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Steve’s gonna hate me for this.

About a year and a half ago, my sister gave me an iPod mini. Lime green. Love the thing. Yeah, it’s outmoded and old-fashioned now, what with its black-and-white screen and all. But, still. (I since got a 30-gig iPod, which is nothing by Steve’s standards, and it has become my primary one, but I still use the old green sucker.)

So, a few weeks ago, after several weeks of not being in operation, the iPod mini displayed a “sad iPod” when I turned it on. Now, I’m not Mac savvy, having not used a Mac since leaving Disney in 2001, but I know enough to recognize that a “sad” anything is very, very bad in the Mac world. (Does anyone actually call it “Macintosh” anymore?!)

Hoping that the little guy was still under warranty, I went online to see if I could send it in for service. Nope. Warranty’s expired. How convenient — a year or so after purchasing it, it collapses and the warranty just happens to have recently expired! The website says that my options are to send in the iPod for evaluation, but since they’ll have to see it to know what’s wrong with it I won’t know how much it will cost to get it fixed until they receive the gadget.

Or, the website says, I can take it to my nearest Apple store.

That’s what I did today.

What a nightmare.

I waited in line for 15 minutes at the cashier, only to be told that I needed to upstairs “and turn to the left.” (There are no signs that direct you to “service” in the store — there are no signs, really! It’s much too hip and cool for that.) Already exasperated (couldn’t they have had, oh, I dunno, a sign?!), I trod upstairs, turn to the left … and a hip and trendy, perky and cool employee says, “What can I do for you?” When I showed her my iPod and said, “I need to get this serviced,” she frowned. Like the sad iPod … call her the “sad employee.” She pointed. “Oh, you need to go to the Genius Bar.” (Emphasis mine.) That’s all. No further explanation. She turned and walked away.

Across the crowded upper level — an Apple seminar was being held — sits the “Genius Bar.” There’s no explanation of what this place is — explanations are, no doubt, far too 20th century for Apple. There’s a computer, though, that says, “Sign in here for the Genius Bar” on its screen. (Or some such wording.) There are two rows of images, with small words underneath like, “Apple Service,” “Creative Advice,” and other stuff.

So, I clicked on “Apple Service.” Then I got a screen that said, “Please enter your name and cell phone number to reserve a service appointment.” Wait a second, I think … an appointment? I enter the required information and click “Submit.” Then a nice little notice appears on screen. “The next available appointment is at 3:50 p.m.” I look at my watch … it’s half-past noon. Three and a half hours just so I can say to someone, “Can I send this in for service?”

I flagged down a way-too-cool employee. “Excuse me,” I say … already sensing I am losing my sanity. “I went onto the Apple website and it told me to come to my store to get my iPod service,” I explain, waving Little Lime in front of him. “Now I’m told I need to wait three and a half hours for an appointment?” He smiles at me, one of those smug smiles that people always smile when they have bureaucratic power over you. “Yes, that’s the way it works.”

At this point, thinking back to the screen that suggested I might hang out at the “Genius Bar” for “Creative Advice,” I’m envisioning Mr. I’m-Hot-You’re-Not Apple Employee hunkering down with a goth chick from Noe Valley, yammering on and on about how her nephew’s bar mitzvah invitation could look so much better with just a few sparkles around the Star of David.

I’m trying to be very calm, but I know I’m not going to succeed. “Well,” I say, “I drove here 20 miles from Oakland, and I just paid $16 to park downtown because the website told me to come here but didn’t say anything about needing an appointment to drop off my iPod for service.” He smiles again:

“You don’t drop it off. We need to look at it.”

“How am I supposed to know this, exactly?”

“I don’t know.”

“Neither do I,” I say, starting to fume, “but it would have been nice if someone had explained to me that I needed to make an appointment; I’ve only ever done that for my car.” I flash the iPod at him again, as if to underscore the point that a $35,000 automobile and a $199 electronic gadget are not equal in importance, even if Steve Jobs insists on having us believe that they are.

He smiles. A long smile. Frankly, a “f**k-you” smile. He tries to add a tiny frown and a little shrug, as if a non-verbal, “Oh, well, it’s your fault, not ours,” will placate me.

At that point, I turned and walked away. “Forget it,” I said.

