michigan avenue apple store.jpg

It’s not often that I write about my personal experiences with customer service, but this is one that I thought was worth sharing. I’ve owned a MacBook Pro for about a year and a half now (it was my first Mac), and the computer has held up amazingly well. Of course for that price you expect the thing to be flawless, but no matter how good the computer is things are bound to fail at one point or another. That’s where customer service comes in.

In the past I’ve dealt with support services from several other computer manufacturers (Dell, HP, Averatec, and a few others). For the most part I never considered my experiences with them to be so bad that I wouldn’t buy another machine from them, but more often than not getting the PC fixed required a lengthy call to a technical support person. And they always seemed to connect you with someone that didn’t care what sort of technical knowledge you possessed, and they’d ask you to try rebooting your computer even if you had told them 20 times that you already rebooted it. They must think that they have magical powers that will traverse through the phone lines and wind up at my computer, but only during the reboot cycle? I’m the kind of person that researches problems I have to see if other people have come across the same issues, but the support person doesn’t really care that 500 other people in a forum have all had the same problem. They are determined to fix your computer with a simple reboot, and if that doesn’t work there’s always the wonderful “format your computer” option.

How does Apple compare to the others? I bought Apple’s extended warranty (AppleCare) with my Mac when I first got it. For me things always seem to fail after warranty period expires almost as if they are on a timer. I’ve had several gadgets fail on me literally days after the 1-year warranty period had elapsed.

A few months ago I started experiencing issues with the trackpad on my MacBook Pro where the tap-to-click would all of a sudden stop working. To resolve the issue I’d have to go into the settings, disable tap-to-click, and then enable it again. This would sometimes happen several times a day, and I always attributed it to a software issue. I didn’t bother researching it, however, until just a few weeks ago after finding an error message in the Console (the Mac equivalent of the event viewer) that appeared to be related to the trackpad. I started trying things like resetting the PRAM, repairing permissions, and eventually went as far as wiping the computer entirely. After further research, however, other people who were experiencing similar issues said that it was actually a hardware issue. Some people said that replacing the “top case” (essentially the top framework that includes the trackpad assembly) would fix it, and others said that replacing the logic board resolved the issue.

Armed with this information I called AppleCare. I didn’t know what hoops I was going to jump through, but I was pretty much prepared for anything. I was almost instantly connected with a technical support person who did one thing very well, and that was listen. I explained to her the problem I was having, the steps I took to try and resolve it, and the information I found on the Internet that said what parts may need to be replaced. She created a case number for me, and said that I’d have to take my machine to an Apple Store so that an on-site technician could take a look at it. I was on the phone with her for only about 10-minutes.

I ended up taking it into the Michigan Avenue store in Chicago, and since I had an appointment it only took a few minutes before I was helped. I showed them the error messages I was receiving in the Console, but naturally the problem is impossible to reproduce on demand. So there was no way I could actually show them what was happening. They pulled up my case from the phone call though, and saw the references I had found with people who had similar issues. He said that the fastest turnaround would be for them to send out the computer to a repair facility, which was an idea I wasn’t too fond of. It was a Monday evening, and he reassured me that I should have it back back before the weekend. He said they would overnight it to the facility, and then have it overnighted back to my house. At that time I hugged my computer and said my goodbyes. I spent about 20-minutes in the Apple store (including my wait time).

The thing I was the most afraid of wasn’t the period of time that I would be without a computer… because I have others that I can use. Instead it was not knowing whether it would come back unfixed if they weren’t able to reproduce the issue. Well, it didn’t take long for me to find out. The computer was sent out the next day (Tuesday), and Apple lets you monitor the status of the repair on their site. The facility received it on Wednesday, possibly fixed it (details weren’t given on the site), and shipped it out the same day. I received the computer at my house on Thursday. Needless to say the turnaround time was pretty remarkable, but the real question is whether they actually did something or just sent it back in the same condition it was in.

I opened the package, and in the box was a sheet of paper stating what items they had replaced. To my surprise they replaced both the top case and the logic board, which according to some sources one of those two items were normally the culprit. I’ve had the repaired machine for about two-weeks and I have yet to see the problem show up again.

What am I getting at here? I told them up front that I’ve done a lot of different tests to try and resolve the issue myself, and that I was confident it was a hardware issue. Not once did they make me feel like they didn’t care what sort of troubleshooting I had done, and as a matter of fact they thanked me for saving them so much time by doing that before even asking for support. And then to top it all off they didn’t try to take any shortcuts by just replacing one of the possibly troubled components… they just replaced them both. In my book that is good customer service.

Many people may argue this, but to me Apple’s support is worth the premium price you have to pay for their hardware. I’ve also had two other encounters with Apple support that make them look even better in my eyes:

  • About 9-months after buying my iPhone 3G the back case cracked by the port connector. I’m guessing this is because of the constant docking and undocking of the phone, but it wasn’t my fault and shouldn’t have happened. So they swapped it out with a refurbished one on-the-spot. Yeah, it may not have been a new one, but I didn’t have to wait for it to get fixed. Not only that, but the case on the refurb was so pristine that it was hard to distinguish it from a new iPhone 3G. I’m sure Apple replaces the casing on all the phones before reselling them though.
  • At the same time I was getting my iPhone replaced I also asked the “genius” about the battery on my MacBook Pro. I told them that Apple’s site says you should still have 80% capacity after 300 cycles, but I was at 80% capacity after 140 cycles. I figured it couldn’t hurt to bring this up sense I was already there. The girl explained how batteries are something they don’t replace because the wear and tear varies depending on how you use the device, and since I had owned my computer for over a year that this result was pretty typical. I thought I had gotten shot down, but she then went on to say that she’d replace it anyway. She grabbed a brand new $129 battery off the shelf and popped it into my computer.

I believe there are various reasons that people purchase products from Apple, but the deciding factor for me now comes down to support. Honestly, if the their support was on par to what Dell and the others offer I could guarantee that my next computer would not be an Apple. Right now I don’t think I’d buy anything other than an Apple.

[Michigan Avenue Apple Store photo via burgermac on Flickr]