A case of bad customer experience, and how it made me feel
I wanted to write this post yesterday, in the thick of this bad customer experience, but I’m aware that penning something in the heat of the moment usually leads to an emotional tirade of half truths. I’m no longer angry, I’m just left surprised. Most of all, I’m surprised at how angry I became.
Anger is something I very rarely feel. I’ve worked in customer service before, I know anger seldom gets you anywhere, at least it shouldn’t get you anywhere. Getting angry at the person on the other side of customer support is almost always misplaced. It’s the processes and systems behind them that are to blame, the organisational attitude towards its customers, its culture and its employee training.
After 6+ hours yesterday troubleshooting, chatting and calling Apple in various ways, the only emotions I had left were anger, despair, powerlessness and confusion. And perhaps slightly concerned for the last representative I spoke to who clearly had been working a very long shift and was pretty much out of it.
Let me get some things straight here. For those who don’t know me, I run an app translation service. I’m a registered iOS app developer and have been testing iOS devices almost every day of my working life since 2009. I’ve bought and interacted with Apple since my first Mac in 1998. I run my own business, I know mistakes happen, I understand that out of the millions of devices that shipped yesterday, there would be a few unlucky people who receive a dud device. I can accept that sadly this time it was me.
But let me also tell you that I’m a business customer, this device was bought on a business account. I spend several thousand a year on Apple products and services and I’m also one of those people others go to when they want advice on which Apple product to buy. My business needs an iPhone X to test user interfaces of the latest apps our clients send us; what’s more I had promised the device to my friend, Amy, a very prominent camera reviewer, who had racked up over £600 in commissions to get reviews on several very popular review sites in the UK on release day. Not having an iPhone X on release day wasn’t really an option. And yet that’s what has happened.
So what exactly went down?
Friday 3rd November 2017:
- iPhone X arrives as promised
- Amy unboxes, turns on, opens Camera app (she’s going to review it remember)
- Black screen
- Amy downloads VSCO, Camera+, Instagram, etc, these apps don’t even detect there is a back camera. Some default the the telephoto lens which appears to be working.
- Amy gets in touch with me, tells me camera is not working
- Amy and I troubleshoot together over WhatsApp
- Update iOS — no
- Restore from iTunes — no, still broken, now FaceID doesn’t work and an error about overheating.
- After an hour of troubleshooting, I check twitter, a few others have this problem.
- I go to Apple Support forums, search for ‘camera not working’, an article says it should be ‘Sent in for Repair’.
- As this is release day, I am aware this may be a general FAQ so I click Online Chat
- I chat with Apple Support Rep I who runs a diagnostic
- Confirms back camera is faulty
- Sends me to call Apple Store in Cardiff for a device swap
- Apple Store Cardiff redirects me to centralised support centre
- Rep doesn’t understand me
- Eventually passes me on to Cardiff Store
- Cardiff Store rings dead
- I call again
- Rep runs through process again
- I forcefully tell rep to put me through to Cardiff
- Cardiff eventually answers, tells me Online Support Rep is wrong, you have to contact Online Store team
- I call Support again
- Call takes 55 minutes
- Senior support isn’t available
- Junior support tells me to call back later
5.55pm (call above ends)
- I call Support again
- Support goes through process
- Support transfers me to Senior
- I get angry at Senior support. I’m just exhausted now.
- Senior support sends me to Junior sales.
- Junior sales is… well… words can’t describe
- I get angry
- Junior transfers me to Senior
- Seniors have gone home for the day…
- Junior tells me they’ll call me tomorrow (Saturday)
- Call ends, 8.10pm.
At this point, we’ve been diagnosing and trying to get the phone swapped for 6.5 hours.
Who I spoke to in total
- Apple Support Rep I (Chat)
- Apple Support Rep II
- Apple Support Rep III
- Cardiff Store Rep I
- Apple Support Rep IV
- Senior Support Rep I > Not available
- Apple Support Rep V
- Senior Support Rep II > Annoying / I get angry
- Apple Sales Rep I > Rep is exhausted, also clueless
- Senior Sales Rep I > Not available, gone home for the day
What is fundamentally wrong here?
