Apple Doesn't Know How To Handle The MobileMe Crisis

Apple excels in product design and user interface, and their operating system is pretty sweet, too. What Apple has a much rockier history with is customer service—in individual instances it can be great, but historically when there’s a problem with one of their products, Apple clams up like a sullen teen and refuses to talk. Their new MobileMe service has had problems since it launched two weeks ago, and even now there are thousands of users who can’t sync, or whose email has been deleted (oops, should’ve set up Time Machine). David Pogue points out that Apple’s lack of an adequate response is completely unacceptable—or would be for any other company:

It’s amazing that Apple doesn’t recognize this situation. This is an airplane that’s stuck on the runway for hours with no food or working bathroom. And the pilot doesn’t come on the P.A. system to tell the customers what the problem is, what’s being done to fix it, how much longer they might be stuck, and how he empathizes with their plight. Instead, he comes on once every three hours to repeat the same thing: “We apologize for the inconvenience.”

It’s true, Apple did address these problems early on, even going so far as to offer a free 1-month extension to current subscribers. But Pogue points out that whatever problems were plagueing MobileMe haven’t been entirely eradicated, because a note appeared on the MobileMe support site that read, “1% of MobileMe members cannot access MobileMe Mail. We apologize for this service interruption and are working hard to resolve the problem.”

So how is Apple trying to help out this subset of customers? By hiding behind a broken customer service system, Pogue writes:

MobileMe tech support, my correspondents tell me, is nearly impossible to reach; the recording says that the support team is “unavailable due to the overwhelming interest in MobileMe.” (Somehow I doubt that “overwhelming interest” is the problem.) When you do reach them, they’re apologetic but can do nothing to help.

By contrast—and even I can’t believe I’m about to compare T-Mobile’s customer service to Apple’s, but here goes—yesterday I couldn’t get online using T-Mobile’s HotSpot service at a Starbucks in NYC. I called the customer support line at the bottom of the error message screen fully expecting to get nowhere—really it was just a masochistic impulse to test how incompetent they’d be. What I got instead was a live, helpful person after three rings, and when I was escalated up to a support tech, she answered in less than 60 seconds and gave me advice on how to fix the problem. I assume T-Mobile is dumping extra resources into HotSpot support right now, especially with Starbucks since they’re having to deal with AT&T taking over the system and causing who knows what kinds of customer service snafus, but you’d think Apple would try a similar approach with its first big push into a new service.

“Apple’s MobileMess” [New York Times]
(Screen cap of customer service wait time: Hayden)