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March 25, 2006

PowerBook repair wrap-up & epilogue

Filed under: powerbook repair,rants,Technology — chuck goolsbee @ 11:07 pm

I never did post a post-repair summary with Apple when it finished in February. Today something happened that prompted me to finally write it up. Basically my conclusion is that Apple has seriously dropped the ball with regards to the repair process at their retail stores.

From start to finish it was a BAD experience for me. Things that should take minutes stretched into HOURS. Today I found out I am not alone in that experience. So let me summarize the wait/queue/loiter times for you here, then I’ll follow up with a rant from a friend of mine (also a digital.forest client) who just had a similar experience as my own with repair at an Apple Store.

1. Diagnosis and Drop off: ~30 minutes wait time.
I walked into the store, with a known recall issue, complete with a printout of the Apple web page outlining the recall. I had to turn away from the counter, and make a reservation at another computer. It said I had a 15 minute wait to see the “Genius”.
The Genius wasn’t helping anyone at that moment. A few minutes later he called some names. Mine wasn’t one of them. None of the people were there who had reservations. Then he vanished into the back room for some time. Five minutes AFTER my assigned time, he re-appeared and called SOMEBODY ELSE’S name… who also wasn’t there. He fiddles some on a computer, then called my name. We then went through diagnosis/etc… documented elsewhere.

He was about to take the computer away when he asked if I had a backup of my data. I did, but it was a day old, so I decided to take it back to my office, make a new one, and bring it back the next day. Since all the paperwork was done, I assumed that the drop off would be easy. It wasn’t.

2. Drop off, take two: ~90 minute wait time(!)
OK, so I return the next night to drop off my powerbook. For some reason I thought that since I had been through the entire process of diagnosis and filling out the paperwork/repair work order/etc that I could just walk in and hand it to them. Boy was I wrong. I walked in and just like the night before they would not even talk to me until after I had made reservation. I went ahead and checked in on their computer reservation system only to find out it they were booked for another 70+ minutes. I grabbed the next open slot, walked out to my car, grabbed a book and went off to find something to eat elsewhere in the mall. I grab a meal from Taco Time, sit and read my book for an hour, then amble back to the Apple Store. Unlike an hour before, when the store was literally empty, it was now stuffed with humans. This is one of Apple’s “Mini stores” so it was unimaginably chaotic with that many people. My time reservation time comes and goes, and I’m still loitering. FINALLY they call my name, I walk up, hand them the powerbook, confirm the name, turn around and walk out.
Summary: A 30 second transaction which took an hour and a half due to an inane process.

3. Repair Wait Time: Two Weeks. (documented elsewhere)

4. Pick-up: ~120 minutes wait time. The Icing on the Cake of Bad Customer Experience.
They called me to let me know it was ready to pick up. I could not get there for almost 24 hours due to being 70+ miles away, so I show up the next night. The store is moderately busy. I walk up to a store employee, and tell them that I received a call to pick up my repaired powerbook. Did they walk back and grab it? No. Her answer, as if she were an automoton: “You need to make a reservation.” “Just to pick it up?” I ask. “Yes sir.” she replied. Frustrated, I spun around, and once again, entered my name into the queue and found that I was destined to wait at least 45 minutes. Sigh. I amble out to the car and listen to music for a while… to soothe my savage breast I guess. 30 minutes go by and I head back into the store.

It is a literal mob scene. There are at least 15 people loitering about the counter in the back of the store. Two people are being assisted, one with an iPod, another with a G5. There is a display on the back wall which alternates between “Mac Hints” and a status board. The status board is obviously broken since it just repeats the same thing over and over:

Next Customers:
Next open slot at about:

No data mind you JUST the text above, so I was ignorant of how many of these people were ahead of me. In the end it turned out to be ALL of them. I waited, and waited, and waited. I waited some more. They helped everyone in their turn. The crowded store slowly became less crowded. They called lots of names. Easily 90% of those people were not there. They would call a name and wait… it was like an 80’s replay: “Bueller? Bueller? …Bueller?” Then there would be a pause, and another name… and a pause, and another name. At one point I started counting the names without bodies… there were over 15 called, while at least four actual humans just stood there waiting to be called. I waited and waited and waited right along with them.

