Apple customer service has a split personality

Apple customer service has a split personality

Summary: Apple seems to have two kinds of customer service. The public-facing one in the retail stores, and the corporate policy that accepts no blame and provides little help. Why?

SHARE:

A recent experience with Apple's online and phone support has led me to believe that there are two support organizations within Apple.

The public face of the Genius Bar at the retail stores has been an unexpected source of customer support pleasure. I know that when I walk into an Apple store for my Genius Bar appointment, they have been uniformly helpful and courteous, and even provide alternative solutions if something is out of warranty and they are unable to cover the service.

I recently had an issue with a Mac Mini belonging to one of the employees in my office, and due to the service desired--upgrading the hard drive to a third-party SSD drive--they were unable to assist. They did, however, provide me with the names and locations of alternative authorized Apple service locations that were able to accommodate me without voiding my warranty.

Then there's the phone support. My employer had a MacBook Pro 17" model that had the expanding battery issue. Since my foray into the Apple world is still relatively recent, I wasn't really aware of how big an issue this was.

I checked the serial number of the laptop and saw that it was outside of warranty and AppleCare coverage. However, I also knew that Apple will handle out of warranty replacements if hardware is defective .

When I called phone support, I was told that since the laptop was out of warranty, we would simply have to buy a new one. I countered that a battery which expands so much that it literally breaks the laptop is, by definition, defective. I was then informed that the battery expansion was actually by design, to prevent it from exploding at the end of life.

I pointed out several things that render this declaration to be asinine. For one, batteries typically just stop working. If they have a tendency to explode at end of life, you don't design them to expand. You don't even sell them. You send them back to the manufacturer and get ones that DON'T EXPLODE. For another, designing a battery to behave in such a fashion is like designing a car to drive you off a cliff with you in it when it's time to buy a new one.

Finally, there are plenty of people who experienced this issue in the middle of the battery life-cycle. Normally it lasts for about 300 recharges, but there are quite a lot of people on the Apple support forums that experienced the battery expansion only halfway through the recharge cycle lifespan.

Apparently the only way they will replace the obviously defective, dangerous battery is if it actually explodes or does physical damage to the rest of the laptop. Otherwise you're on your own. I've since discovered that the quality of these batteries has not improved over the past few years, and the third-party ones are even worse.

The conversation with the phone support person and the supervisor I asked to be escalated to did not improve after that point. I accepted that since the battery was out of warranty, I would have to buy a new one and consider myself fortunate that the MacBook Pro hadn't been damaged.

In hindsight, however, I wonder if I wouldn't have simply been better off just taking the expanded battery to an Apple store and asked if they could replace it. It's too late now, but I suspect that my experience in front of live people instead of a faceless phone support person might have been a lot more agreeable and productive.

It seems to me that there are two support policies at place within Apple. The stores themselves seem to have a lot more autonomy and leeway to deal with specific issues, and the online/phone support follows a hardline corporate policy of "it's not our problem".

This is disappointing, and is something Tim Cook should look into improving for the future. It would go a long way to expanding into the corporate sector, where service and support are paramount in large organizations.

Topics: Hardware, Apple, Laptops, Mobility, Telcos

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

32 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Apple customer service has a split personality

    They have been living on an undeserved reputation for far too long but honestly, most of the others aren't any better and that's why I will use Desktops I built over anything else and I never have an issue that isn't expected (a dead power supply fan after like 6 years of use).
    slickjim
    • RE: Apple customer service has a split personality

      @Peter Perry See, a failed power supply after 6 years is entirely reasonable. It lives through continual current, moving parts, and heat, and is expected to eventually wear out. Telling people a component is doing something extremely dangerous is by design, and often while still under warranty, is just ridiculous.
      Scott Raymond
      • RE: Apple customer service has a split personality

        @Scott Raymond That was my point! This happens because I build my own and choose the best quality parts. Dell was the Apple of the Wintel Era and they had an undeserved reputation for quality as well.

        Apple had a faulty GPU in those 97 Laptops and the battery issue as week.
        Apple had the faulty LCD / GPU combo in the 21" iMacs.
        Apple had the Wifi problem of several MacBooks.
        Apple Had the iPhone 4 Antenna issue.
        Apple had the Battery Issue in the latest phone.

