Genius Bar Might Be Staffed By Douchebags, But Apple Executive Customer Service Works

Matt’s tale of Apple repair moves from tragedy to triumph, and Wagner is already hard at work on its stage adaptation.

What we learn from it:

• Genius bar can be staffed by douchebags.
• If you have a valid complaint, emailing Steve Jobs WILL work.
• Under the federal Magnuson-Moss warranty act, you have the right to choose refund or replacement without charge after the manufacturer attempts a reasonable number of repairs.
• Obtaining executive customer service is possible for mere mortals, and it can override snotty level 1 reps like the floodwaters of Jesus juice.

Matt’s letter inside….

[Photo: Thomas Hawk]

Matt writes:

    “My experience with the original MacBook Pro 17″ was perhaps the most painful computing experience I ever had–3 repairs and difficulty with Apple getting them done–but Apple eventually made it right by giving me a great Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro 17”.

    After 3 17″ MacBook Pro repairs in 3 months, my MacBook Pro failed for a fourth time: it refused to go to sleep.

    The three repairs I had were painful: the local Genius Bar was less-than-friendly, not exactly competent, and unwilling to deal with my problems quickly. With any other company, I’d not be surprised, but this is Apple, and I bought a $3000 laptop so I expect excellent service.

    Early in the MacBook’s life, I noticed that the hard drive was likely to fail as it was making very unusual sounds and I was experiencing disk errors. (I have many years of experience with IT and programming, so I am appropriately knowledgeable to make this assessment.) However, the Genius refused to replace the drive. Of course, it eventually failed–though because I saw it coming, I made daily backups. Still, I lost about a day of work, and I was pissed about that.

    The three repairs were for screen problems (3 times), a dead battery, sleep problems (it woke while closed in my laptop bag) and a dead hard drive.

    This is a story with a happy ending though. After problems at the Genius Bar, I gave up on using them for the 4th repair and called AppleCare. They ended up making me very happy. I told them that I wanted the new Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro. After some haggling with tech support. I pointed out to Tech Support that at this point I wanted the new model because after three repairs, it was clear that mine was a lemon. I also told tech support that Apple failing to repair the hard drive when I told them it was going to fail was unacceptable, and that I expected some material show of good faith beyond just verbally apologizing to me. After all, when a company with billions of dollars in the bank wants to apologize the right way, they do it by providing something of value–anything else is just empty, insincere words. (of note: I cited my legal right under the Magnuson-Moss warranty act to get my choice of a refund or replacement, but I was told that mentioning anything legal would cause me to be handled by the legal team, so I backed away from that. Whether that means it’s good to obliquely reference it as a threat or it was a bad idea, I’m not sure–exercise left for the reader).

    I was transferred customer relations–who offered me the new Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro. I’m typing on the new model now–and it’s great. I’ve had it for a couple weeks, and I’m experiencing absolutely no problems with it at all.

    Apple continued to make things right. The day before I called tech support for the fourth failure, I sent an email to Steve Jobs to get ‘executive’ customer support. This caused the manager of the local Apple Store to call me and apologize, as well as a member of the ‘executive’ customer support team. Had customer relations not already offered me the new MBP 17″, both the Apple Store and ‘executive’ customer support would have.

    Punchline: If you had problems with the original MBP, the new one seem to be much, much better. And if Apple hasn’t yet made things right for you, push them a bit and they probably will.”


Photo by Thomas Hawk


Edit Your Comment

  1. scoobydoo says:

    There is a reason they keep coming up as #1 in customer service.

  2. martymankins says:

    Seems some work is needed at some of the Genius bars. The two times I’ve used the Genius bar, they have been very helpful, but it was simple fixes. My 15″ MBP is making some metal scrapping noise about 6-8 times a day (sounds like a fan brushing up against something) so I may need to take mine in before the 1yr warranty is up (I will be getting the AppleCare 3yr extended next month) and see if they can determine what it is.

    But if I were Apple, some proactive discussions should be help with their Genius bar staff at these stores.

  3. kerry says:

    The magic word with Apple is “lemon.” They have a history of offering replacements for lemon computers. Back when most iBooks had faulty logic boards, but before Apple acknowledged the problem, lots of folks were sending their ‘books in for repair 3 or more times. Once that fourth failure rolled ’round, though, the ones who told customer care (*not* technical support) that they believed they’d been sold a lemon got new computers. (All this stuff was discussed at length on the Apple support forums.) Apple’s not perfect, but they really do try most of the time. Always remember to escalate, too, it really works.