So in the end, I waited through everyone who was there when I arrived, and a whole bunch of people who weren’t even there(!), and it was down to me and one other person… and they called her name. Sigh. I had been standing around now for well over an hour. All this time I have made direct eye contact with every single Apple store employee on several occasions. Not a single one of them asked me if I needed help, or anything.

They finish up with the woman, and then call several other names(!) I’m the ONLY person in the whole damn store other than staff. This is beyond absurd. It is surreal. Why the guy didn’t just speak directly to me is something I’ll never know.

The Genius (I guess they must call them that for their deductive reasoning skills!) finally says “Then you must be Chuck.” I affirmed his less-than-brilliant deduction, and told him I was there to pick up my repaired powerbook.

There are times I wish I could capture a moment and hold it… spin it in my hand, carry it away, to be replayed for another person. This moment was one of them. It was obvious that this “Genius” felt a profound sense of embarrassment at that very moment. He knew how long I had been waiting. He had seen me patiently waiting, standing in the very same spot, for well over an hour. In fact he had seen me walk into the store almost two hours before and seen me get turned away. The whole surreal absurdity of this stupid reservation system and forcing people to queue like soup-kitchen panhandlers or Soviet-Era bread lines finally collided with his retail reality. I wish I could have captured that moment so that I could transport it down to Cupertino and reveal it to the pinheads who thought up this insanity and provide them with clue on why this is antithetical to what a good service organization does for and with their customers. Unfortunately I couldn’t capture that moment… and these words can not do it justice.

He vanished into the back, and returned with my powerbook, and the store Manager, who apologized for having me wait so long, thanked me for being so patient, (yes… he was among the store staff who I had looked right in the eye many times over the past two+ hours, and no… he never had said anything to me up until this very moment) and handed me a 10% discount coupon good for anything in the store.

I was happy to have my PowerBook back. I’m still dismayed at how difficult it had been to just drop it off and pick it up though. As I said earlier, it pales in comparison to my previous experience of Apple Repair, which despite being in the “bad old days” was a fantastic customer service experience. Especially in light of this recent experience, with an Apple Computer that is supposedly so much better than before. To sum it up:

1996 PowerBook Repair Time & Effort:
* 5 minutes of my time
* 2 days of Apple’s time

2006 PowerBook Repair Time & Effort:
* 4+ hours of my time (largely spent being actively ignored while in close proximity to Apple Store staff)
* 14 days of Apple’s time

The insult to injury: A 10% Discount, should I decide to reward this bizarre treatment with my money.

I suspect the store Manager was sincere in his belief that he was somehow giving me something valuable in exchange for my time. I can’t fault him for that, but honestly I doubt I’ll ever walk into that store again.. or ANY Apple Store for that matter. I have been into two of them in search of assistance so far, and I can say without hesitation that I have had dental work that was a far more pleasurable experience. Root canal? Sure. Apple Store? Not unless they let me suck on Nitrous Oxide at the Genius Bar.


It took me almost two months to get around to write the above. Mostly because, like my other rants about bad experiences, I wanted to have the time to cool off and look back without any raw emotion to cloud my judgement and have me end up sounding like a raving lunatic. I work in a service business myself and I know how tough it is to take a raving lunatic seriously. I’m a patient guy… probably too patient for my own good, as I probably could have created a scene at virtually any point in the above situations and accelerated the outcome. In hindsight perhaps I should have started being a squeaky wheel… I’m just not that kind of guy though.

