Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Adventures in Customer Service

Whoever said "hell is other people" was only partly right. Hell is only other people when the other people are customer service personnel. It's possible that I was predisposed to a bad mood this past weekend, but I think it was all the people who said "Can I help you?" when they didn't really mean it.

EFU's iPod has been going bad for some time now, and her attempts to resolve the problem through Apple's online support had failed, leading her to believe that the problem was in the battery. The iPod's two years old, and she uses it constantly, so this was not a great surprise. I told her to find an Apple store, and we'd get the batter replaced. How hard can that be, right?

So she found the nearest Apple store, and I told her to call them to make sure they could replace the battery. They told her that she should make a service appointment. Mind you, they didn't offer to make a service appointment for her: they told her to make one online. Well, okay, it's not the greatest customer service, but she can make an appointment online. How hard can that be, right?

The online site wouldn't give her a service appointment because the serial number on her iPod didn't match the email address she had given them. Or something. It's possible that EFU was partly to blame for all this, but if you're going to make people make their appointments online, then you really ought to make it easy for them. She reported to me that the online system wouldn't let her make an appointment. I sighed and told her we'd drive to the Apple store. After all, she just needed a new battery. How hard can that be, right?

The nearest Apple store was in Montgomery Mall. YFU needed some new jeans, so I figured we could do that on the trip, too. When we got to the mall, I sent EFU off to the Apple store, and I went with YFU to Old Navy, hoping that they had her size (EFU is eleven, but she's starting to get hips, so she has to wear a size 2 short jean. Not so easy to find, especially since the jeans aren't sorted by size.) I was pawing my way through the jeans when I got a call from EFU saying that I needed to come to the Apple store because they weren't going to be able to help her without an appointment, and they weren't going to let her make an appointment.

So I go up the escalator and find the Apple store, and, well, you know, it's so hip and well lit and clean and crowded, crowded, crowded, and of course there are concierges there to tell you exactly what to do, except that there aren't any concierges on duty, and, of course, there are no instructions and no lines because lines and instructions aren't hip or clean or, I guess, well lit, so we drift towards the back because the crowd, which is thick all over, is marginally thicker there, and we try to get someone's attention, which is difficult because there are so many people trying to get someone's attention because there are no lines or instructions or, you know, order, and we finally get someone's attention, and he tells us that we have to go to the genius bar, and he says this as if, well, how can we possibly not know that we need to be at the genius bar, we are, he implies, clearly not geniuses ourselves, and he also tells us that we won't be able to get any help at the genius bar without an appointment and we won't be able to get an appointment and we should really make an appointment online and at this point I'm about to lose it and I explain to him that we really really really tried to make an appointment online but we weren't allowed to and he tells us that weekends are, after all, their busiest times, so I walk away because it's a better idea than explaining to him that I just want a fucking new battery and don't you people want my money? and we go to the genius bar where some putative genius tells us that he can't help us without an appointment and we won't be able to get an appointment today and we should really make an appointment online and weekends are really their busiest time and when I insist that we tried to make an appointment and it really isn't our fault that we couldn't and that I JUST WANT A NEW BATTERY HOW HARD CAN THAT BE? he tells me that he can give us a standby appointment but that there's already one standby appointment and he can't get to the standby appointments until he's gotten through the other appointments and there are many many many people in front of us and not all that many (putative) geniuses to go around and by now we've been there twenty-five minutes and I have to get YFU back to her mother in less than an hour and it's clearly going to take (much much) longer than an hour to get assistance, so we leave.

Clearly, it's unfair to hold the minions of Satan responsible for Satan's policies, but it had been a long weekend of lousy service and user-unfriendly design. On Friday evening, I stopped in at the Giant in search of the brand of pancake mix that b&c favors. It has been increasingly hard to find, so I went to the largest Giant in the county. And I couldn't find any pancake mix, let alone the particular brand. Back in the day, supermarkets had directories, and you could look towards the heavens and you'd see something telling you that pancake mix was in aisle 3. This sort of help, apparently, is an anachronism. The Giant had little signs at the end of each aisle, but they did not point one toward pancake mix. Much as I hate asking for help (I am, after all, a man), after many minutes of dedicated searching and aimless wandering, I approached the customer service desk where two clerks were busy gossiping about their co-workers. I stood there expectantly at the counter, and they continued gossiping. I said, "excuse me," and one of them reluctantly listened to my question and gave me an aisle number. They didn't have the brand I wanted, of course, but at least I tried.

Friday night, I picked EFU up from work, and we went to catch a movie. There were only two people ahead of us in line, and we still waited and waited for the line to move before giving up and going to a ticket machine.

On Saturday afternoon, I was still feeling traumatized from a visit to Costco when it was so crowded that I had to wait for a parking space in the lowest level of the parking lot, when I decided to get a Diet Coke at a McDonald's drive through. I pulled up to the little kiosk to order, and I could hear the conversation going on in the kitchen through the loudspeaker. But they couldn't hear me, and after four iterations of "excuse me?" I drove off.

