iPhone

Every company should envy the Apple experience

Scott Lowe shares his customer service and support experience at an Apple store when he upgraded to the iPhone 4S.

Apple makes great hardware. That's a given. Apple makes great software. That's also a given. However, both pale when it comes to understanding the real reason for Apple's meteoric success: the experience.

I'm in a somewhat strange place writing a piece that's basically going to idolize Apple, because for years, I was relatively anti-Apple. However, over the past couple of years, I've slowly started accumulating Apple products, including iPhones, iPads, and MacBook Airs. That said, I remain a staunch Windows advocate as well. These days, I consider myself platform agnostic and believe in using whatever makes sense for the task at hand.

But I digress. I have a very specific story to relate to you regarding a recent experience I had at an Apple store.

My story begins like so many others -- I had an iPhone 4 and needed to upgrade to an iPhone 4S. No, really!  You see, I recently left my full-time job and my iPhone 4 belonged to my former employer. So, this actually was a need.

Since I was traveling near a location worthy of an Apple store, I decided to stop and get my new Siri-enabled device. I walked into the store, which was bustling with holiday activity. I explained my need to the friendly face at the door. He walked me over to one of the Pads in the iPhone section of the store and tapped an icon that alerted the sales force that a customer was waiting for assistance in the iPhone section.

I stood there for less than five minutes before a sales associate arrived, but I knew the entire time where I fell in the queue. The icon that the host tapped kept me apprised of my location in the sales queue, so I was never left wondering.

From there, I explained to the sales person that I needed to upgrade my existing phone to an iPhone 4S. He asked the usual questions:

"AT&T or Verizon?" "AT&T."

"16, 32, or 64 GB?" "32."

"Black or white?" "Well, I really don't care, so let's go white."

It took two or three minutes for a stock worker to bring out the new phone. During that short wait, the sales person asked me for my existing phone number, and he looked up my AT&T account on his sales iPhone.

Once the shiny new iPhone 4S arrived, the employee used his sales device to scan the barcode on the side of the new box. He then asked if I planned to make any plan changes. I was satisfied with what I had, so we just moved on in the process. Next, he told me that I'd just have to wait for about five minutes while the new phone activated.

At the end of the activation period, he offered to take me over to the store's individual setup area to help me configure my new iPhone 4S. I told him that I'd love to use the setup area but was comfortable doing my own configuration. I moved to the area, removed the new iPhone 4S from the box, and turned it on.

The phone walked through its typical setup routine, but unlike prior configurations, I didn't have to do anything at all with iTunes. Instead, late in the overall configuration process, the phone asked me if I wanted to restore my new phone from an old device and offered to allow me to use an existing iTunes backup or to recover from the previous evening's iCloud-based backup. Since I was 1,500 miles from my iTunes machine, I opted for the iCloud-based recovery option.

When I was done, almost everything was exactly as it had been when I walked into the store. My email was configured. All of my text messages were retrieved. The photos that I have on my iPhone were copied, and all of my music and applications were recovered. Most importantly, at the time, my GPS software -- Navigon -- was restored. I did have to re-download my maps, but that was a very minor issue.

From start to finish, I spent about 30 to 35 minutes in the Apple store and walked out with everything I walked in with and more. There were zero hassle, awesome service, and an experience that left me wondering what the world could be like it every company could do what Apple has done. They've leveraged and combined the company's strengths in logistics, operations, software, hardware, and retail and created a streamlined customer service and support experience that should be the envy of everyone.

Sure, like any company, Apple has its flaws, but the in-store upgrade experience certainly isn't one of them!

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

15 comments
microbins
microbins

As noted already - this is an intresting read but lacks any real 'meat'. I would be much more intrested in this type of article if there was some real journalist investigation added to it. So take the basic article then add survey detail on overall customer satisfaction (good & bad), and then add comparison of sales vs service experiences and finish off with compaison to other hardware suppliers and if you want to go the extra mile add the real enterprise (compared with individual consumers). Then you have a very good article with meat instead of what is really just an opinion piece. I have nothing against opinion but I value Techrepublic for providing information that is of practical use to many of us.