Today however, I heard from that friend and client of mine, Sam Crutsinger, who related a tale very similar to my experience with getting repair service from an Apple store. Unlike me, he wasn’t patient, and in fact gave up on dealing with Apple and found service elsewhere. Here is his story as told to the Your Mac Life mailing list:

Date: Sat, 25 Mar 2006 18:42:52 -0600
From: Sam Crutsinger
To: Your Mac Life
Subject: Crap Service at Apple Store

Riddle me this Batman... I have a Mac that won't boot up. It's drives never
spin up. I've hit the mobo reset button, I've pulled the extra RAM and HD
and everything else but it's still not coming up. It lights up the power
light and the fans spin, but there's no startup chime, no HD whir, no caps
lock wink or anything that says "I'm alive!"

So I take it down to the Austin Apple Store at Barton Creek Mall to drop it
off. It's only a couple of months old but old enough that I'm cool with
repair instead of replace.

I get down there and say, "I need to drop this one off for repair. It's
won't come up." to which I'm met with "Do you have an appointment?"

Sigh.

Could someone please tell me what nimrod corporate weasel came up with that
system?

At first I thought it was cute. It was like they were trying to make
computer repair seem like a shi-shi experience. Now it's gotten out of hand.
Today the system is so NOT cute that I very nearly made a very loud scene in
the middle of the Apple Store about it. The only thing that kept me from
going off was the fact that before things reached "absurd," I'd already put
in my name and email address to see when the next available reservation slot
was open. If I could have gotten out of there anonymously I would have made
a speech to the masses.

The funny thing was that there were so many store employees in the room that
the floor manager had just instructed the sales kiddies to spread out evenly
so they could be more effective at standing there with nobody asking them
any questions. That was just before I engaged him with a rousing game of
"Take it!" "No" "Take it!" "No."

I told him that I just wanted to leave the computer. "It's dead.
[troubleshooting play by play] So there's nothing to diagnose. I just want
to drop it off and get a warranty repair going."

"The geniuses are the only ones who can check in the computer for repair."

That's when my blood hit about 212°F (That's 100°C for you people with your
fancy metrics.)

"So let me get this straight. I have to come back in FOUR HOURS just to drop
this computer off for repair?"

"Yes sir. The computer has to be entered into the system and that has to be
done by one of the people at the bar."

"NONE of all these people standing around can type the numbers into the
system for a broken computer?! You're telling me that you, the MANAGER,
can't just put it in?"

"No, it has to be the Geniuses."

"So I can't just drop this off and you'll fix it later."

He went off on some justification about how they found that this system
worked better because somehow having a "genius" do data entry prevented
Apple from losing systems so some such crap.

I said that I don't want to talk to a genius. I don't want to wait for 4
hours. I don't want to waste my time going through all this BS. I just
wanted to drop off the computer.

He actually said something along the lines of "This is the way it works
everywhere. Where can you just walk into a store and drop off a computer?"

My friend and I listed off several choices off the top of our heads which
seemed to genuinely surprise this guy.

After pushing a bit more the guy started getting cute and telling me that I
was welcome to leave the computer sitting by the bar and leave but anybody
could just walk off with it and they wouldn't be held responsible for
it...and I'd still have to come back in 4 hours to fill out the paperwork.

What the hell is wrong with Apple support these days? There's no reason for
this sort of thing to be going down. I can understand where it could be good
for dealing with the riff raff just trying to set up their email or learn
how to make their iPod reset, but to lump all of it together is absurd.
Apple needs to have a fast track drop off where you can just leave your
contact info and leave the computer and they can get to it when they get to
it. I don't need a hand job from a "Genius" just to drop off a computer. All
you need is a high school drop-out with a computer who can read and maybe
operate a barcode scanner. Actually, the literacy bit is probably optional.

Oh, and don't get me started on the ProCare that they brought up more than
once. If there's nobody to help your clients then there's nobody to help
your clients. Are you saying that if I had a card, a space would suddenly
open up?

So after getting all pissed off and feeling like I'd just been bounced from
some trendy night club, I went to CompUSA, an authorized Apple service
center, and dropped off the computer. I walked straight up to the counter,
waited as the one guy ahead of me was showing the tech his problem for a
couple of minutes, and then the tech said "Let me get someone for you." and
he called for backup. Another tech came out and took my info and then handed
me some paper work and I left. How screwed up is the world when **COMPUSA**,
the company with possibly the worst Mac track record in history, can just
take in a broken computer and send me on my way without a reservation?

