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When Customer Service Fails

July 7, 2009

The following is a lesson in how not to win customers and influence people.

 I’m the first to admit it, I am a tech head. Worse, I am a Mac Tech Head. I am also an early adapter. In 2007, I stood in line during the heat of summer to get one of the first iPhones in the city. The following year, I stood in line during the heat of summer to get one of the first 3G iPhones. After those sweaty hours, I thought I would beat the heat this year and preorder the newest of new iPhone 3GS over the Internet from the Apple Web Store as soon as it was announced.

 Placing the order was the only easy part of this process. After placing my order, I got the anticipated order acknowledgement with the arrival date shown as the day of the new iPhone’s official availability. That was good, but a few days later, when I checked my order to see if it was on track, the ship date has been pushed out. My new iPhone wouldn’t get to me till several days after its official introduction date. Needless to say, I was disappointed. However, almost immediately, I got an email from Apple saying to disregard their previous email. It was an error and my phone would indeed ship so that I would receive it the day of its introduction. Oh well, a little blip, but things looked like they had work out.

 Several days later, I read on the Internet that several people who had placed preorders for the new iPhone were getting shipping confirmations. Since I hadn’t, I checked my order. To my dismay, the ship date had again been pushed back. I called Apple and spoke to a customer service rep who assured me I would get the iPhone the day I was originally promised. He said the web site was in error, they knew about it, but they couldn’t do anything to correct it. It sounded like I was being fed a line; but, the CSR seemed so convinced by his story, that I decided to go along with him.

 However, the next day, the web site still showed a later ship date than promised. I called Apple again. The new CSR I spoke to assured me the iPhone would ship as promised. He said I would receive a shipping confirmation by the middle of the week. If not, call them back. Which I had to do! It was Thursday; I was supposed to get the iPhone the next day. If it didn’t ship that day by overnight, I wouldn’t get it till the following week. One more phone call to Apple and another CSR who was pretty sure my iPhone would ship that night. As it turns out, it did. I got the iPhone the next day as promised.

 So, I got the iPhone on the day I was promised. Unfortunately, the phone was defective. I called Apple the next day, Saturday, to see if maybe it was a simple fix that could be done over the phone. Alas, no such luck. The Apple Tech told me I could take the phone back to a local Apple store to get a replacement. She even tried to call the store to be sure they would do this. Unfortunately, the local store was so busy they wouldn’t answer their phone. That meant I had to schlep over to that store and take a chance they could replace the phone.

 Whenever Apple introduces a new iPhone, there is always a huge line of people waiting to get one. Even though the iPhone had been made available the day before, there was still a long line at the Apple Store this Saturday. After waiting in line for over an hour, I was led to the Apple Genius Bar and a tech rep who confirmed the phone was defective and offered to replace it. He even got the new phone out of his inventory and let me look at the box. However, that was a close as I got to that replacement. As it turns out, when you purchase an iPhone from Apple via the Web, the local store doesn’t have the point of sale equipment to create its return. Something about how it is registered with AT&T. 

 Now I was hot. One hand of Apple, the Web store, didn’t know what the other hand, the brick and mortar store, was doing. This was not the type of customer service for which Apple is famous. When I got back to my store, I had a phone call waiting for me. It was the Apple Web Store CSR who had told me to go to the local retail store. She was apologetic about misleading me; even took the blame by saying she should have known better. Still, I had lost several hours and didn’t have a working cell phone.

 The CSR promised she would make it right and get a replacement out to me immediately. She just needed me to sign some legal papers that obligated me to return the damaged phone or pay for the replacement if I didn’t. Seemed reasonable, only thing was, she didn’t have the authority to send me the papers. That was handled by another office. However, she assured me she would get them to send them out that day. Oh, and by the way, she would be off the next two days; so, she gave me the name and contact info of someone in her office that could help me in her absence “just in case anything went wrong.”

 Which it did. No papers that day. Tried to send her replacement email about his the next day, but the CSR had given me the incorrect email address. I tried to call but, of course, had to leave a message, which would be returned within 24 hours. By Monday, I was seething because I hadn’t heard back from anyone. When I finally did, it turns out the legal papers hadn’t been sent to me because the office in charge of doing that was closed for the weekend. Here’s a question, why introduce a product on a Friday if all of the offices that might be needed to handle problems aren’t going to be open for two days after the introduction? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.

 I finally got the legal papers and the Apple rep created an order for the replacement phone. By that time, Apple was out of the new iPhone and it was going to be at least a two to four days before the order shipped. By this time, several of my employees had gone to the Apple store over the weekend and had their new iPhones up and running. Even though I had done everything right, Apple had turned what is usually an exciting upgrade into one of the most miserable shopping experiences I have ever had.

 What had they done wrong? Well, they gave out inaccurate information on their web site and through their customer service reps. They introduced a new product the day before their offices that handled problems would be closed from two days. They over promised by telling me a replacement product would be shipped immediately when it turns out they were out of stock. They made me, the customer, jump through hoops (were those legal papers really necessary and did I really have to wait in line at the retail store if they couldn’t replace the defective product) to get a defective product replaced. They had little coordination between their Web store and the Brick and Mortar store. When I had a problem with an Apple product, I should have been able to have it resolved at any Apple outlet whether I bought it there or not.

 Do any of these things sound familiar to you? Is the information you give customers about an order or warranty problem accurate at all times? Are your offices available to assist a customer with a problem when the solution is critical to them? If you are a multi store operation, can a customer expect any of your stores to resolve a problem with a product they purchased at another location? Finally, do you make it “easy as pie” for your customer to resolve a problem they have with your retail operation. If you answer no to ANY of these questions, you should know how aggravating this can be to a customer, even a loyal one. It’s easy to pay lip service to having better customer service than big boxes and warehouse stores. It’s hard to live up to that promise.