        There's plenty more if you research it and you will find they've gone kicking and screaming into every situation they were forced to admit and address.
        slickjim
      • The difference is understandable

        @Scott Raymond
        In an Apple store, you are surrounded by many other potential customers being sold product based on the "quality of the hardware". Should you receive an unfavorable answer, Apple may not want the other potential customers around you seeing the problems that exist in Apple's hardware.

        With phone support you can yell and swear at your leisure in the privacy of your home, as in your space, there is no one around to hear you scream
        :|
        Tim Cook
      • RE: Apple customer service has a split personality

        @Scott Raymond

        My girlfriend's Mac Book Pro has died three times, 2x because of a bad hard drive and then once because a power connection was loose and fried most of the internals. That's been in the last two years. Her experience on the phones has been horrible, but when she takes it in they normally will resolve the issue. There is a definite difference in how they treat you.
        Dodgson1832
      • RE: Apple customer service has a split personality

        @Mister Spock -

        The quality of the merchandise Apple sells is indeed variable, and given how much profit they're sitting on, one legitimately has to wonder if they get their manufacturing contractor to deliberately build them poorly.
        HypnoToad72
      • RE: Apple customer service has a split personality

        @Scott Raymond: Why's it to late? You should at least try.<br><br>The trouble with phone support is no matter what the company, it's not face to face. It's much harder for a person to turn away someone standing there. Mister Spock puts it well below.<br><br>The other trouble, they always base these on a case by case basis and yours sadly is out of warranty. I doubt they paid any attention to you telling them others are still in warranty. I do agree with you though.
        bradavon
      • APPLE VIOLATES ADA ACCOMODATION TO DISABILITY LAW WITH IMPUNITY! HIDEOUS

        When ADA legally mandated Accommodation to Disability is requested, Apple Staff at the Fifth Ave Store advise in a hostile manner that seating will not be available. In light of the fact that Steve Jobs was diagnosed with a virulent form of Pancreatic Cancer, one would think that, at the least, Apple would display some adherence to ADA law and offer
        accommodation to Individuals with Disabilities. !!!!

        DARTH VADAR AWARD TO APPLE!!

        Steve Jobs was noted to be one of the least philanthropic of corporate Titans--- however one would expect legal adherence to USA mandated ADA Accommodation to Disability Laws--

        Apple is quite HIDEOUS in term of Customer Service AND ADA LAW Accommodation!!!
        TechCloud
  • Apple isn't known for reliable hardw

    Not even completely functional hardware, for that matter. Why should they care? It looks cool but it isn't made well. We have some big Apple monitors at work (how they got low bid is beyond me) and they are junk compared to the similar NEC's. They seem to have a useful life of about a year before needing swapped out for refurb under the warranty. But they do look cool with the cables hidden in the base!
    NotMSUser
  • An opposite experience

    I've actually experienced the opposite situation - where the Genius Bar was unhelpful but the phone support folks were happy to help.

    Some time ago, my older 15" MacBook Pro was having trouble with ever-growing patches of bright pixels on the screen. The machine *was* still under warranty, so I took it to the Genius bar. However, the technicians there accused me of having spilled liquids onto the circuit board of the machine and refused to pay for the repair. After arguing some time with them, I gave up and simply asked for the case number. They insisted I would go nowhere with it but eventually they gave it to me.

    Later, I called AppleCare phone support and raised the case number I had gotten earlier. The technician there was quite kind and helpful, accepted that the machine had in fact not been soaked in water, and sent out the return shipping box. Everything went well and I got the machine back about a week later, with a functioning screen.

    After the horrible first part of that experience, I avoided going to the Apple Store for a good long while, and while I've resumed going there, I don't regret at all the time I didn't
    pablo89_98@...
    • Regardless of manufacturer or service centre

      Sometimes you get good helpful staff, sometimes not.

      I had a similar expanding battery as Adrian. I got the same line from the Store Manager. I went in expecting to pay for a new battery, but having been sold the line "by design" I too had to ask if he was serious.

      Sure it better than exploding, but better still would be to kill it and provide a message for the user. Clearly a manufacturing failure passed off as design because it typically works for their customers.
      Richard Flude
  • Hardware not great, and warrantee is worse.

    Having bought a macbook a year and half ago I thought for the extra money I was getting better quality hardware (especially since the specs were not nearly as good I as could have gotten paying the same amount for a PC.)

