered to actually do so

Posted on November 30, 2011 at 11:55 PM

Before I disappointed virtually the entire Twitter-verse by buying a PC instead of a Mac, one of the more vocal, “You’ve just GOT to buy a Mac for the love of all that is good and holy!” proponents was one Matt Scott. One of his many – and I do mean MANY – reasons that I should join the Mac cult-of-personality was that their service and support – Apple Care – was so amazing.

Of course, computer tech support is often a thing of jokes, usually with "some impossible to understand person located in India" as the punchline, but whenever anyone talked anyone spoke of Apple's support, there were stories of computers being smashed by rogue falling space junk or that had been damaged while stopping some elaborate terrorist schemes or used in ballistics penetration research being repaired or replaced years after purchase with no fanfare. It sounded like all a Mac owner needed to do was double-click his gloss-white slippers together and a new computer would just suddenly and magically appear. Apple Care was truly the kinder, gentler side of Steve Jobs' legacy, where he ensured that every customer remained a happy Mac fan-boy and received a fresh dose of Jobs DNA whenever required. (Of course, when I had my little battery replacement showdown with Sony, this only cemented into Matt’s mind how ever-so-much better Apple Care was. I must say, Sony’s handling of my problem offered me no ammo to refute his claims)

Now I don’t often get to visit Apple stores and experience the Apple magic firsthand. Myrtle Beach apparently is neither large nor cool enough to have one, so I usually only stumble across one when we visit a larger city. They always seem to be the most crowded and hipster happening places wherever they happen to be. In fact, I don’t think you can ever actually attain full hipster cred until you’ve spent all day in an Apple store drinking a single cup of coffee and blogging on one of the many computers on hand.

I happened to go visit the Apple store in Walnut Creek, California earlier this year when out visiting my brother after my Control4 The Tour trip. He was having a battery issue with his new iPad2 – it only lasted like a couple of hours -- and I felt that the employee that worked with us was super helpful and knowledgeable, quickly identified a potential issue – many push notifications and like every single app open and running in the background (neither of us knew that you had to actually close them) – and made some problem solving suggestions.

But like many people that visit an Apple Store for tech help, we ultimately came to the brick wall of, “If you need any further help, you’ll need to set up an appointment to visit the Genius Bar.”

And at first, I thought this was kind of a lame pawn-off, just giving the employees an easy excuse to bounce a problem off on someone else and making the customer schedule another appointment. But the more that I thought about it, the more I see the real genius in the Genius Bar concept.

First, understand that no matter how great your staff is, not everyone is going to be a superstar. And even if every employee IS a star, there are STILL going to be some that are better than others. It’s just a fact of life; we can’t all be Navy SEALs; and even amongst SEALs there are the Team Six guys that are the best of those best. So, having a Genius Bar does several things. One, it gives other employees something to strive for. Second, and more importantly, It allows Apple to focus deep-deep training on a few, key rock-star employees that are probably not only super knowledgeable about product and operation, but who are likely also better at deflecting, managing and soothing difficult client types. Third, having the drones on the floor pre-screening people, these Grade-A employees aren’t wasting their time and talents on retarded “it isn’t plugged in,” “this is the power button,” “you have to double-click on it” kinds of stuff. Fourth, it lets people know that they are being elevated and are going to receive a superior experience.

Plus, with a short funnel to an expert, customers *should* have much fewer encounters with Apple employees before they arrive at a resolution. They are continually bumped up a knowledge and support chain until they arrive at someone that can help them instead of endlessly being bounced laterally with no help in sight. With my Sony battery debacle, I spoke with like 6 different people – not even counting my Sony audio/video rep – having to start over with each new encounter and just getting progressively more angry, frustrated and stabby with each call. If you could only be bounced to one expert person that was either A) capable of fixing your problem or B) empowered to resolve it, that would be amazing.