  4. subgenius says:

    How do you expect the person helping you to confidently take your diagnosis as true? Did you give her your resume, cv, or other proof?

    I had days at the Genius Bar where no less than 10 people demanded a new computer from me due to “hard drive problems”. (most people who are not savvy with computers blame everything on the drive).

    There almost always appeared to be no problem with the hard drive. Usually logging into a newly created account would fix whatever “problem” they were having. If they persisted that there was a problem, I ran disk utility (the only disk tool we are able to use at the bar, vis-a-vis corporate), if there is no problem and they persist, I would erase the hard drive, zeroing out every sector. This would be outside of the scope of the 20 minute appointment, since it takes hours, but it is a way to know for sure. There is still no problem. Oh, and the genius has to greet you, look up your serial number, diagnose your problem, write notes about your problem after creating a new case with all aspects of your issue, write notes for the concierge system updating your appointment, manage customers without appointments that are asking questions, and wish you a good day in the 20 minutes of your appointment. After those 20 minutes, there will be another person with another issue like yours and the Genius will begin again.

    Does every customer deserve a new computer because they think they hear some noises?

    Were the genius to replace your computer with no proof she could verify, she may be fired, and further it would be immoral–what makes your word better than the 20 other customers she helps that day that claim the same and also want a new computer?

    Your beef is with Apple for putting their tech support in this position of inaction. Take it out on them. Or do you just like to see a lot of underpaid and overworked people dance at your command via Jobs?

  5. Paradise says:

    There is a reason they keep coming up as #1 in customer service.

    is it because of the poor quality of the machines falling off the assembly line? :)

  6. to all the advocates of calling it a “lemon,” very little will make the genius who you’re dealing with less likely than stating that your machine is a lemon and you want it replaced. one thing that will put them on the defensive and less likely to go out on a limb to help, though, is flouting your technical expertise and know-how like submitter up there did.

    the corporate policy on repairs is it has to fail before it can be replaced. sometimes, this can mean things like i/o errors on their drive or grinding noises, but usually it means failed failed. ask around, that’s an industry standard.

    i also love how since apparently 3 or 4 (at most, between the submitter and a commenter) geniuses gave someone with attitude a hard time, they’re all douchebags. thanks.

  7. Rachel says:

    I still love the people who say Macs don’t crash.

    If you want the best customer service and a comparatively sleek, great laptop get a Fujitsu.

    I called their customer service twice in two months (screen issue, after leaving the screen on for 2.5 years straight). Within 10 seconds of calling them I got the same Canadian rep both times (who remembered me). I ended up mailing it in with a two day turnaround time and got a brand new screen, despite not having the additional screen protection on my warranty.

    I love them.

  8. Mrsparkle says:

    It’s a simple and, yes, firm policy:


    If you have had more than 3 hardware failures, replacements or repairs, Apple will be willing to replace your machine. Before that, calls to Executive Relations will serve only to limit your options elsewhere.

  9. Bokonon says:

    ars: “someone with attitude” — you mean, a customer who was demonstrably right who gave the company $3000? in my line of work, when a high-paying customer comes to me reporting an issue, I trust their report until I have evidence to the contrary. with Apple’s billions of cash in the bank, I think ‘Geniuses’ can afford to give customers benefit-of-the-doubt

    this is not the attitude that IBM and Dell on-site people give. they want people to continue giving them money.

    furthermore, ars is right: telling the ‘Geniuses’ that the machine is a lemon will make a replacement unlikely. that’s the whole point of the post–the ‘Geniuses’ are useless for customer support, and for actually good customer care, one should call Customer Care.

    to be honest, I think the problem is from underpaying ‘Geniuses’–it is difficult to deal with novice computer users, and to do so in a retail environment has to be terribly stressful. i know I’d need a lot more than the barely-above minimum wage the ‘Geniuses’ get to deal with the general public

  10. Bokonon says:

    mrsparkle: though you should add that you might need ‘executive relations’ or ‘customer relations’ to get the replacement, as the policy seems to be unknown to some Apple employees

  11. kerry says:

    ars_workerbee –
    You’ll note that I said to say “lemon” after 3 failures and to say it to customer support, not tech support. Nobody is advocating walking up to the genius bar and demanding a replacement, let alone doing it before even one failure has occurred.

