When a new product is introduced, and there is high demand, delays should be expected, right? Yes. Delays do happen, but when company’s use those delays as excuses for poor customer service, that is not and should not be expected.
It has been brought to my attention that I am not the only person who has had a less-than-perfect experience with The Apple Store. (See recent letters to http://www.macintouch.com for just a few examples) So, after much nudging from friends and colleagues, I bring you this column, written all at once, on the night of Wednesday, 01 July 1998.
I will take you back almost two years to the purchase of my last computer. This was my first hitch ever with a mail order distributor and its’ shipping carrier, but, little did I know, it was not to be my last…
I had purchased a Performa 6400/200 from MacMall. It was delayed, which I did not mind, but when shipping time came, the shipping carrier (who shall remain nameless) could not find my house, thus delaying my shipment a day. When that happened, I thought it would be the most I would ever have to go through to buy a new computer. Boy, was I wrong!
When Apple’s new online store opened, I decided it was finally time for a mobile computer that could go where I go, and there was only one choice – a Macintosh PowerBook.
Friday, 29 May 1998 (Order Day)
I was estatic. It was the day that I was going to order my PowerBook G3. I had finally made up my mind the night before, after reading the very helpful O’Grady’s PowerPage Message Boards, located at http://www.ogrady.com/messageboards.stm
I dialed The Apple Store. (1-800-795-1000, http://store.apple.com). After waiting on hold for approximately 35 minutes (I wasn’t timing the calls, yet…) I finally had a representative pick up. For the sake of the representative, we will call her “Judy.”
Judy: Thank you for calling The Apple Store, this is Judy, how may I help you?
Me: Yes, I’d like to order a PowerBook G3.
Judy: Great! What configuration would you like?
Me: I’d like it built to order, please. 250MHz/13.3/64MB of RAM/2GB Hard Disk/DVD-ROM drive/Floppy Drive/no modem.
After more conversation, credit card numbers, etc, I also ordered a 30-50 pin SCSI cable, bringing my total order, with tax and shipping, to just over $4,000.
Judy: Great sir. Your order number is *****, and it takes 2 weeks to be built, so your estimated shipping date is June 12th.
Me: And what would “estimated” mean?
Judy: Oh, nothing really, sir. That’s just a formality. We’re required to say that. The estimated shipping dates are usually extremely accurate, and the PowerBook’s ship within one or two days before or after that date.
Me: Great Judy, so I’ll expect it to ship around the 12th?
After that, I got the usual “Thanks for calling The Apple Store” line. A line that I would hear one too many times over the next 3 1/2 weeks…
Monday, 01 June 1998
Another call to The Apple Store, to make sure everything was alright:
Apple Store: Thank you for calling The Apple Store, how may I help you?
Me: Yes, I’d like to check on the status of an order?
Apple Store: I’d be happy to help you sir, what’s your order number?
Me: That would be *****
After a few minutes of typing away at the computer…
Apple Store: That order is in the process of being built as we speak, and it is still expected to ship the 12th of June.
Many similar calls followed the next 2 weeks, all with the same answer, until finally, the anticipated Friday had arrived…
Friday, 12 June 1998 (Estimated Shipping Date #1)
I called The Apple Store around noon. After waiting on hold for around 45 minutes, I asked to check on the status of an order:
Apple Store: Sir, that order has been delayed. Your new shipping date is June 19th. Thank you for calling The Apple Store, goodbye.
…but before I could get another word out, I heard a dial tone. He hung up on me! I was shocked! Another call to The Apple Store followed shortly. I got the normal bit from the rep, and then the first words out of my mouth were:
Me: You’re not going to hang up on me, are you?
Apple Store: Excuse me? I think you may have the wrong number, sir.
Me: Oh, I have the right number. In fact, I was just hung up on by one of your representatives after asking him to check on the status of my order, and I was making sure that you were not going to do the same.
Apple Store: Oh, I am sorry sir. I’d be happy to check on the status of your order. What’s your order number?
I was given June 19th as my new estimated shipping date, and after asking why it was delayed, I got this response:
Apple Store: It wasn’t delayed at all, sir. In fact, PowerBooks usually take longer to build than desktops do. Desktops usually take 2 weeks, but it has been my experience that PowerBooks take around 3, give or take a few days…
After being satisfied with that answer, I was actually calm, not worrying at all, eagerly anticipating my PowerBook. You see, I expected a delay (even though the second Apple Store representative disguised the fact with his sweet talk) Everyone should when ordering a new product I think. But what upset me was that I was hung up on. I felt representative on the other line was obviously too greedy and wanted to do nothing more than take big orders and get paid a nice fat commission. (my opinion, of course, as I don’t know if they make a commission or not)
The real fun, however, had not even begun…
Monday – Thursday, 15 – 18 June 1998
It was this week that I started timing my calls. Response time ranged from 28 minutes to 1 hour and 8 minutes, but every time, I was given the response “The estimated shipping date is the 19th.”
