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Survey says: Apple customer service a secret weapon

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Tragedy struck just after 8 p.m. ET last Wednesday. Bounding down my apartment’s outside steps, I stumbled slightly, and in what resembled one of those slow-motion sequences you see on film, my iPhone 4 went flying out of my hand and over a balcony, landing three floors below with a plasticky smack and spray of glass shards.

You could say I was shocked, stunned and horrified. To clear a few things up: No, as I told my inquiring editor, tequila shots were not involved. Yes, I realize it’s just a phone. But I don’t make a habit out of carelessly destroying expensive things — especially when I’m so close to the end of my AT&T two-year contract and looking forward to a no-penalty upgrade to a new phone circa, say, October.

I’ll jump forward to the end: this is a happy story. I walked out of the Apple Store(s AAPL) in Center City Philadelphia at 7 p.m. the following day with a brand new iPhone 4. But the journey was very impressive considering the level of service I received for a product that is not a refrigerator or pricey household appliance. Remember, we’re talking about a phone. (Note: I did not disclose my profession to the Apple Store staff for obvious reasons. Nor do I think every customer does or would have the same experience I did — your mileage at the Genius Bar may vary.)

Apple is famous for customer satisfaction — it scores tops among cell phone owners and computer owners, according to the American Customer Service Index. It’s probably no coincidence that high customer satisfaction scores — and offering professional and prompt technical help goes a long way towards ensuring satisfaction — are happening at the same time as the historic expansion of Apple’s business and the ascendance of its stock price.

After my Genius Bar appointment, Apple sent me its standard follow-up customer survey asking me about my experience. And since I write about Apple, I figured I’d share my answers here, in survey form. I was asked to rate my satisfaction with various aspects of Apple’s service on a scale of very dissatisfied to very satisfied.

Overall, how satisfied were you with your in-store repair experience?

Very satisfied. The morning after the fateful accident, I walked into the Center City store without an appointment. I was immediately greeted and told to come back for the next available time slot at the Genius Bar in 20 minutes. When I returned, I waited about a minute and 30 seconds before my designated Genius, Dan, walked up.

That wait was the only thing about my experience that was short — but we’ll get to that in a minute. Despite a somewhat complicated situation due to a failed iCloud backup, I was consistently updated on what was going on with my device. And the employees acted like they cared about solving my problem. Customer service isn’t necessarily the most rewarding job, so it’s gratifying when an employee understands that your presence means there is a problem and that getting it fixed is important. (Apple has just over 34,000 retail employees, with about 100 assigned to each store. Horace Dediu at Asymco calculated that Apple retail sales employees make from $9 to $15 per hour, but Genius Bar workers can make up to $30 per hour.)

Overall, how would you rate the professionalism and technical ability of the store employees responsible for your repair?

Very satisfied. This was somewhat of an emergency situation for me — it’s hard to get work done as a reporter when your only phone is unusable for calls or apps you might be writing about. The Apple Store employees made me feel like getting a new iPhone right away was a priority for them.

They also were very straightforward with me. They made sure I knew what my options were from the start: I could use my AT&T(s T) upgrade for a new iPhone 4S, which would start my two-year contract over again (no thanks), purchase a new iPhone 4S off contract for $500 (eek); or, if I left my broken device with Apple, they’d replace my same model with a new iPhone 4 for $149. I chose the latter.

They also let me know that this is fairly routine. Dropping a phone three stories? Not weird at all — they’ve seen and heard worse. The phone’s screen had a lot of scary-looking shards of glass sticking up from it, and when I apologized for its state, my designated Genius shrugged: “I have chefs’ fingers. I deal with cracked screens like this all the time.”

How many times were you contacted about the state of your repair?

At least 10 times, and I hadn’t even left the store. While my new phone was re-syncing Dan would attend to his other Genius Bar appointments, but he’d continually pop back over to update me on the status of my phone. This went a long way toward making me feel like the situation was resolvable and that they cared about getting me a satisfactory outcome.

Once your repaired product was returned to you, what happened?