It’s release day
Everyone who got an iPhone X on release day did so consciously and in full anticipation. No one just turned up to an Apple Store and bought a phone. No one received one from Apple Online, such as myself, serendipitously. We logged on at 8am on Friday 27th October and we refreshed that Apple Store page repeatedly. We had to be within the very first few minutes to secure a release day shipment.
Therefore, it seems unlikely that anyone who calls Apple on release day is completely technically inept. It’s also very likely anyone who calls Apple will be highly strung — they’ve waited weeks for this, they’ve queued for hours, or they’ve stayed up late/got up early to buy the product. While some of us may just be fan boys, others actually need these devices to do our jobs.
I think the last straw for me was when Senior Support Rep II said, “Oh, so you’ve had this device a week and now the camera is broken?”. Face Palm.
No one knew what the process was
The Online Chat Rep I spoke to at first told me to call the Apple Store in Cardiff to do a quick swap. I asked about stock, he said ask them.
The Apple store in Cardiff redirected to technical support who asked me all the same questions again and took me down the path of restoring and resetting my iPhone, completely ignoring what I was saying. I forcefully said no, I want to be connected to the Apple Store in Cardiff.
Cardiff didn’t answer. The line went dead. I went through process again. Got through to Cardiff who told me the Online Chat guy was wrong. They can’t do Online Store swaps.
I phoned again, whole process again, put me through to Senior Tech support who wasn’t available. Told me to call back later.
Called back later, whole process again. Tech passed me to Senior Tech. I finally blew my top. Senior Tech passed me to Sales. Sales didn’t even know this was a new phone. Sales literally couldn’t do anything. She passed me to Senior Sales, who weren’t there. They’d gone home.
No one had a clue. No one was listen to me.
Apple support was over stretched
Calls were on hold before and mid conversations several times. Junior support and sales staff sounded tired, frustrated, powerless. Most didn’t know the process and only one really recognised that I wasn’t a clueless customer.
Support on a release day like yesterday needs to operate longer than it’s standard 8pm cut off. I can imagine many people got home from work yesterday to find their iPhone X at home, by the time they’re calling Support, it’s too late. I was able to start my process at 4pm, after 4 hours of talking, I was turned away as ‘they’d gone home’. At the time of writing this, I am still waiting for a call back.
How this made me feel
Ironically yesterday I had been volunteering at a Business School talking with students about Post Purchase Dissonance. Little did I know that later that same day, I would become foul of an extremely negative post purchase situation.
When I got the notification of the device arriving at mid day, I was obviously very excited. I told Amy she could go pick it up, excited for her to start her reviews, make some money, and spread the word about the iPhone X’s supposedly superior cameras.
When I got the message saying the camera didn’t work, I was concerned, but not overly. Usually these things are software and can be fixed. Amy is obviously tech savvy herself and had gone through quite a few steps, trying different apps, so I told her to update and restore, neither of which helped, instead they made matters worse (broke FaceID, overheating error).
At this point I started to panic. I know how these things work, it’s release day, phones will be sold out. I’m starting to worry I’m not going to get to use my phone. When Apple Support Rep I on Chat told me I can swap in Cardiff I thought, great, ok, I’ll go in store this evening.
The next 4 hours were the worst. I went from hopeful to relieved, to confusion, disbelief, frustration, indignation, anger, helplessness, astonishment, despair to exhaustion.
The final straw came when Apple Sales Rep I tried to pass me off to a Senior Sales Rep who ‘had gone home for the day’. I’d wasted 4 hours of my day, hours on the phone and hours of my friend’s time.
You may think all this stress over a smart phone is extreme, but when £600+ of your friend’s money is on the line, client apps that need testing, and the feeling of being a mug that you’d woken up early to pre-order and that effort was wasted, I couldn’t help feel like that.
