Breakthrough Service: Apple's Secret Weapon

by Jim Farley

Apple's army of Geniuses are a quiet but undeniable force in market penetration and customer retention. This is not breaking news, but I just experienced this firsthand, in very unlikely circumstances. And though there's no real technical meat here, I feel compelled to tell an unusually happy service story, because that doesn't happen very often.


Ganesan Subramaniam
2006-12-06 00:05:05
I think that the Genius characteristic doesn't just end at the Genius Bar but extends all the way to their engineers too. I was at the recent WWDC 06 and approached an engineer for a technical question. Even though he wasn't the right engineer to answer the question he called in another colleague to help. They thought that perhaps 3 brains are better than 2 so another one joined in too. Before you know it i was sorrounded by 4 to 5 engineers all trying to taking a stab at the problem. The irony is that Steve in his keynote said there should 1 engineer to 4 attendees but that certainly wasn't the case for me. In the end I got question answered.
2006-12-06 02:03:45
That is pretty awesome. It does show what Apple can do when it tries hard.
2006-12-06 04:52:01
And my thanks to the Plano, TX Apple Store a couple years back. I had an older G3 iMac chugging away in a colocation facility. It died one morning and the colo staff was unable to restart it. I left a laptop at the colo and took the iMac into the Apple Store for repairs. They diagnosed it quickly and had parts (video and logic board) for it the next day. They made the repairs immediately knowing I was from out of town and it was running as a server. They were very helpful and understanding of my need for a quick turnaround and made a couple calls to keep me updated along the way.
2006-12-06 08:19:31
I also had good luck at my local Apple store.

One comment that is slightly off-topic. I love the Macbook Pro's but I think there is one critical problem Apple has created with their design (and the Macbooks). The camera. My company has a no-camera policy. This has had the effect of completely eliminating Apple laptops from future purchases. As it was, the small number of Mac users here always were fighting an uphill battle, but this has really killed Apple computers here. Has anyone else had this problem in their company?

2006-12-06 08:32:53
This sounds terrible. Replace the hard drive, then replace the machine. How is that good diagnostics or service. Why did it break in the first place?
2006-12-06 08:34:00
Similar great story from Columbus, OH. Mighty Mouse breaks. One trip to the Easton store, and I am walking home with a new rodent. Even wifey was impressed. My only complain-- when I ask about I phone, they say mums the word.
2006-12-06 08:34:43
I brought a dead iPod shuffle (original) to the newly-opened Albuquerque Apple Store to see if it could be revived. Even though this was the first Apple Store in New Mexico and open only a couple of weeks, the Genius there seemed every bit as knowledgeable and trained as the veteran Geniuses in my hometown of Minneapolis. I was pleasantly surprised. The store was very, very busy but the employees did a good job of helping me. Even while waiting on my shuffle other employees would come ask if there was anything else I needed.

Alas, no hope for the shuffle (which I expected to be the case). But the Genius gave it a good try, even involving others in the back room. I ended up with a new iPod shuffle, which is very cool. And a warm fuzzy feeling knowing even the newest Apple Store delivers a high level of service.

2006-12-06 09:18:18
Whereas it took umpteen tries for us to convince them the problems with our shuffle were real.
2006-12-06 09:47:11
I've had great experience with the Genius bar. Can't say enough about them. The first time was my daughters original Mini died, under warranty. The checked it out in two minutes, went in the back, and handed me another. No receipt needed.

More recently my daughter's nano died, about two months out of warranty. I had my speech already about how many iPods we've bought since the first, how many Macs, and so on. Same thing happened. The Genius bar guy checked out the nano, punched up some stuff in the computer, and went a got a new one. Again, no receipt needed. No arguing. Best Buy, Circuit City, or anyone else wound't have done that.

Way to go Apple.