This actually wasn’t a simple get-a-replacement-phone-and-resync-it-with-my-latest-iCloud-backup situation. Turns out, after 25 minutes of syncing my new phone, none of my roughly 3,000 photos copied over. This was, you might say, problematic. After some troubleshooting, Dan said iCloud was the culprit: my last iCloud backup had failed. He said I should bring my computer that my phone was synced with in and he’d try again, and made me another appointment later that day.

When I returned with my MacBook Air and my new iPhone, he battled further issues: iPhoto kept crashing, and the latest iTunes backup wouldn’t sync. He tried a few different approaches, and finally ended up finding a solution. This troubleshooting took almost an hour, again, thanks to the sheer number of photos I had on my device. Then once he figured out the fix, it was a least another 45 minutes of syncing.

From the start of the discussion, how long was your interaction at the Genius Bar?

Over the course of two different appointments, I spent just under four hours getting in-person tech support from the Apple Store. While that might sound excruciating, Dan was seriously heroic, never got flustered, and even took time to discuss one of my favorite topics while we were waiting: where to procure Philly’s best pizza. (Osteria on North Broad Street, if you’re wondering.) As someone who works from home or remote locations regularly, it wasn’t really a problem to be nearby the Apple Store all day. But that might be harder for people who have to report to offices.

Plus, when his shift ended at 6 p.m., he found another Genius to check in on me while we waited for my syncing to finish so they’d be sure my problem was entirely fixed before I left the store.

In the end, yes, it took a while, and iCloud has some serious issues to work out. But I left with a new phone, only $160 and some change poorer. And, perhaps more importantly, a lot of customer goodwill — an asset that even the most valuable company in the world can’t put a price on.

18 Responses to “Survey says: Apple customer service a secret weapon”

  1. David Kok

    My wife cracked her white iPhone4S yesterday, since we heard so many good things about how APPLE takes care of its customers, we made an appointment with Genius Bar with the Apple store in Valley Fair in SF bay area.
    Wow! were we in for a shock. The kid that attended us not only did not help us but made us believe APPLE has became very arrogant. I am ditching my iPhone and going Android and my wife said she would do the same after her contract is up.

  2. Pat Crisler

    I got my iPhone 4 wet, and it screwed up the dock connector. I went the iFixIt route, figuring I could save maybe half of the $149 Apple was offering a replacement unit for. Which I promptly hosed up even work by breaking a connector inside the phone. I gave up, took it in, begging for mercy. At the Genius Bar, the tech predictably enough noticed differing serial numbers inside the phone, asked. After fessin’ up, he congratulated me on my near-fix, politely suggested I not do that again because he really wasn’t supposed to help me after I’d done that, but he made an exception. And that’s what’s great about the Genius Bar. Apple has empowered its employees to make exceptions. Which means in a very real way that they can be human, not just a corporation’s puppets.

  3. John Girolamo

    I read your article and the comments. Unfortunately, I had a very different experience just last week. I noticed my iPhone 4 speaker being very hard to hear. I went to my local Apple Store and the Genius Bar told me that since I was 40 days past the original 1 year warranty period, I would have to pay $150 for a new iPhone 4. I was very disappointed, but paid so that I would have a functioning device. No offer was made to sync my phone, I wa specifically told that was my problem. I wouldn’t have minded paying so much if they could have at least given me an option to upgrade to a 4S, even for more money. I put all of this in my survey response back to Apple. I guess I will see how serious they take this.

  4. Luis Rosario

    You guys are the worst customer oriented people .every thing is about money an programs that need be applied its a movie that was purchased by me .its on file my son deleted it hes 5. I would like it back . But its ok im not even interested in your product any more That suckss maybe if i choose to walk into your store again i will try it that way . Because on line or on the phone . Doesnt seem to work well with you apple people . Thanks for nothing . Im just one unlucky customer of ur millions I must not mean much but my son is my world an that movie was part of it too. Its ok i will buy the video thanks apple u were great in helping me out.

