The Apple Store can get it right if they really try…


I’m a Mac user, but by no stretch am I a fanboy. I don’t have a closet full of black turtlenecks. My home servers are Windows. No iPhone for me (more because I hate iTunes than anything in particular against the iPhone). So, when I say I’m a Mac user, I mean the actual Mac.

I use the “late 2008″ 15” model MacBook Pro, with a 2.53 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4 GB of RAM, and 300 GB HDD. My dream machine would be the current MBP maxed out at 8 GB of RAM with the 512 GB SSD drive – but I’m pretty sure a $4000 laptop would be a shortcut to divorce.

Anyway, OSX is why I’m a Mac user. I love the memory management that allows me to run a Windows workstation and a Windows server in virtual on a laptop and still be able to function. I love being able to easily use grep, sed, and regular expressions. I also like having multiple different color terminal windows open at the same time – but that’s just because I think it’s cool.

I was saddened a few weeks ago when I realized that the battery in my MBP was starting to swell. First it was hardly noticeable. Then the laptop wouldn’t sit flush on a flat surface. Finally, the battery cover would repeatedly pop off the bottom of the laptop. Even above and beyond the fact that a swollen battery is never good news, it was finally inconvenient enough that I went to go do something about it – and I went to the Apple store.

I had already looked up the price of a replacement battery online – $129.00. It was enough that I decided to take my chance with a “genius” to see if I could get a new battery for free instead of just grabbing a battery off the shelf. When I arrived at the Apple store it was not particularly busy, but of course you cannot be helped at the Genius Bar without an appointment. The “floor captain” intercepted me as I made a beeline to the bar and asked what I needed. I explained my situation. He let me know that the batteries will bulge over time – and that is to be expected in a 2 year old battery. Would I like him to ring one up for me?

Wrong answer.

I let him know that I was more than willing to accept a dead battery after 2 years, as graceful degradation WAS acceptable. However, swelling to the point that you damage the laptop was not. I then want to far as to ask if leaking and exploding were also acceptable behaviors when a battery reaches end of life? He didn’t give me a direct reply, but instead decided to try to explain to me the “battery lifecycle”. In his world apparently every Mac laptop purchase ends with a maimed or injured customer. I countered his explanation with the fact that the battery had recorded slightly fewer than 200 charge cycles, and the battery was rated for 300. I also explained that the battery held a charge just fine, so usability was not an issue. I was just afraid to keep it in my laptop. At this point he reset, and started explaining the same points over again.

I disengaged myself from my hero the defender of Apple’s profit margin, and walked to one of the units on display, and made myself a Genius Bar appointment for the next available time slot – about 45 minutes away. While waiting, I amused myself with the occasional glare at floor captain, and actually managed to keep him from entering the entire rear of the store for nearly my entire wait.

My wait was a little longer than the promised 45 minutes, but I was eventually helped by Chad. Chad was a bearded, tattooed, pierced gentleman who looked like he had given up a lucrative career as a bouncer at a biker bar to become an Apple employee. Chad needed less than 30 seconds to declare that I needed a free replacement battery (that conclusion being reached instantly once I handed him the unit) and most of the 5 minute process it took to get me that replacement was finding a manager to enter their code for the price override. No discussion, no excuses. Yes, this is a failed part and of course we’ll replace it.

I was pleased to have saved over $100 at the cost of an hour of my time, but I couldn’t help but think about my experience. If a line employee could be both trained and empowered to make the (in my opinion correct) judgment call that got me a free battery, why did a supervisor have such a problem with it? You would think he would have been even more able to see the long term. This is my second MacBook Pro. My children each have Mac Minis in addition to their Windows laptops, and my wife has an iPad. I’m a good customer, and I am willing to spend the money it takes to get a product that fits my particular need.

Instead, one supervisor was willing to fire me as a customer to save Steve $100. He didn’t care about my future spending, didn’t care about the 11 people I was going to tell about it (more actually, as I advise quite a few people on technology purchases), and finally didn’t care that I might even blog about it.

Steve, you should think about that. You should also buy Chad a beer…

1 thought on “The Apple Store can get it right if they really try…

  1. Hey Joe, Nice post. I had a similar experience at Borders recently… ordered a Kobo reader online, and realized after it arrived that I had carelessly ordered the wrong model. Instead of just sending it back, I decided to try my luck at the local Borders store.

    This was totally my mistake, but the product was completely new – never used in original packaging, so figured it was worth a shot. The clerk at the counter was very kind and professional in refusing to help, but pointed me over to the Kobo reader display area in case I wanted to look at the one I meant to order.

    As soon as I got there, I ran into another employee who asked if they could help. I told my story again, and he instantly said “we’d be happy to take that the old model back and upgrade for the new model.”

    In the end, they earned more revenue for the store and the company, kept me satisfied, and actually exceeded my low expectations… but they were “this close” to living down to those low expectations.

    Hope you’re doing well!

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