That got him. Mr. Techno-Cool suddenly got worried. “Wait a moment,” he says. I don’t turn back. “I can get you in in about five minutes.”

I still don’t turn back, but I’m thinking: If he can see me in five minutes, why does this so-called Genius Bar need an appointment system? Is it the 2006 version of the old ’80s “wait in the bar” admonishment at trendy restaurants? Is it just another way to try to be in-your-face with hipness?

The noise level in the store is unbelievably high, primarily with Bittersweet Symphony filling the air from various iPod speakers being tested. “Sorry,” I say. “I’m not playing that game.”

I start to walk down the stairs, waving my hand at him to give him my own non-verbal signal that I’m not up for this smug coolness. The last thing I heard him say was: “Actually, I could see you now, sir.” Then: “Sir? I can take you now!”

To no one in particular as I descended the stairs, I shouted out, “You’ve lost a customer.”

Whether I mean it, I’m not sure. But for now, Little Lime will just be a very expensive paperweight, until I can figure out a way to get it repaired that doesn’t remind me of what a tragically unhip 40-year-old I have become.


Steve Expounded Thusly:

In fact, I am not angry about this at all. As I had to explain to someone just the other day, though I am an Apple devotee, I am not beyond admitting when Apple has issues or problems. I certainly know when my Macs could be improved in some way that Apple is ignoring.

It’s hard to come at John’s story from my angle, because I know a lot about how Apple works. It’s sad. I know, for instance, that the Genius Bars got so busy with service and set-up and all that jazz that people were having to wait for many hours. This made people very angry (even though the service was free). So Apple set up the online reservation system. The reservation system is an improvement, but only if you know about it ahead of time.

This situation irked my boss about a year ago. On a whim, and as a partial excuse to eat lunch at Red Robin, we brought one of our 17″ PowerBooks to the Glendale Galleria Apple Store to be serviced. I hadn’t been sure we needed an appointment, but sure enough, when we got there, my boss was told that was the case. He fumed as well, thinking that, since we wanted to simply drop it off to get serviced and didn’t need to wait around to have it looked at, it was stupid to need an appointment. We could have waited an hour and a half to visit the Genius Bar officially, but such waiting in the middle of a work day is not an option.

Apple truly needs to fix how they communicate the support options at the stores.

The online support at Apple is pretty clear about mail-in iPod repair. If it’s out of warranty, they pretty much charge you for a new iPod. Sounds to me like that’s even if you get a refurbished one. But in the past, I have told people that the secret is to just go to an Apple Store because they will often come out with a newer, better iPod for no cost at all. Two friends did this very thing and came away with brand new model iPods. And if the iPod’s out of warranty? I know that, if the Geniuses pretty much determine the iPod has been treated well, you will probably get a refurbished iPod (which might even be an upgraded model) without any hassle. Unless, of course, it’s, say, 3 years old.

However, this does not mean that discovering how to do this makes any sense for the average customer. If it’s a slow day at the store, you can pop in and after a few moments ask a cashier or one of the wandering employees about service and they will send you to the Genius Bar. On a busy day, it sounds like you get what John experienced: Some unhelpful, quick answer from a bored or frazzled or uninterested employee who will not tell you exactly how it works.

The guy at the Genius Bar was not helpful either. I have read accounts from Geniuses about how it is to work with the angry people who want service, and while often they try to do a good job, obviously, as John saw, they can become short-tempered. (Before the iPod, the Geniuses could spend more time with customers needing help with their Macs. Now that iPods are so wickedly popular, the majority of time is spent on them, and Genius Bar time has become more precious. Hence, again, the reservation system.)

The Genuis guy that John talked to was way too rude to start with, and then way too late to offer immediate help. Of course, I’m sure all Geniuses are be told to explain the reservation procedure and urge the customer to follow it as a first step. I am Quite sure they are not told to INSULT the customer by telling them it’s their own fault. That’s horrible. The Genius guy’s offer to see John in five minutes should have come almost immediately after he saw how angry John was. Had that happened, maybe John would have stayed, and maybe he would have walked out with a refurbished mini or, more likely, a new or refurbished Nano.