    Well the trackpad is really cool, but the middle section did stop working when I got a little water on it from condensation on a McDonalds cup, but fortunately the warrantee did cover that although they phone technician did seem to think that I must have pour water on the machine to get it to break like that.

    I have also had a number of issues with the cord with apparently is a piece of junk. Almost every Macbook user I know has had at least one cord go bad on them, and of course that is not covered under my useless $300 Apple Care warrantee. They call it a consumable. Apparently it really is a consumable because it breaks all the time. The problem is in the small part of the cord which is so rigid that if you wind it tightly (like around the little winding tabs provided on the power supply!) it eventually ends up breaking. I found this out after I bought a new one 3rd party and took the old one apart. After a little soldering the old one works again, but of course I don't move it around anymore. I also treat the new one with kid gloves now that I know what the problem is.

    The case is also cracked, and not from being dropped, but rather right near the place where it opens up. Oh well, the OS does work pretty well, but my wife's new Dell with Windows 7 works well too and it cost $500 less ($800 if you include the warrantee).
    littlemas2
    • From your own words .....

      @littlemas2@... it sounds like you are what is called "abusive user" and expect the OEMs (of whatever brand) to repair the damage caused by your own admitted abuse.

      Who the hell puts a cup with liquid on top of a trackpad on any laptop? In fact, who the hell puts ANYTHING on top of any area of laptop? And about the cord, if you are irresponsible and constantly pull it, pinch it with furniture, step on it or let the dog play with it ..... guess what? It will break.

      Don't blame OEMs for the damages cause by your own stupidity.
      wackoae
      • RE: Apple customer service has a split personality

        @wackoae
        laptops make very good coasters when sitting on a sofa with it on your lap, never had problems with it here, and I'm using a threeand a half year old acer
        beenman500
      • RE: Apple customer service has a split personality

        @wackoae

        If you do not spill liquid anywhere with access to the internals, you should be fine. The problem I've found with Macs is that the air intake is on the top, so if you do spill liquid it is harder to turn it off quickly enough to fix. One of my coworkers recently spilled on his laptop (a dell) but was able to turn it off and we got it dried out quickly enough and it was fine.
        Dodgson1832
      • No... what you inferred from his own words...

        @wackoae

        All he said was "a little water on it from condensation on a McDonalds cup"... and you took that as he used his trackpad for a coaster.

        I'll offer up another scenario: He picked the McD's cup from his desk, being a McD's cup it is susceptible to condensation, and while lifting from his desk to drink from it ... wait for it ... water dropped through the air and landed on his trackpad.

        I mean... come on... I thought the mantra was Apple users were smarter than any other computer users... so let's give littlemas2 the benefit of the doubt that he wasn't using his laptop as a coaster.
        UrNotPayingAttention
    • RE: Apple customer service has a split personality

      @littlemas2@... I've had Macbooks since 2009. A 17" mid-2009 and a 17" early-2011.

      Both have been faithful in build quality (though the 2009 felt a little more sturdy with the monitor lid not feeling loose).

      I've never had a power cable go bad. And the magsafe interface is one that every cheapo brand of PC should have by default, because people - accidentally or otherwise - might cause an accident...

      If anything, the cheapo PC laptop, with comparable hardware, doesn't go up to 90C, but then I don't use a MacBook for 3D rendering. All laptops do get warmer because of size, but most PC laptops get to mid~70s whereas Macbooks get to 89C and higher. (Replacing the thermal grease with (a) a better brand and (b) a proper amount rather than the overkill amount the competent folks at Foxconn slop on does get the temp down by 10C, but Apple's genius bar staff typically won't do this work... one person did (via searching Apple's forum, but he's lucky.))
      HypnoToad72
    • RE: Apple customer service has a split personality

      @littlemas2@... I also know the HP Elitebook gets up to 90C too...
      HypnoToad72
  • RE: Apple customer service has a split personality

    Reminds me of when a teacher brought in her fatMac to the Apple tech complaining the floppy drive didn't work. Turned out she had taken her Apple II 5 1/4" floppies, folded one and jammed it into the Mac's 3 1/2" drive. We both were kind enough not to fall down laughing till after she left.
    dheady@...
    • RE: Apple customer service has a split personality

      @dheady@...

      Wait... I thought "Mac users are inherently smarter than any other Personal Computer users"???
      UrNotPayingAttention