A part of me would love to just find someone to make a reservation bot that
could go in and fill all their time slots every day with randomly generated
names and phone numbers. The reservation system needs to be either fixed or
destroyed.

--
Sam Crutsinger
Media Kingpin, TackyShirt
http://www.tackyshirt.com/
Training and Fun are NOT mutually exclusive


Ditto. Sam is right. Apple needs to have a look at their repair program inside the Apple Stores and fix it. The retail angle might be working for them in terms of sales, but in terms of SERVICE, it is just plain awful if this is par for the course. Technical Support is a channel into repair, but not ALL repair requires a “Genius” and an appointment. If CompUSA can figure it out, Apple should too.

Ironically, I used to have all service work (except for the specific PowerBook 5300 issue mentioned earlier) on my Apple gear done by a local reseller (Westwind Computing) who unfortunately went out of business last year. The reason for their demise? Apple going into retail of course. I could have walked in, dropped it off, had it fixed within days, and picked it up without delay. Their owner might have even taken me to lunch.

I don’t expect a lunch from the Apple Store, but I would hope that they would at least have their feces amalgamated.

8 Comments

  1. sounds like I’m lucky they don’t have Apple Stores here. the apple service provider I have used for many years will let me drop off my PB whenever and I can even wait and watch while he fixes it if I’m really in a rush… mind you a while back Apple NZ was toying with the idea of all laptops going to Australia for repair!! lucky that did not happen… Jerome in NZ

    Comment by gondwana — March 26, 2006 @ 2:52 am

  2. You know, I don’t mean to be an ass, but what would you do? Honestly, all you’ve done is complain about their solution to a problem. You have done nothing to suggest one that might work better. The difference between now and 1996, the iPod. Don’t forget, the Geniuses have to service those as well, and there are 50 million of them out there. Apple Stores are generally very busy places, and when you have an large influx of customers looking for service you need a way to keep track of them and ensure they all get served in a way that is fair. It seems to be that the only thing that would please you is to cull all of the iPod users in the world so that when you bring your compuiter in, you can get all of the Geniuses undivided attention.

    Like it or not, it takes time to check a machine in for repair. The Genius can not take your word that such and such is broken. You may be right, but I garuntee you there are a dozen others who are wrong. So, a diagnosis must occur, and papaerwork must be filled out so that you get your computer back. How long does this take, ten, maybe fifteen minutes. Now multiply this by the number of people with problems, and suddenly you have wait times. Those wait times have to be managed somehow, and I personally think their system works pretty well. Do you have a better one?

    Then the second time you came in you had to have a reservation. Now, unless when that reservation came up you said here’s my computer and the tech said “sure, no problem” grabbed it and you were done, then it took too long for them to help you out of order. Remember, five minutes for you is fifty for ten people. What I have a problem with here is that the Genius didn’t tell you that you can make an appointment ahead of time from home. He should have explained that to you ahead of time if he didn’t, and you should have made one before you came in.

    The two week repair time is too long. But that is not really what we are discussing.

    As for making a reservation when you pick it up, as far as I know that is not Apple policy. Atleast, it is not at the store near me. I just tell a store employee, “hey I’ve got a repair pickup,” they find a manager or a free genius to grab the computer, they ring me out and I go. Maybe it is different there, or maybe the store employee was new and wrong at your store. Perhaps that is why the manager gave you the 10% discount.

    Ah well, you’ll go on being bitter I am sure. I just hate seeing bitching about one person’s solution to a problem without offering a better one themselves. What you are really bitching about is the problem (crowded stores) and blaming Apple for it.