2006-12-06 10:14:07
Regarding the person that couldn't buy laptops with cameras built in. I work at a DOE site and sat through a presentation last week by a couple of Apple representatives that deal exclusively with government sites. They said that there was a contractor that government sites out West dealt with that they either sent their MacBook Pros to or bought them from. The contractor either removed or disabled the cameras and provided certification that that had been done for a fee.
Bob Forsberg
2006-12-06 11:38:11
The Apple Geniuses at the Irvine, CA Spectrum Apple Store have given me the same "beyond the call of duty" service on a two year old eMac that still has a year left on AppleCare. Unfortunately, the problem could not be completely solved, but was no fault of theirs. The CRT went out, was replaced, logic board was replaced, another CRT substituted for the original replacement and countless hours expended to service the system, as well as 5 trips to the Irvine Apple Store with the 50lb. boat anchor under my arm.

Apple must be using another supplier than the original CRT supplier, because the clarity of the CRT is not what the original tubes showed. The geniuses were unable to see the difference before I brought in a point of reference (another eMac). The difference was immediately evident and they agreeed to replace the tube again. I didn't bring the point of reference in when I picked up the replacement tube, but noticed the same difference in clarity immediately when I turned it on at home.

Bringing it back again would be pointless. Apple isn't supplying a CRT that can correct the problem to their retail stores for repairs that would restore the eMac to the condition it demonstrated when purchased. I realize my kids eMacs with CRTs are end of life, but when you purchase the AppleCare extended warranty, you expect repaired computers to be restored to a level that existed prior to the breakdown.

Jim Farley
2006-12-06 12:50:29
Bob: I have to concur with your feelings (and some others posted here). The rest of the Apple service function doesn't always sync up with the quality of the Genius Bar operation. My case is a perfect example - the Genius determined on the first visit that there was a significant issue, likely with the logic board, and that the hard drive failure was just a symptom. But the Apple "home base" service crew ignored this information, and did a sloppy/quick diagnosis and repair. Home base seems driven by costs, Geniuses are driven by service. If I could wave my magic wand, I'd have the Geniuses go back and re-engineer the home base operations. Within reason, of course - keeping costs under control are important. But there's a lot that the back office could learn from the front line troops.
2006-12-06 13:17:49
Ditto. I shoved a CD into a year old Mac mini and nothing happened. Reboot. Nothing. Blinky Mac. To the Apple Store. The "Genius" juggled for half an hour, determined a problem, kept it for parts and repair. Three days later he called and said parts weren't the problem, but it would be fixed in two days. It was (wrong parts). Oh, the Mac mini was a week or so out of warranty but Apple covered it anyway. Customer service, face to face, means something so big most of us don't think about it (except when complaining about service elsewhere).
Ralph Finley
2006-12-06 14:16:09
Same story here, had a 3+ year old iBook fail its' graphics chip, I was 4 months out of warranty, they said "no problem" sent it to repair, kept me on an email list telling me how it was
doing, go it back in 4 working days, perfect. I've had everything from the first IBM PC dual floppy, Compaq luggables, Gateways, Toshibas, Mac IIci, G3 tower, Dell tower, IBM thinkpad, nothing compares with my experiences with Apple store service. My next buy will be a Core Duo 2, loaded iBook for Christmas for myself.
2006-12-06 14:21:31
Reading this article and the comments, I get the feeling the Geniuses are making the difference. The end-to-end downtime for my MacBook was over a month, and three different repairs finally culminating in replacing the logic board. After the second failed repair, I asked, pleaded and then demanded a replacement but they would hear none of it. Maybe if I had brought it to an Apple Store I could have gotten one, and maybe even saved some time.
Jim Farley
2006-12-06 14:34:25
maverator: If I had not gone to an Apple Store, I suspect my experience would have been very similar to yours.
2006-12-06 15:22:28
I had kind of a bad experience with Apple's service one time, but it wasn't in their retail store.

The power adapter for my PowerBook quit working. The powerbook was still under warranty. So, I called Apple. The person on the phone asked my name and address and promptly told me that my PowerBook was out of warranty - sorry. The only problem is that I'm a mac developer and I have a whole bunch of PowerBooks that I deal with at work all the time. So, the powerbook he thought was out of warranty wasn't the one I was calling about. After I explained that to him he let me read the serial number and reluctantly agreed that the computer was still in warranty.

Then, when I mentioned that the problem was with the power adapter, he quickly cut me off and told me that he can't listen to the problem yet - I had to give a credit card number first. They would charge me $50 for the support call and if the problem was software, they would keep the money. If the problem was hardware, they would reverse the charge.