What’s more, who would choose to pay £1149 to experience those emotions?
How could this process could be improved
In my time working with customers and clients in the tech sector, I can identify several types of people who call customer support:
- Those who are not tech savvy. They need to be hand held through the process.
- Those who believe they are tech savvy, but often miss steps. You need to be kind, but forceful here. They think they know what they’re doing but they sometimes miss a step.
- Those who are tech savvy. They’ve done most of the steps, they just need you to confirm.
- Those who do your job for you. They’ve done all the steps, they’re certain of the problem and they can prove it.
Any of these customers may be:
- i. Eternally grateful for your help and support
- ii. Time constrained and frustrated
- iii. Automatically on the defensive
- iv. Automatically on the offensive
On top of this, customers may be:
- Brand loyal
- Big spenders
I started the process and a 3.ii. I am tech savvy, I’ve done the steps, I need you to confirm, then we need to get on with it as I’m time constrained.
Mid way through the process, I was 4.ii. I knew for certain what the problem was, it had been confirmed by Apple running a diagnostic, but I was still time constrained and now increasingly frustrated.
Three hours in I became 4.iv I knew what the problem was, no one was listening to me, I became offensive. Like a big dog stuck in a corner, I felt like the only way out was to start growling. A position I rarely find myself in.
Apple — all companies — should be able to identify who is talking to them on the phone. They have data: they see my purchase history, they see how often I call, they see I have a developer account. When you start a call with the processes you’ve already gone through, an intelligent person should be able to recognise in which category the customer fits. In my case, they should have identified me as a 3 or a 4 straight away.
They should also see I am a business customer, I spend several thousand with them each year, I am brand loyal. I have influence over friend’s purchases, though tracking this may understandably be difficult (arguably the case for most with developer accounts).
Categorising customers should help get them through the process quickly. But this will only work if the process works, which, yesterday, it did not.
Apple Support and Sales staff were unable to effectively communicate to one another and unable to see that I’d been on phone several times, each up to an hour long. Junior staff could not identify me as a customer and each time had to go through their process sheet. When I had already done the steps they required on a previous call and told them so, they had to put me on hold to ask someone else for help. Enough senior support and sales staff were not available. Junior support and sales staff were unable to action anything of value.
This could have been made better if:
- All staff knew the process for defect release day devices
- I was categorised quickly
- More actionable staff were available on a big release day
The end result
At time of writing, there is no result yet. I am still waiting for a call from Apple Sales, highly likely waiting weeks for delivery. I feel disheartened and a little bit like loyal customers who attempt to get release day devices are second rate customers.
I realise that I’m just a single person and this is just a phone, but quite frankly I’m left wondering what my own clients would do if I took £1149 of their hard earned money and told them I would deliver my project weeks, or months, after they were expecting it? Sadly this is a case of David and Goliath, but this time, I’m sure, Goliath will win.
As I was posting this I got an email with a collection date (Monday) and a new delivery date — December 5th!
I DM’d this post to Apple Support, and called Sales to argue that December 5th was unacceptable.
At one point I was put on hold as someone was ‘updating my notes’ — I’m going to guess whoever manages the AppleSupport twitter account.
3 minutes later someone was on the phone saying I’ll have a new device Monday and they’ll collect the broken device the same day too. I have received notice that the device is Preparing to Ship.
While this result is probably the best I’m going to get, I’m a little sad it took writing such a post and speaking to a total of 12 individuals at Apple to get this sorted. I can’t help but feel the more alert, awake staff of Saturday morning performed better than the exhausted, confused staff of Friday afternoon and evening. There’s another lesson there on employee welfare… but for now, I hope this post helps others (esp startups) get their customer support in line before they go on line.
Oh… and the £650 of review commissions and the now 7 hours spent on this matter (I charge my clients £60 an hour for my 1–1 time) means an economic loss of £1070 for me and my friend, but oh well… time to walk the dog.
Originally published at Robert Lo Bue.