  5. Jeremy

    Hmm interestingly when my iPhone 4 home button packed up after 22 months of usage, the Genius wanted to charge me £139 despite the fact that it was still under contract, was undamaged and should have been covered under the EU Sale of Goods Act where a device should last a ‘reasonable’ amount of time. I protested and was given the shrug off despite being a religious Apple purchaser.
    Surprisingly they DID NOT email me a Customer Satisfaction survey follow up to my appointment. I got the button fixed by an independent for a total of £17.

    I now have a ’09 iMac with a seagate 1TB drive which is failing. Apple recalled these drives for the ’10-’11 models but don’t give a damn about those with earlier machines. They even want the machine for a week to replace a drive!

    Hah! Apple Customer Service??? Not so good I’m afraid

  6. Sounds like things have gotten much better at the Genius Bar. In 2009, when I was on the other side of the US in Hawaii my iphone got wet at the beach. I was now on vacation, with no phone, and was hoping to get some help from the Apple store in Honolulu. Unfortunately, their attitude was pretty much ‘sucks for you’. The only options they game me was a new 3G with a new 2 year commitment or $600 for a new phone. That’s it!

  7. Scott P.

    What’s amazing is how no other manufacturer seems to get this. For example, it took a friend of mine 3 weeks just to get Sprint to admit their is a problem on his 2 month old HTC handset.

  8. I live in Melbourne, Australia. I sat on my iPhone 4 and cracked the back. I went to the Apple Store, Doncaster. I was served within minutes of arriving even though I was late for my appointment. The young man who served me was a model of politeness, courtesy and efficiency. He disappeared into the back for about five minutes and emerged with my phone – fixed. Perfectly too. I was expecting to be charged $149, instead I was charged $39. The whole thing was a really lovely experience. I have AppleCare on all my Apple devices, and whenever I call for help, the service is magnificent, faultless, knowledgeable, helpful, friendly, and enthusiastic. And when I think of comparisons, like Sony, whose service is obnoxious, arrogant, aggressive, and offensive, I’m reminded of why I love being an Apple customer. So I decided to write an e mail to Tim Cook and share my experience. I signed my email to him by saying I think his mum would be very proud. 36 hours later I received a reply from him to say “thanks Andy.” 24 of those 36 hours would be the time difference by the way. And that is why Apple rocks. $600 billion market cap. Worth more than the GDP of Argentina, Belgium and South Africa combined, and the man in charge replies to my email!!! Wow. I’ve told everyone who will listen, and that’s why they have me as a customer for the rest of this life, and if I’m re-incarnated, the next one too. Take a bow Apple. 

  9. Tandrade

    I dropped my iPhone cracked the screen was told the same thing. Last minute he says since this is your first time there will b no charge. Next a family member dropped an iPad 2 shattering the screen same thing walked out w a free replacement. Neither device was covered by Apple Care.

  10. “considering the level of service I received” having seen your photo I expect the excellent customer service had a lot more to do with your appearance. I wonder what the experience would have been like if you were 80lbs heavier or had the appearance of a person from a lower socio-economic group. Probably not the same level as fawned on an attractive blonde with a healthy appearance.

  11. stadum

    I had a similar experience with a smashed iPad 2 and would write a similar review. This is in fact a powerful Apple weapon that is not often enough noted by the analysts.

  12. hahahhahaa…. this is funny. if you would have had to wait for 4 hours and maybe a 1 day for getting you blackberry fixed, I am sure the your article would have been “RIM fails its customers…. again!” …. useless article.

  13. Apple Stores are Apple’s secret weapon. I live in Belgium where we only have Apple Resellers, if something (like this) were to happen to your Apple device here, your next step would be to buy a new device at full price, because you wouldn’t be getting any decent support.

    In our parts, Apple is known for its pretty shitty Customer service. Providing only a year of warranty when the law says a 2 year minimum is required for example. This has changed recently, under pressure of the EU. They’ve also been convicted in other European countries for their shady warranty regulations in combination with promoting their Apple Care packages as a safety net.

  14. the photo of the smashed iphone looks somewhat like a contemporary art piece! shocking how the event happened and a bit frightening, wouldn’t wish it upon anyone!glad you were able to resolve the issues with the Genius bar ;-) happy days!