Later Saturday afternoon, YFU asked to go to Old Navy to exchange her gift cards. Ninety minutes later, we left with a pair of jeans and a pair of slacks. I knew that YFU needed more jeans than that, but we were unable to locate her size (the jeans aren't sorted), and when we asked for assistance, we were told that what was available was what was out. There were perhaps thirty people waiting to check out, and the store had two registers open, despite a large number of employees whose job appeared to be to mill about. Every so often one of them would go to one of the (many) spare registers and call one customer out of line, but then he or she would go back to milling about. As is so often the case, we waited twenty minutes in the check out line and it took forty-five seconds to make the actual purchase.

And then, of course, on Sunday afternoon, there was the Apple Store debacle.

Can we just stipulate here that I understand that these people don't get paid much and that the fault almost always lies with the people who manage them and who design the stores and who set the policies? While we're at it, let's assume that I'm aware that there are economic reasons behind these policies. I'm not going to go into a long tirade (oooooops, too late!) about how Western Civilization is falling to pieces because corporations have decided that they can get away with shitty service. I'm just annoyed that all I wanted was a new fucking battery and how hard can that be?

Anyway, I took EFU's iPod to work with me because there's an Apple store in downtown Bethesda, and I figured it'd be relatively easy to get a service appointment on a Monday. I can walk there easily enough from the office. I went online and clicked on appropriate boxes, and it told me that there were, indeed, appointments available for Monday. Of course, the only times it offered me were between noon and 1 pm, and, seriously, WTF? If I'm willing to go over there at an odd time, shouldn't they encourage that? Anyway, I took an appointment for noon, and the site recommended that I arrive at 11:55, so I did. And when I looked at the screen, I was listed as the first iPod appointment, so I was hopeful.

And you know what? Getting that new battery is not hard at all. In fact, they charge you for a battery, but they just give you an iPod. It takes about five minutes, once they get to you. Oddly, they didn't get to me until about 12:35. I mean, they sort of got to me (at 12:15; apparently, one of the geniuses was out sick), but then the geeky so-called genius who said it would only take a few minutes to help me kept getting sidetracked by female customers who said they really needed help and they really needed it now, even though they were behind me in line. And geeky so-called genius boy probably doesn't get all that much feminine attention when he's not at the genius bar, so I didn't object the first time that happened. I was all, "Yes, geeky so-called genius boy, you go flirt with that pretty girl who will have nothing to do with you once her transaction is finished." But when it started to happen a second time, I had to tell him that he really needed to finish my transaction because, after all, I only wanted a new battery/replacement iPod, and how hard can that be? And, after all, you don't want the girls (or the boys, for that matter) to know just how eager you are.

Anyway, EFU has her new iPod, and if she's lucky, her laptop that she had to send off for service when half of the screen refused to work will still have all her music, and she can sync it this week and she'll have tunes again. And if the laptop somehow gets messed up while it's being serviced, then she'll have learned a valuable lesson about the importance of laptops. Either way, the iPod should be good for a couple more years, after which she can deal with any further service requests. I had been wanting to get an iPod for myself, but at this point, I doubt whether there is any force on earth that can get me to buy something that might one day require me to go back to the genius bar.


Brian said...

Apple's service is atrocious, though considering how unreliable the products are (and how difficult they are to service), that's no surprise. Thanks, I'll take something a little less proprietary.

Oh, and the first guy pictured is hot.

D-Man said...

And have you noticed that when, on the odd occasion, you encounter someone who is even a little bit nice or helpful - you want to jump up and down and kiss them?

And then they look at you like, 'What? I'm not even really being THAT nice...'

John said...

TED, I agree with every eloquent word you wrote, but mainly I just wanted to say, "Holy shit, where did you find this many hot guys wearing glasses?" (Especially Dude No. 1: Come on down!)

The Neighbors Will Hear said...

I'm glad you guys enjoyed the bespectacled men. I, too, find glasses to be a major turn-on. I'd prefer to see glasses of a somewhat different shape, and I prefer them on a guy in his forties, but I certainly wouldn't kick any of these guys out of the sack. Of course, most guys remove their glasses before they get in the sack, anyway, but by then you're usually too occupied with other matters to worry about it.

d-man, I agree with what you're saying about responding to even moderately good service, but since my response to most men is to want to jump up and down and kiss them, it's a little hard to sort out the reasons. Even when I was getting the run around from all those black-shirted Apple geeks, I couldn't help noticing how hot a lot of them looked. The manager at the store where I finally got the replacement saw that I'd been waiting for a while and made sure that I was going to be seen relatively soon and explained to me that they were down one genius. He was smoking hot, and he wasn't even wearing specs.

Tork said...

THis may a pretty dumb question following all those sexy photos of guys in glasses, but how much does a battery cost when they trade in the Ipod to give it to you? I mean it's like running out of gas and having them give you a new car with a full tank. Of course it makes sense thwn filling up your car's tank doubles its value.