    Comment by CBWolf — March 26, 2006 @ 9:18 pm

  3. I already outlined a better system, and it need ONLY apply to recalls such as mine: You call Apple, do the “paperwork” over the phone, and the next day an overnight shipping guy shows up with a box. You drop the powerbook/ipod/whatever into the box, hand it back to the overnight shipping guy. Apple repairs it and ships it back. No waits, no appointments, no need to see a “Genius”, no hassles. No chances that somebody will have a bad experience like mine.

    Leave the Apple Stores to handle stuff that *requires* interaction with the user. In the case of a recall or repair extension program, there is no need to force the customer into the reservation system.

    You will note that on each occasion that my name was called anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour AFTER my scheduled reservation. You will also note that on two of the three times I went into the store it was empty or near empty when I walked in initially. The drop off and pickup, had it been with any other Authorized Apple Serice Center (if there were still any around here) would have taken a few minutes each. The pickup most of all. In my case it was the longest ordeal by far.

    I’m not really “bitter” so much as providing an overview of a bad customer service experience. I’m not swearing off using Apple products, or writing letters to Steve Jobs, or worst of all threatening legal action(!)… I’m just venting on a web log. That is as harmless as you can get.

    Comment by cg — March 26, 2006 @ 10:06 pm

  4. Westwind didn’t go out of business because Apple became a retailer. Westwind went out of business because they sucked and someone better came along.

    It’s just like when people complain when a Starbucks moves into town. Every time one pops up near a coffee place I go to, the coffee place does fine. Why? The coffee’s great. The atmosphere is awesome. Etc, etc. If Starbucks moves next to a mediocre coffee house, the coffee house goes away. A better alternative appeared.

    When I moved here in 2000, Westwind was a decent supplier of machines for df, as well as a place I went to for any parts or items that I needed that were Apple related. Over the next three years, it became harder and harder to find things, prices were jacked up, service was piss poor, and every telephone conversation I had seemed to contain an undertone of irritation. I eventually stopped giving them business, and as they started to give df the cold shoulder, my interaction with them ceased.

    Frankly, I’m not surprised that Westwind is gone, though I didn’t know until now. They needed a serious attitude adjustment to be able to compete with the Apple Store. I’ve had great experiences at the Apple Store thus far with my PowerBook and various iPods and other tech, though I’ve been hearing horror stories like yours and Sam’s more often lately. This would be a good opportunity for a quality Apple retailer to make a dent in the market, but all we have are slimeballs like The Mac Store and its ilk.

    Comment by outZider — March 27, 2006 @ 11:32 am

  5. Hey Nick.

    Well, Westwind is another matter entirely. Like any small shop, I’ve had good, bad, and in-the-middle experiences with Westwind. I never had to make a reservation to drop-off or pickup a machine being serviced there though. Nor did I ever have to loiter around their shop waiting for my name to be called. They really got screwed by Apple long before the Apple Retail stores opened though. Razor-thin margins, gutting of thr service and education sales channels is what started Westwind on their slide. They were, in their heyday (1990s) an excellent Apple Reseller, and service/repair was always their strongpoint.

    Irrespective of all that, how come CompUSA, which has to be the dregs of computer retail “get it” better than Apple? (See Sam’s story above)

    –chuck

    Comment by cg — March 27, 2006 @ 2:51 pm

  6. I used to work at CompUSA. I was hired as an Apple Representative. I worked with Rodney Lain, and together, we made the Roseville, MN CompUSA the top Apple performer in the district up until the Apple Stores started coming. Each CompUSA is very different in how they are organized and set apart. We were lucky to have a great Apple Retail contact to help us do well.

