Anybody who’s been following my MacBook Pro saga knows that I’ve had plenty to complain about over the past few months. Heck, I’m sick of hearing me complain. This entry is a compromise: I’ll both complain and rejoice about a few Apple employees I have had the pleasure and displeasure of working with over the past couple weeks.
Part 1: Good Apple
After the disappointment of sending my MBP in for repair, being without it for a week and a half, and then getting it back only to discover that nothing had been fixed, I was reluctant to send it in again. I ended up getting in touch with AppleCare again and ultimately being referred to Apple Customer Relations, which is a great service Apple provides for customers who “fall through the cracks” of ordinary customer care. Basically when you have a bad enough experience, they assign a customer relations person to keep an eye on your case and work with you through (hopefully) an ultimately positive resolution.
Apple Customer Relations is awesome! From the first call with my agent, she made it clear she was listening to me and understood my concerns. There were still very clear boundaries. No, Apple wasn’t going to send me a new computer. No, there are no loaners while the machine is in for repair. No, Steve Jobs will not take me to Disneyland. But within those boundaries she worked with me to try to find compromises that might make my life easier. She never questioned the legitimacy of my complaints (part of this is because they are not technically trained, but part of this is clearly because it’s bad business to tell your complaining customers that they are wrong).
I’m still so frustrated about the whole ordeal with my MacBook Pro, but the fact is, Apple is still talking to me. Apple is still trying to help. They are a big company and as such have secret support agendas, and have to avoid admitting when something is wrong even if they know it. Etc., etc., etc. But the are many, many companies where somebody with my number and severity of complaints would simply fall off the end of the support line. We’re sorry. Goodbye. I am at every step of the way afraid that I may be near the end of my support rope, but so far Apple has surprised me with their willingness to keep talking and acting. (While I’m handing out kudos, another company I’ve dealt with recently, TomTom, has excellent support on par with Apple’s).
When I spoke with my Customer Relations representative on May 23 (two days after my birthday!), I agreed to try bringing my computer into the local Apple Store. The idea was that instead of making me wait for the shipping to and from Texas for another round of repairs, I would bring it into the store where a capable technician could do most if not all of the part swapping that a specialist in Texas might do. I was skeptcial, but it was worth a shot. She comforted me by letting me know that she would be watching the progress and follow up with me about the results of the experience.
I wanted to avoid giving up my laptop for another week or more, so I went for it. I decided it was worth it to go along with this idea because it was virtually risk-free, and the time it would take to zip over to the Apple store was much less than the time it takes waiting for DHL to arrive, transit time, etc.
Part 2: Bad Apple
The worst part of any customer support ordeal is the stress of wondering whether you’ll make yourself clear. Whether they’ll respond politely to you. Whether they’ll understand what’s really going on. And whether they’ll actually agree with you that it needs to be fixed.
I took a deep breath on the afternoon of May 24, mentally prepared to make my case as convincingly as possible. The Apple store is the worst place in the world to complain about noise problems, because the blasting music makes every single machine in the store sound absolutely dead silent. (For any noise complaint, they take your machine into the back room where you can’t demonstrate to them how the noise varies or under what circumstances it most affects you). I knew I was up against a tough challenge, but I tried to be optimistic that I would get a Good Apple.
I checked in at the Genius Bar and waited with my buzzer. This was cool. It’s like waiting for a meal at Chevy’s or something. It went off in just a few minutes after I had arrived. So far, so good! Nice work, Apple Store. I met my “Genius,” who greeted me with a sort of contemptuous glare combined with a saccharine mumble of “What can we do for you today?” I explained that I had been sent by customer relations, that there were a few problems of varying priorities, and that the machine had already been sent in once for repair. I sort of waited for him to make the next move, expecting that he might want to glance at my record in his computer, since it showed a lot more information than I could reliably reiterate all at once. “Why don’t you just tell me what’s going on?” he said sort of impatiently.
