The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

Beginning to End: A Tale of Good Support

There are a few reasons I like Apple and use their products and services. A primary one is the experience: beginning to end, Apple has crafted a culture that makes for a positive interaction between them and the customer, whether it's online or in a retail store.

They seem to understand that our culture offers too much choice and gives little regard for how you get to the end point (taking out your wallet).

Here's a recent sequence of events in our home:

  • Thursday, March 17 6:30 PM — my wife leaves her water bottle in her purse while teaching class. Our iPhone is also in the purse. Murphy comes a callin', and the phone is soaked.
  • Thursday, March 17 9:30 PM — I place the iPhone in a bag of rice.
  • Friday, March 18 8:00 AM — the device is a brick.
  • Saturday, March 19 10:00 AM — I head to the mall to speak to the kind folks at Bell, my mobile carrier of choice. The options don't look that good, but they give me an HTC Legend (Android) to use, no charge.
  • Monday, March 21 2:00 PM — I use the Apple support pages on their site. Without much poking around, I see that this water damage is not covered in my AppleCare warranty. I book a call with Apple's support … they phone within 20 seconds.

A moment of reflection, if you will. We've all been on the phone with some company or another, cursing the automated voice that is giving us poor options or not understanding what we are saying. This was a completely different experience. The options were clear on Apple's site and I scheduled a call. Before the confirmation email hits my inbox, my phone rings.

When I pickup, it's an automated voice. I think to myself, “Here's where it goes bad …” I'm given one choice to make, then I'm routed to a real, live human being. We converse. This is real support, what we all crave when something goes wrong.

My Choices

I am 13 months into a 36 month contract — I'm confident I know what my options are now. I can buy an iPhone 4 for full price, pay $199 for a one time replacement of my iPhone 3GS, purchase a slightly cheaper smart phone from another company, or pay for a dead cheap non-smart phone.

At this point I'm giving the simple cell phone idea serious consideration. I hate seeing people walking down the street, eyes glued to their phone. I don't want to add to that — getting a simpler phone is a good way to make sure I don't.

Back to the sequence of events.

  • Monday, March 21 2:07 PM — On the call with the knowledgable Apple support dude, I verify my options and get confirmation that my warranty isn't going to get me a free phone.
  • Tuesday, March 22 9:40 AM — Back to the mall: I check in with my carrier again and see what the costs are like for some of the options listed above. I also ask for a power adapter for the HTC Legend because the phone died after 3 days.
  • Tuesday, March 22 9:55 AM — I leave the mall, a little surprised-but-not-really that my three year contract is for smart phones only and is not transferable to a simple cell phone. My options now are 1) pay $100 or higher for another smart phone that I will resent owning 2) pay big dollars for an iPhone 4 or 3) order the one time replacement of my 3GS from Apple for $199. Easy choice (#3)
  • Tuesday, March 22 11:30 AM — I plug the power adapter into the HTC Legend. Nothing. It doesn't work. People pay money for these?
  • Tuesday, March 22 1:00 PM — I book a call with Apple Support again. The phone rings within 20 seconds. I order my one time replacement.
  • Tuesday, March 22 6:30 PM — I get a confirmation email that my phone has shipped. From Middleton, PA.
  • Thursday, March 24 10:45 AM — Less than 48 hours from when I called, the new phone is delivered to my house. Serious!? Google Maps tells me I live about 3454 KM from Middleton, PA.
  • Thursday, March 24 4:40 PM — I've transferred the SIM card, installed iOS 4.3 on the new phone, restored from a backup and tested my phone. It's exactly like it was less than one week ago, but shinier and smoother. The box the replacement arrived in comes with a small booklet with clear, concise instructions for how to get the replacement phone up and running. It then instructs you what to do with the old, unresponsive phone, including how to tear the top of the shipping label off of the box the replacement phone came in. Under this label is a prepaid label for return shipment … the phrase “no leaf unturned” comes to my mind.

Where are the Copycats?

At this moment I sit back and wonder two things: how does a large corporation like Apple do such a great job at getting the little things right. And so consistently. More importantly, for the love of all that is good in this world, why are other companies not writing this all down and emulating what Apple does?

Really. We all have horror stories of outrageous support phone calls, red tape, and discombobulated internal processes where it hardly seems that one department of a company knows anything the other departments do. Corporate America — please make note of what is happening here.


I've always felt slightly at a disadvantage as an Apple customer living in a small town with no Apple retail location. But the web and phone support has always been such a positive experience that my situation has never caused me issues. I'm sure a Genius Bar would be an even better option, but compared to my alternatives, Apple is serving me just fine.

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