It is not the customer’s fault for not knowing that they have to make an appointment online before coming in, or that they can make an appointment in-store while being aware that, if it’s a busy day, they will have to go shopping for a few hours until their appointment time. Since a big “SERVICE” sign is not a great solution, the employees need to become a better form of “signage.” When John asked about service for his iPod, the employee should have made sure he understood that he needed to go upstairs and go to the Genius Bar, but that an appointment would have to be arranged. This would still have been bad news, since John had traveled so far to get there sans appointment.

The need to make an appointment is not clear on the Apple website. How is someone who’s new to the whole Apple Store thing supposed to know what the hell Concierge is and that one needs to use it to make an appointment in a brick-and-mortar store? In fact, the marketing people seem to have gotten hold of the site, and the ProCare option, which is $99 a year, almost sounds like the only way to make an appointment if you know you need to make one.

Maybe no one will believe me, but I have never had a problem with any of my Apple stuff. None of my Macs. None of my iPods. My 12″ PowerBook, which has traveled with me extensively, is one rock-solid, amazing little computer. The only real problem we’ve ever had at work with ANY of our Macs is a dual G5 that had a bad processor. After a horrible “Apple Certified” (read: non-Apple) guy came out and tried to install a new processor but failed to even get the machine back together, Apple sent us a replacement for free. The replacement machine was a new quad G5, which is now in my office, humming along perfectly. (This was, of course, before the Intel Macs were out.)

Oh, and the 17″ PowerBook that needed service? It has been mildly abused, so the latch is stuck and the E key doesn’t work all the time. I don’t count that as a flaw on Apple’s part, but on it being badly treated.

It’s too bad that Apple screwed up John’s service attempt, because Apple is often incredibly helpful with service. No other computer company offers free, live, same-day, in-store service. I wish he’d seen that version of Apple instead of this nightmare one.

My God! See? Never get me started on Apple evangelism! Damn, it’s late…

Sunday, November 12th, 2006 • 11:41pm • Permalink

Robb Expounded Thusly:

My God Steve! That’s one hell of a “comment.” Maybe it’s time for you to get your own blog?


(oh, and I answered the question so that I could post here, but I have to take issue, I think that the answer “my head” is a perfectly good response. Evidently, your blog didn’t agree. Stupid questionbots are the bane of the world, my friend.)

Monday, November 13th, 2006 • 3:20pm • Permalink

Steve Expounded Thusly:

I’ve been thinking about getting my own blog for a while now, but really, why go through all the trouble of administering it, learning PHP, and figuring out how to keep people from spamming? I mean, I’d hate to install a spambot questionbot with a question and answer I myself pick, only to have a commenter make fun of my chosen question. I’d also hate to have to tell people that if they log in, the question will go away. Because who wants to log in in the first place? I certainly don’t!

Monday, November 13th, 2006 • 4:44pm • Permalink

The Wren Forum » それはJustin Longでない! Expounded Thusly:

[…] Apple Angst […]

Monday, November 13th, 2006 • 5:14pm • Permalink • This is a Pingback

The Wren Forum » Good Luck, Zune Expounded Thusly:

[…] Apple Angst […]

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006 • 12:41pm • Permalink • This is a Pingback

Steve, Not Rubbing It In, Expounded Thusly:

While it’s still true that Apple needs to be better about letting the non-rabid fans like myself how to go about getting help, here is some more fertilizer to help grow the notion that Apple does offer some of the best in-store support.

Apple enlists “Rhonda” to help drive Mac sales at retail

Of course, if potential Mac buyers don’t end up talking to a sales person who then gives them this info, I’m not sure how they’d know about it. (And if it is indeed an extension of the ProCare, it’d cost money. But since Apple Insider is not terribly reliable, I’d like to think that Apple would make it free for potential new-to-Mac purchasers.)

Monday, November 20th, 2006 • 11:29am • Permalink

John Expounded Thusly:

Rhonda? Rhonda?


How about, hire and train better salespeople and make sure that there are enough of them on the floor to help you? As Bush might say (and I heard a comedian use the other day), this ain’t rocket surgery, folks.

Running a retail store is not an easy thing to do, and I’m more and more of the mind that Apple doesn’t do it particularly well.

Monday, November 20th, 2006 • 2:09pm • Permalink


Sorry, I ain't takin' no comments on this page. Deal, y'hear?