OK, I plopped my MBP down on the counter and opened it up. I began explaining that I was most surprised that at least the brightness-related buzzing wasn’t fixed, because it’s pretty well-established that this is due to an inverter board problem. As I was talking he acted like I wasn’t there, and raised his black bic pen towards my computer. Using the ink-side tip of the pen, he reached into a corner of my screen’s display and flicked out a piece of dust or something. What are you doing to my computer, you freak?! I paused and when he was done sort of continued explaining. He seemed pretty bored. He finally said something along the lines of what did I expect for being on the “bleeding edge?” I put bleeding edge in quotes because it’s the only part I can guarantee was verbatim a quote from his mouth. He basically echoed that lame user sentiment that you “get what you pay for” when you choose to buy an early rev product. An Apple representative! Telling me that I was on his company’s bleeding edge!
I got a little bit emotional because, after working so many years at Apple, I hate seeing Apple store employees behave in a way that reflects poorly on the company. I explained to him (probably to his great boredom) that I didn’t feel like it was appropriate to classify me (and thousands of others) who made early, strong commitments to Apple’s new architecture as “bleeding edge.” Needless to say he didn’t see the error of his ways at all and insisted that you’ve got to expect a few things to be wrong in a first revision of a machine.
That was the beginning of a relationship that only went downhill. He finally agreed to take my MBP into the “back room” to listen to the noises for himself. He came back and announced that “there’s nothing wrong with the inverter and the CPU whine is within spec.” He handed me my MBP and sort of waited for me to leave, I suppose. I wanted more clarification. Nothing wrong with my inverter? Didn’t you hear the noise? He said that there was no inverter noise and what I was hearing was the CPU whine coming from different sides of the computer. Well, that’s totally inconsistent with my understanding of the inverter noise. Since it goes away and comes back with the brightness, I had to assume it’s inverter-related. In my pessimism I had more-or-less expected the CPU whine complaints to be dismissed, but the inverter noise! I know people who have had this one fixed! At least fix this, Apple. You know how, even!
Another minute or two of trying to get him to agree that we were talking about the same thing. I suggested that maybe I needed to let the machine warm up before the noise is loud enough. It’s difficult because, as I said I’m trying to get him to acknowledge unacceptable noises while Gwen Stefani is blaring on the stereo. He agrees that if I want to “hang out for 20 or 30 minutes” then he’ll listen again after it warms up.
Speaking of warming up, I thought I’d ask about the heat issue before I lost his attention, and that lasted all of about 15 seconds. “If the MBP gets too hot, it will shut down. If it’s not shutting down, there’s nothing wrong with it.” Well, that’s an interesting way of looking at it. Let’s say the maximum heat is 100C. By the Apple Store’s logic that means my computer can be at 99C all the time, while somebody else’s machine is at 60C all the time. We’re both “in spec,” but my hands are forming heat blisters.
So I hang out for 20 or 30 minutes, and then go back to the podium. While I’m waiting another MBP owner comes in, and starts chatting with another Genius. He’s complaining about the heat. The Genius he got is a lot more friendly and explains that unfortunately they can’t do any testing here in the store. They would have to send it away for testing, and that would take a week or two. The customer seemed somewhat satisfied by the response, thanked the Genius, and left the stoer.
I hang out for another 15 minutes or so while he refuses to acknowledge that I’m there. Finally, when another Apple Store employee asks if I’m being helped, I say that I’m “just waiting for him to have a free moment.” Five minutes later he is back in the “quiet room” (who knows how quiet even that room is) with my MBP.
He emerges. Hands me my MBP, and declares, “Both I and a coworker agree that the noise is within spec.” OK. You and a coworker. So this was a hint to me that the “spec” might be a subjective test. I tried to ask whether there was some mechanical test they perform, or whether it’s just based on their own personal hearing. He looked at me sternly and said “I can’t tell you, OK. I’m sorry.” He had a habit of saying “OK” habitually in that patronizing way, almost like the “mmkay” guy on South Park.