  12. kerry says:

    Oh, and as for the geniuses – I’ve found that while they’re frequently helpful, especially with minor issues, they’re overworked and predominantly experienced in fixing iPods, not laptops. For major issues I go to a local independent Apple authorized service provider. People also have better success calling phone support and shipping their computers back than trying to deal with the Genius bar.

  13. My 15″ MBP is making some metal scrapping noise about 6-8 times a day (sounds like a fan brushing up against something)

    That’s thermal re-calibration of the disk drive heads. This can become more frequent as the hard disk ages, and actually prolongs the life and accuracy of the device. When you’re dealing with alignment on the micron-level, any change in temperature requires the disk drive heads to realign; that’s most likely the noise you’re hearing, and it means absolutely nothing bad.

  14. is it because of the poor quality of the machines falling off the assembly line? :)

    For all the idiots who post stuff like this, Apple uses the same components as everyone else. Assembled by the same compnies as everyone else. There’s virtually no difference between a high-end laptop from any top-tier PC vendor and Apple – especially since they’ve gone Intel.

    Most “recall worthy” problems with Apple products in the past have been solely the fault of third-party vendors not following Apple’s specs – and I was in a position to know. Anyone claiming that Apple’s build quality is any worse than any other top-tier PC vendor has no idea and no basis in fact for what they’re talking about.

  15. CTSLICK says:

    Rule #1: No matter how sure I am that I KNOW what is wrong I ALWAYS just explain the symptoms in as much detail as possible. It works so much better than marching up to the counter and telling them what’s wrong and how to fix it. I’ve used both approaches and the “explain and engage” method has been so much more successful…its surprising. And not just with Apple.
    But more on topic…the customers complaint seems well based in fact. Its too bad it took an escalation to customer relations but the system did, in the end, work.

  16. NeoteriX says:

    ars: “someone with attitude” — you mean, a customer who was demonstrably right who gave the company $3000? in my line of work, when a high-paying customer comes to me reporting an issue, I trust their report until I have evidence to the contrary. with Apple’s billions of cash in the bank, I think ‘Geniuses’ can afford to give customers benefit-of-the-doubt

    That’s the kind of attitude that results in a company with billions of cash, having none at all.

    While your customer friendly attitude is commendable and is appropriate in a situation where you may individually offer services to a client, I’m fairly certain such a broad policy is not effective. Despite Apple products coming with a premium price, they are still mass produced goods, and every purchaser is a faceless customer, not one where you’ve met and have shook their hand.

    I know many friends who will shamelessly abuse a return or warranty policy, for whatever reason. In order to get a new iPod, they will intentionally damage theirs or use whatever excuse (clicking noises, etc.) to get a new copy.

  17. Papa K says:

    I wrote to the consumerist about two years about my iBook woes – it was replaced four times in three months before I finally got a working one. It would’ve been nice to be ‘upgraded’ since I needed it for school and they were *no* help, but I’ll add this:

    Yes, my ibook has worked fine since with NO PROBLEMS!

    Yes, the genius bar people are incompetent (in Columbus, Ohio). They kept trying to tell me how my faulty mac was my problem (failed logic board ring a bell?) and they also promised a new OS CD since mine was stuck in the faulty iBook – which never came, despite them swearing they documented it, and swear that they’d call me when it came in. Every time I called they had no idea who I was and promise to get one ordered. I gave up about a year ago on that.

  18. kaycee says:

    My experience has been different than many of the comments above. I had a true lemon iBook with intermittent electrical problems, plus a bad hard drive. While dealing with Customer Care to get the logic board replaced 3 times, the hard drive once, and have it checked several other times (trying to get them to observe the electrical problem), I was jacked around and treated condescendingly several times by Customer Care reps, even though I was polite, patient, and have been a satisfied Mac user for years.

    Finally I found out I could just take my computer to the new local Apple store, and the Geniuses were nice and helpful. After checking it out a couple of times, they finally gave me a new iBook, which has had zero problems.