Speaking of being empowered to resolve problems, here comes a tangent… So I was on a flight back from CEDIA that had been delayed by like two hours and I’m in First Class chatting away with some other equally important person, and she started talking about something she had witnessed at the Charlotte airport. Apparently this young woman had some really small – like infant – kids with her and she had been in the airport for hours due to repeated cancelled flights because of the bad weather. Apparently the woman went up to the counter, had her screaming kids in tow, was totally frazzled and was told that her flight had like another four hour delay or something and the lady started melting down. There was crying and yelling and swearing and it turned into a real, “We’re going to call security” kind of mess. Now granted weather is weather and it wasn’t the agents “fault” but  instead of offering the lady the absolutely nothing that they did which probably resulted in creating a non-US Air customer for life as well as who knows how many people she told about her awful experience, if the woman behind the counter had been empowered to help and do *something* -- like she could have escorted the woman to the private lounge, gotten her kids situated with drinks and snacks and a private place to chill which would have cost US Air like $20 – she could have maybe helped to salvage a bad situation. It often doesn’t take much to win someone over; just the initiative and the ability to do *something.* And things like “I’ll have to go and talk to my manager,” only serve to heighten the agitation and sense of helplessness and “I’m talking to someone that can’t even help me.” Where practical and reasonable, employees should be empowered to be able to resolve problems and offer solutions. The short term “cost” will often be little or nothing when balanced against the long term goodwill.

OK, back to Apple…

So the other day, I was having a problem with my iPad2. I finally got around to porting iTunes and my music library over to my new laptop – which was a hellish episode in itself. I’m sure there is a “better” way to do it, but somehow importing the library caused every song – all 9000 of them – to show up in triplicate. So I deleted it all and re-added it and then saw that a lot of my painstaking metadata and album art was lost as well as all of my playlists. Again, I’m sure there was a smarter way to transfer your iTunes library from one computer to another, but since my original computer housing all the iTunes stuff on it will no longer even power up, I couldn’t go to it and export library and playlist and all that. Blarg!

Anyhow, I finally move all the stuff over to my laptop, sort out the metadata issues and upgrade to that latest version of iTunes and I’m finally ready to marry my iPad to the VAIO and jump on the trolley and try iOS5 on iPad. So I attempt the software download and update. And it fails. And I try again. And it fails. And again. And again. Over and over. And not just fails, but gets to 723.5 megs of 723.6 megs before failing. It is galling. I try it wireless. I try it wired. I take my computer to work and try it. Nothing. Same thing. Massive frustration.

So I go about setting up an Apple Support session. It asks for my serial number and a description of my problem and then says is something to the effect of “Your iPad appears to be out of the free service time period. Would you like to purchase Apple Care, purchase a one-time support session or do you feel that something about your call should be covered under free support.” Already this is pretty cool, because many other support sites don’t even give you the option of “pleading your case.” It is either A) You’re within the warranty period and you’re totally covered or B) You’re out of warranty and you either pay to play or suck it, Trebek. I select an Apple specialist to call me the next day, Sunday, at 1:00.

The impressive thing is not that I got the call on a Sunday or that the call came within a couple of minutes of 1:00 or that the solution that the tech offered – turn off your anti-virus; Kaspersky is known to block some of the Apple updates from finishing – solved my problem or that he volunteered to stay on the phone with me for the 15 minutes of dead time while the download happened. Yes, those things are all great. And it was great that he didn’t condescend to me or give off any “I can’t believe I have to do this crap on a Sunday” kind of vibe. The cool thing was that he started the call with, “I see that your product is out of warranty but you think that there is some hardware issue that should be covered. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about your issue and then we’ll figure out the best way to proceed.”

This guy was not on the phone simply trying to make a service buck for Apple or trying to force or extort me into buying the Apple Care extended protection. In fact, he never once mentioned purchasing the extended service. He let me explain my issue and then he was empowered to make a decision on how to proceed. The whole experience was so different from dealing with Sony, which really felt like dealing with a series of automatons that were reading done a list of scripted "if A then B" suggestions and solutions and ultimately not being able to offer me any help or just saying that my problem wasn't really a problem at all.

Not only did Apple help me and solve my problem, they did it in a way that made me love them a little more. Transforming problems into success stories is what makes you the #1 company in the world. And if we can incorporate a bit of that and empower our employees to make these successes, then we'll only do better as well.  

Categories: November 2011, Computers