Thursday, 18 June 1998, 20:34 CDT
I went to check my e-mail, and I received an e-mail from Apple saying that my order had shipped. 15 minutes later, after I had calmed down a bit, I called The Apple Store just to make sure it really did.
Apple Store: Yes, sir. That order did ship, along with your SCSI cable, and you ordered Fed Ex standard overnight, so I’m happy to report that they both will be there tomorrow.
I was now even more excited, knowing that my order had in fact shipped! I could not wait! Just when I thought that this was all finally ending, it was really just beginning…
Friday, 19 June 1998 (Arrival Date #1)
After a 45 minute call to The Apple Store to get Federal Express’s phone number and my tracking number, I called Fed Ex. After getting a response of “This package is en-route to our Fed Ex station for delivery” from the automated tracking system, I got worried, so I decided to request a representative A speedy response (only seconds) came…
Fed Ex: Thank you for calling Fed Ex, can I have your tracking number please?
Me: Sure, it’s ***********
After a minute of typing away on the computer…
Fed Ex: Yes, sir, this package missed the plane, and it will not be arriving today. I’m sorry, sir, the problem appears to be on Apple’s end, here…
“The classic response,” I thought. How ironic that it was actually true… I was very upset for one reason. I paid $27 extra for overnight shipping, and it didn’t happen But I did not feel like another 45 minute call to The Apple Store to ask for a refund. I was told it would be here tomorrow (Saturday), but deep down inside, I knew that it wouldn’t…
Saturday, 20 June 1998 (Arrival Date #2)
Having lost all faith in overnight delivery (pending my experience two years earlier and the recent one), I was not expecting the PowerBook this day, which was a good thing, because it didn’t arrive. Another frustrating call to Fed Ex revealed that there was no Saturday or Sunday delivery (not a surprise) and that my order would not arrive until Monday…
Monday, 22 June 1998 (Arrival Date #3)
Trying put the last 3 weeks of delivery and phone hell behind me, I very nervously looked forward to my PowerBook arriving. Call after call after call to Fed Ex starting at 06:00 CDT revealed that the package was still “en-route to the Fed Ex station for delivery” until finally, at 08:20 CDT, I got the response “This package was sent out for delivery at 8:10 AM.” Bingo, I thought. I thought I was in the clear… I thought wrong, way wrong…
Monday, 22 June 1998 12:34 CDT
The Fed Ex truck pulled into my driveway. While signing for the package, the Fed Ex delivery person verified that the problem was on Apple’s end:
Fed Ex delivery person: “This package was marked for Friday delivery sir, but we didn’t receive it until this morning. And I don’t know where your cable is, we don’t have that yet. I apologize, but it was not our fault. I’d raise hell with Apple if I were you and demand a refund.”
But my PowerBook was only minutes away! Not thinking much of what the Fed Ex person said, I signed for the package, said Adieu (French for “goodbye for good” -or- “I will never see you again”), and ran in my house with the nice green box that said PowerBook G3 on it. I opened it up, went tearing through the packaging, until I picked it up. I was finally holding my PowerBook, my baby.
After reading through a few manuals to make sure I knew how to do everything, I was ready to plug it in. This is when I got the shock of the summer. Apple had sent me the wrong power adapter, and without it, I could not use my PowerBook, as the factory charged battery needed a “jump start” of power from the AC adapter.
It was like receiving a car with no keys! I could not believe it! I was in denial…
You see, there are two parts to the Macintosh PowerBook 45W AC Adapter. Part 1 is a cord from the outlet to the “power brick.” In my case, both ends of this cord were 2-prong plugs. Part 2 is a cord from the PowerBook to the “power brick,” which was supposed to have a 2-prong connection on it’s end. But mine had 3 prongs, making it impossible to plug part 1 into part 2, and thus, making it impossible to use my PowerBook.
A quick call to Apple’s tech support, and a rather speedy 15 minute response by a very nice man, who we will call “Mike.” After the phone number and name bit, I explained my situation:
Mike: I see. So you were sent the wrong power adapter. Could you hang on one minute, sir?
After 20 minutes, he came back…
Mike: Ok, Adam. We accidentally sent you the international power adapter instead of the domestic version. I’m very sorry. We are going to send you a new power adapter free of charge, and you can simply discard of the old one. I have Nancy from dispatch on the line here…
Nancy: Hi Adam.
Mike: Nancy is going to get your shipping information down and we’ll get this thing out to you. Thanks for calling Adam. Have a nice day.
“Have a nice day.” HA! I should have said I would have a nice day when I got my PowerBook working. Restraining myself, I went through my shipping information with Nancy, and at the end of the conversation she said something weird…
Nancy: Ok Adam, I changed the part number, and it will be arriving tomorrow via Airborne Express…
Not thinking much of the first line, I concentrated on the second line, which was positive. “Arriving tomorrow” and “Airborne Express,” a shipping company that had always come through for me and that I knew I could trust.