All this time I had been on my best behavior. I really tried to avoid calling him on his rudeness and refusal to listen carefully to my complaints. But now that the end was nigh I took the opportunity to give a little rant about how I didn’t think the machine as-is meets the criteria of a professional, $2500 machine. I complained that if Apple’s spec allows user problems to be dismissed so cavalierly, then it was a real shame for the company and its customers. At this point a quiet young woman who had been sitting at the Genius Bar for a few minutes turned to me and said empathetically, “I had six stuck pixels. They said the limit was 7.”
I commiserated with the woman for a minute and wished her luck. At least she has a number to be angry about. I just got an arrogant jerk who can’t even convince me that he understands what the problems with my machine are, let alone if or why they are “within spec.”
Part 3: Good Apple
My visit to the Apple Store almost ruined my day. I went to the store straight after picking up one of my best friends from San Francisco, who was in town for a few days. The last thing I wanted was to put a damper on his visit just because my crappy computer was never going to be repaired. He is a Mac fanatic and was just excited by the fact that we’d been in the Apple Store long enough that he’d authored a blog entry in the time he was waiting. “My first blog entry written in the Apple Store!” he said proudly as he shut his (quiet, cool, lovely) iBook G4 up and packed it in his bag.
I wasn’t looking forward to my next call with customer relations. As nice as she was, she had hinted that if the Apple Store decides there’s nothing wrong, then there might be nothing she could do. I had built myself up over the past few months to perhaps ultimately have to live with some flaws, but the screen buzzing was definitely not one of them. Pizza for dinner and watching episodes of The Office made things quite a bit better. I didn’t even take the MBP out of its case.
The next day, I got a voice mail on my cell phone while I was at the gym. It was my customer relations agent, and she sounded concerned. “I just wanted to check in because I’m looking at your case and I don’t see any repair ticket. I hope everything went OK at the store yesterday.” I called her back on Friday but got her machine. I said I was disappointed with just about every outcome of the store visit. Both the treatment from the “Genius” and the ultimate outcome. At this point I figured it might be the end of the road, so I said “I guess I might be out of luck, but call me back if you want to hear more about my experience at the store.”
Several days passed. It was Memorial Day weekend and all that. I was pretty sure I would hear from her again, but also slightly concerned that maybe that was it. Today she called and asked how I was doing. “I’m doing pretty good,” I said. I always say that because in reality, I am doing pretty good. The MBP can’t take that away from me! She asked me to tell her what happened at the store. So I basically told her everything that I’ve typed in this blog entry, minus the part about pizza and The Office.
To my great satisfaction, she agreed that the store employee had behaved inappropriately. I guess if nothing else, the fact that I got a turd for a Genius may have helped me gain some empathy from the relations agent. She offered to go back to “Plan B” which is me sending the machine back to Texas for another round of repairs. At this point I’m exhausted, don’t want to see another Genius for a long time, and would really like to have that buzzing fixed. If the whine doesn’t get fixed, I’ll just have to come to some compromise of running QuietMBP and losing battery life. But the buzzing, and if at all possible, the heat. Those fixed would be effing fantastic! As my frustration has risen over this whole affair, my expectations have plummeted accordingly.
She explained that she was going to transfer me to a “product specialist” who is a kind of hardcore customer service agent who works specifically with a particular kind of machine (I think). They want me to talk to him so he can get very specific concrete details into the problem report, and so he can trigger an “engineering seizure” of the machine if it sounds like it will be useful as a case study. She again assured me that she’ll be following the progress of the repair.
The product specialist was polite and empathetic. He also seemed to know what he was talking about, and didn’t pull that “I never heard of that before” crap that some agents do when hearing about any problem whatsoever. He was everything a good agent should be, which isn’t asking so much.
He asked me some very specific questions about the problems. Even took seriously the CPU whine complaint. I told him I was pessimistic about it getting fixed but I know that some people have MBPs that are “much quieter than mine.”
As usual, we’ll see how it goes.
Score for the past two weeks: Good Apples – 2; Bad Apples – 1. Stay tuned for more (but hopefully not too many more!) details.