Survey says: Apple customer service a secret weapon

iPhoneTragedy

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 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 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.

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