Saturday, February 12, 2011

One Bad Apple

Everyone has a computer story. This is mine.

Within the past year, my family made the leap into Mac World. Farewell to PCs and to the treat of viruses. Hello to hipster computer technology, innovation and superlative customer service. The purchase of two 13" MacBook Pros for my two college-age students, an impressive looking 21.5" iMac for the home, and a 17" MacBook Pro for me to use for my small business. Who needs a secretary when you have Apple's Mac and iPhone?

Fast forward five months.

Wednesday. My laptop assistant performs with precision during one meeting. However, during the next meeting, without warning or any hint of disaster, the MacBook Pro does not respond to a restart. The convenience of making an appointment at the nearest Apple store lets me belly up to the Genius Bar within the hour for a technical consult. David, with title of Genius, kindly evaluates my problem. The hard drive is bad, and needs to be replaced. Thank goodness for warranties.

Unfortunately, Apple does not have my hard drive in stock. Sending the computer out for free repair will take from three-to-five business days. I wonder to myself whether I should take an unplanned vacation or just file for Chapter 11. Furthermore, Apple does not provide assistance to help recover the data from its failed hard drive. I am kindly directed to a local service provider that can help me figure that out. I am welcome back to the Genius Bar at my convenience and Apple will send out my computer for a hard drive replacement. However, the expense to recover my data is my burden to bare. I need my data. It's my business.

Thursday. I deliver my MacBook Pro early in the morning to trustworthy Heroic Efforts , and explain the issue. A very computer-savy Matthew explains the process for data recovery, and if successful, I may incur a $400 price tag. It's worth it, I rationalize to myself. I need my data. It's my business. I leave my ill laptop secretary with Matthew, and drive to Houston to pursue a new potential client opportunity. I'm grateful for my iPhone to keep me tethered to email.

Thursday afternoon. Kind Matthew calls with the bad news. My hard drive failure is beyond his capability. The next step is to send the device to a formal clean room for exploratory surgery to discover if my data can be salvaged and restored to me. If successful, the cost will run me approximately $1,700, equivalent to the cost for a brand new Apple MacBook Pro product. Unfortunately, my laptop secretary is not included in my healthcare coverage, and this expense is equivalent to paying my out of my pocket annual deductible. It does not require an Apple Genius to determine that this is the point of no return.

Friday. I pick up my MacBook Pro from Matthew. There is no fee for his bad news. I am grateful, but as I drive to the Apple store to deliver my laptop for a replacement hard drive, my anxiety begins to build.

Friday, 11:45 AM. The Apple attendant greets me, and within a few minutes, I take my seat at the Genius Bar, across from Holland, no Genius title. She gets the serial number from the computer, as I discreetly explain my disappointment in the Apple product. Now that I am in front of an Apple employee, I can feel my disappointment becoming personal. It's not personal with Holland, but it is personal with Apple and its brand.

My deliberate display of discretion at the Genius bar is in response to the store setting. Other Apple customers with their own problems intimately flank me on the left and right. There is no privacy for complaints here, and I don't want to be the screaming customer that others stare at and wonder whether he is concealing a handgun. I express my position clearly: I'm disappointed in the performance of the Apple product, and I do not want to wait three-to-five days longer for a repair job. I want to walk out with a working computer, preferably a new one.

My request is an impossibility, explains Holland in a calm but equally deliberate clear tone. I ask to speak with the manager. Michael -- not a manager but the lead -- comes out to greet me in front of the Genius Bar. His willingness to come to my side of the counter is a personal display of concern, and creates intimacy with the customer.

In response, I put on my kind consumer face and use my calm but condemning consumer voice as I explain my situation. I do not play frisbee or toss my laptop around like a toy, I explain to Michael. I express my understanding of Apple's brand promise, and express my appreciation and expectation for superlative customer service. However, the product did not live up to my expectation as a customer, and leaving without a working computer was not acceptable to me. Michael, the lead, listens carefully, but expresses the same response as Holland. Unfortunately, he is not able to replace my five-month-old computer. I asked if he clearly understands the expectation that Apple's brand creates with me as a customer, and if he clearly understands that I am not satisfied with Apple's lack of fulfilling, or coming close to fulfilling, that expectation. He understands. It does not seem to matter.

What I really wanted to say was that if Michael, the lead, did not do everything he could to replace my computer, I would leave the store prepared to begin the loudest virtual scream I could possibly muster. However, I politely acknowledge his position, and request that he begin doing what is necessary so that I can begin doing what I must do in order to recreate everything that was lost because of Apple's product failure. Michael, the lead, retreats to the back, and I sit quietly at the Genius Bar wondering if Apple considers it genius not to satisfy this customer's request.

Within a few minutes Holland returns and tells me that they were able to find a hard drive for my laptop, and that within a few minutes I should be up and running, but without any historical data. Hmmm. One minute, there is nothing available (not even at the other Apple store in town) and I'm faced with up to five days of delay. The next minute there is a hard drive for my laptop. I believe in miracles.

Was it genius to find a hard drive or genius to get me to purchase the $300 Time Capsule product that backs up my computer and protects me from a future similar encounter at the one bar in town I do not care to frequent?

1:00 PM. I walk out with my MacBook Pro freshly recovering from its lobotomy, and I am careful not to let the door hit me on my way out. I begin anew with a clean slate. I for one do not believe that one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. However, one bad Apple can spoil the brand.