So, after I gave him the card number and he charged $50 he then said "OK, what is your ONE problem."

I explained the problem and he asked how I knew the problem was the power adapter and I explained how I had diagnosed it (using a voltmeter and making sure the outlet was providing power). Then they agreed to charge me for a new power adapter and then if I sent the old one back in the same shipping container, then they would reverse the charge after they got it.

So, we did that and I got a new power adapter. But I don't think it was worth it. Since then when I've had adapters go out, I buy one from a third party (Newer Technology) to replace it. This has happened twice (on like 10 powerbooks). The particular model was the PowerBook G4 power adapter.

I felt like the guy on the phone was just rude and I didn't like all the charges going on and off my credit card. I am glad to hear that other folks have had good luck with the genius bars, though.

2006-12-06 15:33:22
Well, I would like to know how I can get an Apple Store stocked with Geniuses here in Louisiana. Seems like they're reaching far outside of the US to put in stores, but I can't have one here. The closest thing I have here is a corner in CompUSA, but it's no comparison to the stores I've visited. Do other cities really need 6 and I can't have just one in my whole state?
I'm 97% sad about it.
2006-12-06 15:43:16
Another reply regarding Simdude's concerns with the camera. My company has a similar no-camera policy, but we found a simple workaround. Our security department requires that a special tamper-proof sticker is placed over the camera when any MacBook is received. Problem solved!
2006-12-06 17:44:34
5 trips to the "Genius" bar at the Manhattan Village store resulted in frustration and inability to solve the problem. The attitude was that I am lucky to have a MACPRO Dual and they had little interest in my problem. I had to take it to a non-apple store to be treated with dignity and professionalism.
2006-12-06 19:23:56
There's a reason I've been a Apple customer since DOS on a PC. Been burnt on a few machines, yep but the overall experience has been a huge plus. My current G4 PB had a Genius massage and a trip to the repair shop. Turned out that they'd messed up my Apple Care warrenty but after a little digging all was right. New hard drive (of course I'd done a backup) and all is right with the world. Perhaps this is the reason I own stock in the company.
John Stevens
2006-12-06 21:15:29
Got to agree with you. You know, hardware is hardware. Everyone has access to relatively the same electronics. Apple packages it so that the machines run faster and so on. My experience with the PC WinTel world was only while at work or church. The machines generally worked. It's the darned Windows Operating System. Whenever I had to go to the Tech Support folks for those machines it was always a Windows problem. Don't try to call Microsoft. Dell, HP, & etc. have to provide skilled Windows support when their machines are working fine. Yes, by far, nothing beats Apple Care. I'm an Apple user of 18 years. Sure, I've sent plenty in for help. Mostly only in the past 5 years. The technology is really pushing beyond the reliability limits. But, Apple takes the pain away from living on the edge. It's the only place to be. Great story. Glad to see you have the courage to tell it.
2006-12-07 01:22:47
Lucky you! Or I should say lucky Mac users in US. Let me tell me story. My 15" G4 PowerBook is still "fixing" for more than 2 months in Hong Kong! Is it amazing?

Unfortunately, I found one of the memory slots can't detect my RAM. So I gave it to service center here. Though my machine has passed warranty, hopefully it's still covered by kind of insurance from a local dealer. So I still decided to get it fixed, though more than HK$5600.

Then after almost 2 weeks of checking and replacement of motherboard. I got it home and found there was no sound from speaker or earphone jack! So I returned it back next day and told them the problem. They promised me to check and fix it quickly. May be after 2 days, I got it back again and thought it should be the end of the story...

Badly, because I have the habit to let it sleep and bring it home after office. I found the sleep light never turn on after I got the machine!! So I called them. Since it spent me almost a month have no machine to use, I told them I would only return it to service center just before 1 month warranty period. At least I can use it for a month.

Before the warranty period ended, I took it back again. They wanted to charge me check-up fee again. I argued with them it's an old issue. So I left it there for around a week again.

Last but not the least, I went to the center to collect my PowerBook. This time they've fixed the sleep light for me. And I checked carefully to make sure I didn't have to go there again. But it's so hateful... It has no sound again!!! I've almost gone mad! I told them immediately. They asked me again to leave the machine there for more detail checking.