    It doesn’t make sense, though, that they should outdo Apple in service requests now. Those exact words should be used in a complaint to them. Now that they’re outsourcing support to India, though.. I doubt they care. :(

    Comment by outZider — March 28, 2006 @ 1:45 pm

  7. The bottom line is this: you want to run Mac OS—and for good reason. The problem is that Mac OS only runs on Apple hardware… which costs 2 to 4 times the price of an equivalent Windows PC. Because of this, there are relatively few Macs in circulation. Because of that, there are relatively few technicians who use them and repair them. This is the end result of Steve’s dictatorship. They once said “Resistance is Futile”–but there is a point of diminishing returns, and sooner or later this juggernaut hits a brick wall. The solution is to slash Mac prices and reactivate the clone licensing program. When you get to the point where Mac OS is at parity with Windows, there will be no shortage of competing service centers and no shortage of qualified people who will dedicate their life to supporting your platform. If Apple will not cut prices or license Mac OS the same way that Windows is licensed to PC vendors, the platform is destined to stagnate–and when that occurs, the service stagnates too. This is what rich MacSnobs don’t understand: sure, you can afford to pay outrageous prices for hardware. But if you buy hardware that most other people can NOT afford, you will have trouble finding computer nerds who are willing to piss away their lives just staying current with all of the technical bulletins so you can have a happy Mac. Spoiled rich kids just want to play; they don’t spend their time learning how to fix computers. Therefore, you won’t find many technicians who have bothered to become familiar with your expensively-different computer platform. Do the math and you’ll understand this dynamic. And remember, the geniuses do not work at the genius bar. After all, if you can’t tolerate Apple’s insane policies, do you think an expert technician with highly marketable skills would do so?

    If you can’t afford to wait in long queues or cannot afford to keep a spare Mac around, then don’t a buy a Mac–buy a PC. Or you can buy Apple stock and then form a coalition of shareholders who will vote these nitwits out of power. Then you license Mac OS, sell a few billion copies like Microsoft does, and now you are a “de facto standard” which everyone supports. The Mac is basically a good thing, okay… but not “insanely GREAT.” Just like cars, computers are not reliable. If you buy a Rolls Royce, you had better be prepared to travel a long way to find a dealer, and make an appointment, and wait a long time, and pay through the nose for service. You are still going to need repairs if you drive it every day, but spare parts will be expensive and hard to find… and the same goes for technicians who are qualified to repair it. That’s why businesses do not depend on them for routine transportation. Well, the same is true for the Mac. The first rule of business is: don’t be chained to one vendor and don’t buy equipment that is not widely supported. This is why Apple has spent its life struggling to stem the loss of market share while Microsoft only has trouble figuring out where to park all the trucks full of cash. If Apple’s hardware division cannot compete in a free market, then it should be allowed to fail because this is the only limiting factor on the commercial success of Mac OS. Just split the hardware and software divisions into two separate companies, broadly license Mac OS to other manufacturers, wait a few years, and you will have the best of both worlds: a nice OS that runs on well-supported hardware. Steve Jobs’ philosophy of management is wrong, and now you are seeing why: most people only buy Macs because they run Mac OS. That is the reason for both the “success” and the failure of the one brand that runs Mac OS. In other words, opposing the customers freedom of choice limits their productivity in ways that are not immediately obvious. This in turn limits sales, which limits the number of qualified support technicians, which limits sales again, etc. etc. etc. If Apple does not radically change its sales and support strategy, any improvement in its market position will be temporary at best, since new customers will soon become just as jaded and frustrated as current Mac owners. Apple is its own worst enemy, and making fun of Windows is a waste of time. The market speaks for itself… and so do the customers! Ironically, the people who care about Apple the most have always been the last ones that Steve would listen to–including (and especially) those who would buy Apple products if they could justify it.

    Comment by maxx — December 11, 2008 @ 5:43 am

  8. I’m sorry Maxx, your logic doesn’t stand up. You brought your bias to the argument and use that as the justifier for your case. Did you even read the entire story? No, you obviously did not because I compared THIS powerbook repair experience to a PREVIOUS powerbook repair experience. Apple has slipped against their OWN previous performance.

    As an IT manger with 20 years of experience I’ve had to deal with all sorts of hardware options and repairing them: Sun Microsystems, HP, IBM, whitebox clones, Toshiba, NEC, etc Not just Apple. Some do it well, others suck at it. It has NOTHING to do with the operating system on the disk whatsoever.

    Comment by chuck goolsbee — December 11, 2008 @ 7:16 am

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