In the meantime, I kept thinking of what the Federal Express delivery person said about the shipment:
::Flashback to 12:34 CDT (Delivery Time)::
Fed Ex delivery person: This package was marked for Friday delivery sir, but we didn’t receive it until this morning. And I don’t know where your cable is, we don’t have that yet. I apologize, but it was not our fault. I’d raise hell with Apple if I were you and demand a refund.
::Back to normal time:
Hmmm… I kept thinking, and then I went back to the conversation with “Nancy” from The Apple Store. “I changed the part number” kept circling around in my head. Not good. I now knew I would have to call Apple again to make sure I was receiving the right part. Now I had three things I had to do, ASAP: 1.) Call Apple about the part number situation and receive a tracking number for my package; 2.) Call The Apple Store and demand a refund; 3.) Call The Apple Store to find out where my cable is and get the tracking number for that.
“What a nightmare,” I thought. I kept thinking about all the people who received normal PowerBooks that were delivered overnight, on time. But it was no time for feeling sorry for myself. I had to take care of three problems. I decided I would do the hardest first: demand a refund.
After exactly 51 minutes of waiting on the phone, and 10 minutes of arguing with the original representative, another representative, and the supervisor, I finally got my account credited for the amount of the overnight delivery. I also received a tracking number for the cable, which was my next destination…
A call to Fed Ex revealed that my cable was in their system, but it was still “en-route to the Fed Ex station for delivery.” I told them that I wanted it to be here tomorrow, and they said it would be. Satisfied, and being worried about my possible wrong part situation, I decided to put it aside and call Apple…
Monday 22 June 1998 14:26 CDT
I spoke to another very nice representative at Apple’s, and after approximately a hour on the phone with her, I received confirmation that it was in fact the right part after all. I thanked the representative, hung the phone up, and then I remembered: “I forgot to get a tracking number”!
Another call to Apple’s tech support was not as inviting. After being transferred from department to department 4 times, I was fed up with everything, and I demanded a tracking number right then and there. When the representative came back, I was told that “tracking numbers are not generated until the following morning,” so I would have to wait until morning for it.
Now, having time to sit down and put things in perspective is what really got me upset. It had now been 4 long days of waiting for my PowerBook AND cable, only to get one of the two pieces, and discover that I could not use it. And I was lied to (or “charmed”), numerous times. Not by Federal Express, not by Apple’s Tech Support, but by The Apple Store.
As it turned out, both my cable and the correct power adapter arrived the next day, and I was able to fully use my new PowerBook, which, by the way, I am very pleased with. (Look for a review of the PowerBook G3 next month).
Now, 9 days after the end of a very bad dream, I can finally sit down and write a coherent column on my experience. My PowerBook took 4 extra days to deliver and 5 extra days to use. My SCSI system cable took 5 extra days to deliver. I feel that I am justified to place blame, and I blame The Apple Store.
To back up my statement, I will look back on each of the parties involved: Federal Express did everything they could to get my PowerBook and cable to me on time. Airborne Express and Apple’s Tech Support were very accommodating and proved to be superb, rushing my power adapter to me and delivering it on time the next day. The Apple Store, however, was horrible. Long periods of waiting on the phone, unfriendly and at times, downright rude sales representatives. And very poor delivery of the package to the shipping carrier all make my decision to blame them a very obvious one.
I understand that when a company releases a new product, I should expect delays. But what I don’t understand is why I was lied to, time and time again. I don’t understand why I was hung up on by an Apple Store sales representative. I don’t understand why I had to wait an average of 45 minutes every time I called The Apple Store. I don’t understand why I was given an international power adapter when The Apple Store knew my order was domestic. I flat out don’t understand why The Apple Store’s customer service was so poor.
Sadly, my personal advice to you is to avoid The Apple Store at all costs. If you have a pending order there, bless you, because you may be in for some of the same problems that I have had. If you have had success with The Apple Store, consider yourself extremely lucky. But if you have had a similar or worse experience than mine, join the club–a club that is growing each and every day according to many Internet websites.
Mr. Jobs, you really need to clean this up. The Apple Store was a great idea. However, opening up direct ordering is good so long as the company can be prompt in their deliveries of the product to the shipping carrier, quick to the phones, and most of all, honest with their customers. I’m ashamed and embarrassed to say that I was foolish enough to order from The Apple Store, and that I was a customer of this irresponsible and flat out disgusting service.
The Moral of the Story
Many people may argue that I got way too worked up about this. However, I feel that when you spend $4,000 on a product, you should expect nothing but the best customer service.
I would love to hear from some of you about your Apple Store experiences. Feel free to e-mail your experiences and feedback on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org. If I get enough responses, I will include them in another column.