But now after 2 weeks passed, I queried the status of my PowerBook on the phone, they said they're still checking the machine...

Stephen C. Holtzman
2006-12-07 04:52:39
Living in Canada and having to deal with Apple since the old Apple II days... I know work in a Large Advertisement Agency 99% Macs.. only one PC.... well the Canadian AppleCare when needed has been outstanding as has a local dealer.(Apple just opened a store in Montreal) I have had to deal with Toshiba in the past for a laptop (3 months to repair) ... Compaq... also 6 weeks to repair... nothing compares to Apple they are not perfect but the knowledge and ease of any repairs when needed is fantastic. Also regarding their iPods.. I have had my iPod Photo replaced 4 times in two years under warranty... again.. they send a box, I pack, send it back... three days later another iPod Photo. Need I say more.
2006-12-07 08:53:30
@Bob Forsberg: Go back and explain that the computer still isn't working right. You're absolutely right that it should be working up to original spec, and if it isn't, and you're under Applecare, you can have them fix it until it works, or demand another solution. At the very least, give the store a *polite* call to talk to them about the situation and see what sort of solution can be arranged. Make your case well and they should definitely be able to help you out...
2006-12-07 11:53:31
Thanks for the suggestions on the camera problem. The no-tamper sticker sounds like a great suggestion to avoid modifying the computer.
2006-12-11 11:48:18
Well I am glad they are treating someone properly. I have a Core I Duo MacBook Pro with a bad logic board. I'm a med school student in the middle of finals right now and my computer won't work. I do have applecare, and they told me there is nothing they can do for me short of mailing it away for 2 wks to fix it. Obviously I need a new computer the same day the local apple store even told me since they recommended I replace it earlier and I was trying to wait until winter break that I need to take "personal responsibility" for my lack of a working computer now, but it sounds more like they need to take responsibility for their quality control to me. They cannot replace mine with a Core 2 Duo like they did yours, they will not even give me a loaner, the only option they have offered me is to buy a refurbished MacBook and return it once mine is fixed, however, being a student with student loans I have less than $2000 in my account so can't afford to, and again they told me that that is my personal problem. Why did i spend the extra $300 on applecare for?
Jim Farley
2006-12-11 17:06:46
Sorry to hear that, Nina. But keep in mind that I had to send mine back for repair initially as well, because it was a custom order model (I ordered it online and swapped in a bigger hard drive, or something like that). If you have a standard configuration, they can just replace it on the spot at the Apple Store. But they can't build custom configurations at the Apple Store, only at "home base".

In my case, they sent it back, I got it back in less than a week (they told me it could take 1-2 weeks), they regretted the screwed up repair, and replaced it.

Sounds like you're in a tough spot, but if the machine is useless anyways, why not send it in for repair? It won't cost anything, and you might get it back sooner than you think.