TtFH
TtFH

Initial enquiry - "we only do phones at each hour - come back then". we wandered around for 45 mins before returning. Arrived at the appointed time, saw the person we told to see and were taken to sit down. Then we waited, and waited. 20 mins later "hasn't anybody seen you yet?". Someone was grabbed, but it was clear he didn't know what to do - the cursor moving around the screen in circles as he ummed and ahhed. "What model was it again?" He filled in the paperwork, but just like the web stuff, he didn't know where to look or what to do - I could have done both myself, in much less time. He disappeared with our ID for a good ten minutes to photocopy it (government requirement for ID). Then he tried to get the phone connected using the store phone. No luck, so he tried again, and again, then he borrowed another guy's phone, and tried, and tried. He tried another phone (these phone are iPhones with card readers and apps to get the process moving). Eventually he asked someone - "sorry, our system is down, come back tomorrow". I don't blame him for the system being down, but that it was down, and he didn't know indicates poor communications in the shop. Nearly two hours all up, one hour of that scratching ourselves. Came back the next day, and saw someone else. After another 45 mins, I was away. We had to use iTunes to get the phone registered and backed up (upgraded from 3GS). we also had to ring our carrier, and sort it out with them. Apple did tell us we'd need to do this, and it was reasonably easy. My wife is now very happy with the phone, but it was the most painful phone purchase we've ever made. Even buying direct form our telco was easier as bad as the Apple store. Given our telco's customer service reputation, this was a surprise!

Gisabun
Gisabun

Outside of the last part with the migration, there is nothing different that any other place would do. As for the migration, a few years back I had a phone issue. Went in to repair but before they did that they had a gadget to transfer my data directly from one phone to the other. No need for the Internet. [Oh and if the Internet was down, what would be done?]

SCADAman10
SCADAman10

A few years ago my wife wanted a new computer, and our kids convinced her to buy a MacBook Pro, a 15" 2008 model. This was a very high end computer, costing almost twice as much as a similarly specced Dell or HP. It did look good, but that's about the only good thing I can say about this computer. Its hard drive first failed 3 months after purchase. Apple replaced it, but that took a week. A few months later my motherboard failed, then video controller, then a software problem prevented computer from booting up and hard drive had to be reformatted, then hard drive again, then motherboard. I must say, that knowing where you are in the service queue is a very little consolation when you are going to hear that you need to leave your computer for a week that you rely on with your business and personal records. We had realized we had a lemon on our hands early on, and after a second major repair on a less than 8-month-old computer asked Apple to replace it with another computer, which they refused to do. We repeated this request each time we were told that this computer needed major repairs, only to get a condescending call from some "manager of customer [dis-]satisfaction department" telling us that the next major repair they would do it, but not this time. Interestingly, every time we would send them an email, we'd get a call from a different "manager", who would tell us that a previous one is no longer there. Finally, my wife has given up, and bought a Lenovo ThinkPad for less than one fifth of the price of the Mac. This computer has been working trouble-free for well over a year, and if it dies, we will buy a new one. Providing a friendly service experience is not a substitute for having competent repair staff and solid product, especially billed as a high-end, premium item. We still have the MBP, but trust it with nothing else than letting our youngest son browse the Internet. The repair file for it is quarter-inch thick, and we are not likely to buy another Apple product again.

JohnOfStony
JohnOfStony

I went to my local Apple store when I couldn't get my Mac Mini to recognize my musical keyboard. The latter was an old model with twin DIN MIDI connectors. I had bought a MIDI to USB adaptor at my local electronics store (Maplins) and it worked fine with my WIndows PC but not with the Mac. The staff in the Apple store had no idea why it wouldn't work, nor could they offer any advice regarding replacing it with a suitable adaptor that would work. They had no musical kit interfaced to a Mac in the store and none of the staff seemed to be familiar with using a Mac with a musical keyboard. I went away disatisfied and have not returned to the Apple store since. By comparison, the staff in Maplins (the electronics store) are knowledgeable, helpful and make useful suggestions when they can't supply exactly what I want. I am a regular customer there. My experience with my Mac leads me to think that Apple kit is fine provided it's not connected to any external hardware other than Apple kit or popular peripherals such as printers. My Mac crashed when I tried to download video from my camcorder via firewire and a power off was the only option, so it's not just the musical keyboard that's given me problems.

BobManGM
BobManGM

Sorry...but I was hoping for a piece on what you did for your summer vacation.... I don't want to be harsh, but I'm looking for the meat in any article on TR...and like the commercials, it has been lacking lately.

cbader
cbader

Im the same way, I have been very anti-Apple for years but am starting to get over that. Anyways, I finally broke down and decided to get a tablet and Im souring on the Android experience so I decided on an iPad which would be the first Apple device Ive ever purchased myself (Past iPods have been gifts). I went in there on Black Friday and was walking out of the store with my new iPad in less that 15 minutes. Everything was done on the clerks iPod Touch, the receipt was emailed to me, and I was out the door with a smile. The Apple retail experience is an incredible one that I wish other retailers would emulate.

