Buying An iPhone Is A Huge Pain In The Butt For Business Customers

So there appears to be something of a shortage of iPhones this time around, and while it’s probably good for “creating buzz” it’s not so great for wooing busy business customers away from their Blackberries, according to reader James. You see, only the Apple store has iPhones, but only the AT&T store can activate them for James.

James writes (to Steve Jobs):

…Since opening day, I have been tracking stores in my travels in Virginia, North Carolina and New York, since I have been traveling through all those states in the last few weeks. Last night, the Richmond Short Pump Apple store again had stock. I had a flight at 10am the next morning and figured I could leave my house at 630, get there at 730, hopefully have the phone by 8:30 and be at the airport by 9. When I arrived I was third in line and all went smoothly. I had all of my information and was on my way, until the Apple store employee got an error.

‘Are you a corporate customer with ATT?’, he asked.

I answered yes, at which point they told me they could not activate the phone this morning, therefor could not sell me an iphone. They tried to call ATT but to no avail and I was not allowed to purchase.

‘There is an ATT store across the street, you should try them’. I talked to the ATT store, and they in fact did not have any.

‘Can I buy a phone, take it over there and activate it?’, I asked.

‘No. Sorry.’, said the employees.

At this point i started to express just how lame this policy is (all in good taste), all the while making it known that it wasn’t their fault directly, but Apple should know better than this.

I see this as a very broken customer experience, as ATT has no stock compared to Apple stores, but I cannot buy one from an Apple store since I must activate before leaving. So as a ‘business customer’, I have to jump through extra flaming hoops for this? As I understand it, the iPhone is a direct competitor with other business solutions such as the Blackberry Bold.

This is not a very good start to my first experience with an iPhone. Something that is supposed to make my life easier and more convenient has already wasted more time and frustrated me quite a bit. If anything, business users usually get leverage, not the run around.

By making it that you cannot purchase a phone without activation in store, the equivalent of DRM (which lets not kid ourselves, people will break it) has caused a horrible experience to me and probably many others. In my head a solution would be to let mainstream consumers buy and activate at apple stores, business users only at the att stores.

I understand the wish to build hype with a product (like the Wii), however there is a very fine line between hype and frustration and a real difference between a personal/business communications product and a home entertainment system. In part of building an experience you must plot the various customer journeys and scenarios, the one of the business customer was certainly not overlooked, but it seemed that in the end, no one cared that it is fractured, time-wasting and detrimental to the experiences that Apple is known for building.

As unfortunate as it is, I must say I am truly annoyed at this point in time and would have expected more from a company that is such an innovator in this industry. I am truly done trying to buy an iPhone, it has already wasted more of my time and resources than the cost of the iPhone itself and will be spending no more time on this task.

James says that after not being able to get an iPhone on “opening day” he was told that business customers would have no problem activating their iPhones at the Apple store, so we understand his frustration. People are going to unlock the phones anyway, why make your customers miserable?

(Photo: Todd Kravos )