Victoria Herring
2006-12-11 20:27:13
I live in Des Moines and have been out to the Jordan Creek store and had service provided by both Rachel and Chad and can confirm this is not an isolated experience =-= they both [as do others there] do all they can to find an answer...Glad you found the same to be true.
Victoria Herring
2006-12-11 20:28:39
I live in Des Moines and have been out to the Jordan Creek store and had service provided by both Rachel and Chad and can confirm this is not an isolated experience =-= they both [as do others there] do all they can to find an answer...Glad you found the same to be true.
rotten apple
2007-03-02 11:34:05
give me a break... these asshole are nothing but unreliable just like the system they're trying to fix.
rotten apple
2007-03-02 11:35:07
How do you spot a FAGGOT... look for iDildo he's using.
2007-09-09 00:50:29
The APPLE STORES are the greatest outlets ever. I'm always lured into the store by the greatest displays. However, all that exciting experience is washed away by the sales people working in the stores. Does anybody at Apple care about training those people? What about replacing them with robots? The robots would be much warmer, friendlier and less sarcastic than the salespeople. Robots would not make sarcastic comments or faces to other robots about their customers. I begged my friends to stop me if I ever mention about going into an Apple Store again. I was doing really well for the last 12 months with my promise of not stepping in any of the Apple stores, until the new iPod Touch was released. Because I still wanted to honor my promise, I decided to call the store to see if they had the product in stock, so I would ask a friend to pick up the product for me.
Here's the phone conversation that I had with one of the sales person at The Apple Store Eaton Centre, Toronto, Canada on Sept 07, 2007 around 5:00 PM.
Salesperson: "ApStoEaCenterrrrr!!!" I was greeted by a not so friendly Mac Genius, and I guess she couldn't say "Apple Store Eaton Centre" after handling so many calls, so she combined the first syllables of each word into one word to express her frustration - "ApStoEaCenterrrr!"
Me: "Do you..." . Even before I finished my question, she interrupted me by shouting "NOOOOO!".
Me: "Do you..." and she shouted "NOOOOOO!" once again.
Me: "May I..." and she shouted "NOOOO!" again. So I decided to play her game of interruptions, regardless of my mom's advice when I was kid ("Do not talk when other people are talking!!!").
Me: "May I finish my question before you say 'NO'?" I shouted back.
Salesperson: "I know what you are going to ask, and the answer is NO". After that answer, of course I would not ask if the iPod Touch was available in stock, so I thought about asking for the availability of another product such as the iMac, Apple TV, etc, which I know it's in the stores already. However, before I had the chance to start the question, she hang up on me.
I was in a good mood that day, so I didn't let that drive me insane. I assumed she had a bad day, but I still wanted to know when the iPod Touch was going to be available in the stores. So I decided to call again... I waited 5 minutes, hoping she would go to the washroom change her "iPad" (see, then I called again.
Salesperson: "ApStoEaCenterrrrr!!!" It's very encouraging to hear gibberish that sounds like the real name of the store. I was expecting another pleasurable conversation with the Mac Genius Girl.
Me: "Do you...". and she interrupts again.
Salesperson: "Didn't I say 'NO' before?". The first picture that came to my mind was of a chubby dominatrix with the Apple logo on her chest and a whip on the other hand. She was ready for total domination and humiliation. That may turn-on a lot of people, but I must admit that I'm pretty vanilla, so I replied...
Me: "I'm so sorry to disturb you..." and before I finished my apologetic statement, she hang up on me again. I had a great day and I wouldn't let that spoil my day, so I called it a day.
It's Saturday morning on beautiful sunny Toronto. I had to go shopping at Sherway Gardens Mall where there's another Apple store (hopefully with polite Mac Geniuses), and it happens that one of the Mac Geniuses was just coming out of the store, so I approached him with a quick question. I could see the "look of death" in his eyes. How dare I stop him during his break, but he couldn't ran away.
Me: "Do you have the iPod Touch in stock?"
Salesperson: "No". And his body language tells me that he is ready to go for his break.
Me: "Any ideas when it will be available in the stores?"
Salesperson: "At Christmas". How could Apple release a product in the beginning of September, and not be available in the stores until Christmas? The fulfillment process must be really screwed up. I felt like saying that Apple would be out of business by Christmas if they don't do anything about their customer service, but he couldn't care less.
Me: "Do you know if iPod Touch is available in the stores in the USA?" I was willing to drive to Buffalo-NY and get one.
Salesperson: "I don't work in the USA... d'oh. I don't know. " and he walked away before I asked any more questions.

Oh well... I guess Apple can get away with such bad Sales staff. I still think Apple creates great products, but the bad experiences that I had with Customer Service makes me think about going back to the PC World again. I'm already prepared to hear "I told you so" from my friends.
I know it's hard to believe, but you can check the APPLE Customer Service for yourself. Call the Apple Store Eaton Centre, in Toronto Canada, and ask anything about the iPod Touch. You can reach them at (647) 258-0801. I hope you get the Apple Dominatrix.
What happened to the polite Canadians? Where is Apple recruiting those people from? What about sending them for Customer Service training?
Has anybody else had a bad customer service experience like me? I'm posting this message in a few newsgroups and it would be nice to hear your experiences. Have you converted back from Mac to PC? If so, is there any counseling or support group out there? Would the PC world accept me back? Pleeease!