TNT
TNT

A couple years ago I managed several hundred iMacs for a private college prep school During my tenure there I had to replace a third of the hard drives. So forgive me for taking issue with the authors assertion that Apple builds good hardware. But the experience in customer service for the replacement of these drives added insult to injury. I called Apple and after a brief chat with a service representative they told me I would have to take the device to an Apple store. Really? Yep, then I have to leave it there. For three days. Then I have to go out of my way to pick it up again. Oh, and if I tried to replace the drive myself I would void the warranty and extended service contract. By comparison, the school had more than double the number of HP's littered around campus, and they had a 5% failure rate on the drives. HP's customer service blew away Apple's. After a brief exchange with a service expert on HP's website, they overnight shipped me the necessary parts and a return postage-paid box for the old parts. I had the PC up and running again in less than 24 hours. Apple may be okay for individual users, but in education and business their inflexible support policy is likely part of the reason they haven't become more than 10% of the marketplace.

NerdHerder
NerdHerder

Letting people know where they are in the queue always makes waiting easier to accept. The smooth, personalized experience is a huge part of Apple's success. Microsoft has recently opened Windows stores. They need to make buying their products as smooth and easy as Apple has. Non-technical people want this; only nerds love the detailed configuration options. My experience with an older iPod and Macbook at the "Genius Bar" was not as good because their advice was to buy a newer model and forget about upgrading. This is good retail practice and the customers are enthusiastic about spending more for the personal assistance. Bravo Apple. Pay attention, Microsoft and Android, lest your appeal dwindles to include only hobbyists.

NerdHerder
NerdHerder

You hit the nail on the head. Apple has perfected the sales experience but does not provide a good support experience. The "Genius Bar" helpers just look up your symptoms in on-line forums and then tell you to buy a newer model. You have invested so much money and lifestyle in Apple that you comply.

GeoffMichael
GeoffMichael

You're asking for trouble no matter what brand you have.

nwallette
nwallette

I don't mind the op-ed, and this was a cool piece. I like to hear about real-world experiences, good or bad. Related, though, TR needs to achieve a balance of casual stuff like this and some actual meat, as you say. And there have been waaaaaaaay too many "my favorite apps" articles lately. Not nearly enough "here's how to replace a Windows file server with Samba to save some cash on CALs" (e.g., and etc..) C'mon guys, there's a ton of cool stuff going on out there!

nwallette
nwallette

"During my tenure there I had to replace a third of the hard drives." That's life. Apple doesn't manufacture hard drives. When a Seagate or Maxtor or Toshiba fails, blame Seagate, Maxtor, or Toshiba. "...they told me I would have to take the device to an Apple store." On this, I agree. That's just dumb. Dell does this right. They're willing to let you, an IT person, take the machine apart to any degree necessary, replace the part yourself, or send a tech post-haste to do it for you, if you'd rather not be bothered. As a non-techie consumer, dropping the entire computer off is probably the best way to handle the situation. An IT staff should be reasonably competent at doing minor surgery. One of a few reasons Apple has made no significant progress in the business space. (Although, I bet if they tried, they could really shake things up.)

MLFManager
MLFManager

I concur with TNT on this. Apple has mastered the customer service experience on the consumer side, which I believe was the point that Scott was making, but their support policies do not work for the the enterprise customers. If I have to have someone bring a device to the Apple store for service, wait 3 days while they repair it, and then send someone back to retrieve it every time their is a problem, our business would grind to a halt. HP, Dell and IBM have all worked in the enterprise space for a very long time, and they cater to the needs of the business user very well. We can lose an entire raid drive on a server (and we have) and have the service tech on sight with parts and have it fixed within 4 hours by any one of them, which is the level of service that I, as a business user, have come to expect.

TNT
TNT

While I understand your point that Apple does not manufacture hard drives, they could install better drives in their devices. And if they are going to install junk hardware, then don't void my warranty when I try to replace it with something better. Imagine, if any other vendor (think Dell, or HP) were to have a 33% failure rate on their devices they would likely be drummed out of business.

Editor's Picks