  19. juri squared says:

    I had a similar experience with Apple when I had a faulty iBook G3, but was saved at the last minute by Apple finally acknowledging a widespread problem.

    However, THANK YOU for the warranty act information. Methinks I will march myself into Fry’s (or call them) with this ammo and demand remedy for the Vaio they haven’t been able to fix after four months and three repairs.

  20. Michael says:

    It’s been a while for me, but after going through this with both the first iMac, the first iBook G4 and the first iPod, I’ve finally learned not to buy the debut release of an expensive consumer product.

    My first job ever, as a teenager, was working as a beta tester at a software company, and at least they paid me $3.85 an hour for my time. It’s quite another thing entirely when I’m paying out hundreds or thousands of dollars and end up being a beta tester without wishing to be one. Thank goodness that Apple Customer Care usually does come through in the end.

  21. StevoJobs says:

    that guy in the picture is from the SF Apple store and is really frickin cool. Associating his picture with this post is not cool at all and needs to be removed. You guys have no right to use a picture you guys do not even own the rights to, just to put someones face on an issue that you had at an Apple store. I’m sure this guys done nothing to you and needs to have his picture removed from this post.

  22. Bokonon says:

    NeoTerix: I agree to some extent, but since Apple charges insanely more for their machines than any other company (and basically sell the same hardware), they ought to provide better service for that money–especially on the high-end $3K MBP 17″. I think that’s what people expect, and that’s a reasonable expectation.

    OS X and its shiny case may be better than Windows on a ThinkPad to some extent, but it’s not worth $500 more. If the extra cost doesn’t get you customer service that doesn’t treat you like a moron, it’s not worth it. get a dell.

  23. Bokonon says:

    subgenius: it pains me to say this as a left-wing, raise-the-minimum-wage kind of person: if you don’t like your job, quit. don’t take it out on the customers. it’s not the customer’s fault you’re underpaid, it’s Apple’s. if you can’t handle that, you don’t belong working in retail. i say this as someone who has worked some pretty awful jobs where i’ve been underpaid and i did my job like a pro, not a whiner.

    longer response: in this case, the customer should be trusted because of his verifiable computing experience. the customer presented a detailed run down of why he diagnosed the problem, and provided access to the AppleCare log of the problem being diagnosed on the phone. in particular, the customer reformatted his hard drive and reinstalled OS X TWICE because of disk errors before the first time the machine was brought in for repair. that, combined with the highly unusual noises and the random disk freezes, should have been good enough.

    then again, this is knowledge the customer has because he is a highly-experienced computer programmer. the genius is a whiny retail person who may be in a low-paying job because he lacks the intelligence or computer experience to do the more complicated job his customer has.

    (please note that this customer would NEVER say this to the genius nor act in any way but politely and professionally. after all, he did give the genius the benefit of the doubt and didn’t ram a demand for a hard drive fix down his throat the first time he took it in).

    this, also, is why Apple has a policy against their employees posting. if people knew that the geniuses were douchebags, they’d never do business with the company.

  24. Bokonon says:

    also, to temper my rant a bit: apple customer relations are NOT whiners. they are professionals who are capable of giving their customers the service they deserve.

  25. MikeWas says:

    I cited my legal right under the Magnuson-Moss warranty act to get my choice of a refund or replacement, but I was told that mentioning anything legal would cause me to be handled by the legal team, so I backed away from that. Whether that means it’s good to obliquely reference it as a threat or it was a bad idea, I’m not sure–exercise left for the reader)

    Depending on your level of frustration, this might actually be a better way to resolve things. The legal department often has broad powers to settle disputes, and even if your legal claim might not have legs, their job is to avoid getting sued especially in cases where the cost of defense would exceed the cost of just satisfying the customer.

    Most companies have a “nuisance value” threshold for customers who are serious about standing on their legal rights, and if you are able to convince legal that you are serious abut pursuing a claim AND you have at least a reasonable shot at making them spend some dough to defend it, you might be surprised at what most companies are willing to do.

    If the “Retention” section doesn’t satisfy you, consider talking to Legal next.

  26. wintersweet says:

    I wish I’d known about this when my iBook’s screen cracked under normal usage conditions. (Apple customer support flat-out accused me of lying to them. It was a great experience for a first-time Mac owner, lemme tell ya.)