Yesterday started much as planned with an early workday. I was having some minor work done in my apartment first thing in the morning so I threw my third generation iPad in my bag and headed to the coffee shop to get some work done. As good as my intentions were, the sudden death of my iPad put a stop to doing anything productive.
"No matter how much hardware you stuff into a device at less cost than your competitor, if your ecosystem is inferior, and your apps just aren't as good, then it doesnt matter what you put in that pile of silicon, plastic and metal." — Jason Perlow
Talk about irony, on the day my tongue-in-cheek column was published in which I explained why the recent iPad refresh didn't make me enjoy my iPad any less, it let me down. While thousands were reading my explanation that my now 'old' iPad still "had my back", said iPad was refusing to run for the first time.
The iPad would start and then reboot with a gray screen every few minutes. It wouldn't run long enough for me to trouble-shoot the issue, or restore it from scratch. It would start and crash every few minutes. Start, crash, reboot, repeat. It was as dead as an iPad could be.
When the workmen finished in my apartment I left the coffee shop and headed back home. I was thoroughly dejected that my iPad, only a few months old, was a paperweight.
I went online and made an appointment at the Genius Bar in my local Apple store, not knowing what to expect. I don't have a lot of experience with Apple tech support (thankfully), and past experience with other vendors didn't have me feeling too positive about things.
While driving to Apple I reflected on the excellent article by my friend and colleague Jason Perlow. His reasoned explanation that the value of the new iPad mini is more than just the worth of the hardware struck a chord with me. Jason pointed out that the worth of the new iPad mini, and any Apple product, is more than the sum of its parts. The entire Apple ecosystem plus good hardware together yield a good user experience. That has intangible value that makes customer satisfaction levels consistently high for Apple products.
I admit that as I pulled into the Apple store parking lot I wasn't feeling too positive about the quality of Apple products. It was up to Apple to prove how much value the intangibles (tech support) added to the perceived value of its products.
I was greeted at the door by an Apple employee with an iPad who looked up my appointment and sent me to the Genius Bar. Within a few minutes my Genius arrived and asked me what brought me in for service. I was impressed that the tech then listened carefully to my explanation of the problem. She admitted that this constant rebooting was unusual and when she took the iPad in hand she was immediately confronted with the gray screen and a reboot.
Without missing a beat she told me the problem is definitely hardware so a new iPad was in order. That was it. In less than 5 minutes the Apple tech listened carefully to understand the problem, saw it for herself, and determined a replacement was in order.
The rest of my time at the Genius Bar was just as well spent. The replacement iPad was brand new, a 64GB model with Verizon LTE just like my dead one. The tech booted it up and made sure I was able to set it up with no problems. She pulled the Verizon SIM from the old iPad and popped it into the new one, then made sure it was connecting to the LTE network.
I back up my iPad to iCloud so the tech made sure my contacts and calendar information pushed down to the new iPad. She recommended, and I agreed, that it would be better to install my apps from scratch rather than restore them all from my backup just in case one was corrupt. I intended to do that anyway as I wanted to use the new iPad as an excuse to get rid of the dozens of apps installed on my old iPad that I never use.
Just a few minutes after walking into the Apple store with a dead iPad I walked out with a brand new one at no cost. This was only possible because the tech actually listened to my complaint and acted on that information. There was no scripted session as is so common in tech support scenarios. They listened to what I had to say and acted properly on that information.
My session at the Genius Bar is not uncommon based on conversations I've had with others in similar situations. The purpose of this tech support is to address a customer with a problem that makes them unhappy, in a way that makes them leave the store a happy customer once again.
While Perlow properly addressed the app ecosystem as a big portion of the value of an Apple product, I would add the tech support offered at Apple stores as a valuable part of that system. Apple was able to take a customer in a very negative situation and turn it into a positive experience. That certainly adds to the value of my Apple product.
This is exactly why opening its own retail stores was a great move by Microsoft. Even more so now that it has become a hardware company with the Surface line. Hopefully Microsoft will learn what Apple has learned so well: don't provide tech support for hardware in the cheapest way possible. It is far cheaper in the long run to do whatever it takes to convert an unhappy buyer into a happy one.
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