If you’ve read anything I’ve written about Apple, it’s likely been clear that they’ve not been my favorite company. I’ve always recognized that they make well-built products, but have disliked what I see as a bit of a form-before-function mentality and a tendency to stress simplicity over functionality. My recent iPad purchase tended to support this perception—it’s a very nicely made device that performs well and has a superior screen, but is overly simplistic and lacks some fundamentals that would make it a more productive tool.
That said, I recently purchased an Apple MacBook Air after a lengthy process of evaluating contemporary thin and light computers (which I’ll be posting on soon), and discovered something else about Apple. Simply put, all of the rankings that show Apple’s customer service as significantly better than the competition’s is not the result of some kind of Apple reality distortion field. Apple’s customer service really is that much better.
Here’s the scenario: the MacBook Air I received has a number of issues that I couldn’t accept on a machine on which I spent over $1600. The keyboard has excessive flex (that’s visible when I lightly press on the center keys), some keys stick when typing, the trackpad sounds like something’s rattling around inside when I press on it, and the machine had some issues on first booting it up that make me doubt that this particular unit made it out of the manufacturing process with the intended quality.
In my experience, this scenario would typically mean returning the product and buying another one. That would have been a simple process, except I custom-ordered the machine (8GB of RAM is a built-to-order option) and for a few other reasons would have meant either returning it and waiting for the new custom-built machine to arrive, or carrying the charges for two machines on my credit card. While that’s not at all an unreasonable proposition—it’s not Apple’s or any other manufacturer’s fault that I’m impatient and dislike complications—it’s not really the way I prefer to do things.
So, I called Apple’s technical support to find out if I had any other options. To my surprise, the ensuing process—which involved speaking with four different Apple representatives—was both painless and actually rather pleasant. I had already contacted Apple support for an issue with the Mac App Store (which was resolved), and I was struck anew by a rather remarkable phenomena: everyone I talked to seemed genuinely concerned about my experience with this Apple product and seemed fully invested in making sure that I ended up happy. In other words, every Apple rep I spoke with seemed to actually care.
Don’t misunderstand. I’ve dealt with technical and customer support with a number of other companies, including HP, Dell, ASUS, and many others, and I’ve had issues resolved. I can’t say that any other company ever left me with a non-working product or absolutely refused to live up to their legal obligations. But no technology company had ever made me feel like they were more concerned about my general satisfaction with their product than they were about staying within their narrowly defined procedures and policies.
Ultimately, Apple ended up ordering a replacement unit and setting it up for expedited shipping. By the time I was off the phone (which was less than an hour later, in spite of being transferred three times), I had already received a paid shipping return label for my current unit. Note that I wasn’t required to take the MacBook Air to an Apple store to have the issues verified, nor to send it in for that purpose–Apple trusted what I was telling them. Now, I have a new machine being built and set to me, and I don’t have to deal with the return process and worrying about all of the charges working out correctly. Update: My new machine shipped Sunday evening (Monday morning in Shanghai, China), meaning that Apple also put me at the front of the queue. Again, impressive.
Sure, Apple could have stuck to their guns and told me that, sorry, their policy is for me to return the unit and order another. And they wouldn’t have been “wrong” to do so. But the reps I talked to understood that needing to go through the hassle of returning and repurchasing would have added insult to injury for me. They recognized that the real problem was that I received a product with so many issues in the first place, andÂ that resolving that specific problem with the least possible impact on me was their priority.
The result? Any doubt that this is the right machine for me has been erased. I could buy a Windows Ultrabook for a bit less money, and it might perform a little better for my Windows work (although, as I use the MacBook Air I’m not so sure). But I’ve been convinced that no other company will treat me as well as Apple, and so not only will I keep this machine, but my next computer purchases are much more likely to be from Apple as well.
In the end, Apple might have made things a little harder for themselves, but they made things so much easier for me. And that’s why I now feel good about spending considerably more money. If I ever had any doubt about how Apple manages to sell so many premium products and to make so much profit, I don’t any longer.
Update: The replacement MacBook Air arrived the next Tuesday morning, and so the entire process took a grand total of three days. That’s amazing, really. And, the machine is perfect. Thanks, Apple.