Apple Store Service Sucks

I visited the Apple Store in Polo Park earlier today with the intention of finding out whether they had any Magic Mouses (mice?) in stock and spending some Christmas money purchasing one if they did. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect this sort of thing to be a fairly straightforward, 3 – 5 minute process. Instead, it took 10 or more minutes – I wasn’t counting – and my wife ended up in a verbal altercation with another customer. However, this is not an isolated incident, I’ve been to the store once or twice a month since opening and every time I’ve attempted to purchase something it has not been a pleasant transaction. The customer service stinks.

I believe the problem is entirely due to the lack of a designated “checkout” area. If you haven’t ever stepped foot in an Apple Store, the main staff (I think Apple refers to them as “Concierge”) walk around the store seemingly aimlessly waiting for customers to flag them down, there are no checkout counters or cash registers. I can see the logic behind this type of set up: without a designated check-out area you don’t have long, ugly lines forming around the store and you don’t waste retail space. Without designated “cashiers,” all staff are able to help customers with any task. In theory, it’s more efficient than a traditional retailer.

In practice, the whole system breaks down if there are equal numbers of customers wanting help and staff.

It’s not always entirely clear whether a staff member is helping a customer or not; they may need to run to another part of the store to do one thing or another – in this situation, you find yourself trying to flag down someone who’s either ignoring you or has to sluff you off. In and of itself, this is not a problem unique to the Apple Store, this happens at any retailer when you’re trying to get help on a busier day. At the Apple Store because there are no designated checkouts, you’re forced in to this customer-unfriendly situation even if you do not need any help with your purchase. At best it’s a minor annoyance, at worst it doesn’t leave me feeling like a very valuable customer. I almost feel like this behavior serves to reinforce the old Apple-elitist attitudes, i.e. Apple only has a limited amount of time to dole out to the peons. Not only that, this type of system favors the visible and vocal customer, a dis-service to the typical-introverted-geek that makes up the core of Apple’s customer-base.

Most retails stores have a queuing area is because it works, it’s an accepted shopping convention that all customers know how to interact with. The key component in good customer service is setting expectations, a queue is a good way to accomplish this. If I see 10 people waiting at a checkout I can roughly estimate how long it will take me buy something or get service, I can adjust my patience accordingly. With staff randomly scattered around the store I’m not able to easily determine how many staff are engaged with a customer, how many are free and how many customers are waiting on a giving staff member – i.e. I don’t have enough information to calculate how much time to expect to be spending in the store. Queues also make it very easy to distinguish between customers waiting on service and customer who are just browsing or staring into space. When informal queues form around a given staff member it’s impossible to tell who’s “in line” and who’s not. As I alluded to earlier, this can cause the customer who’s “next” to yell at your wife for not waiting her turn.

The Apple Store is chaos. Whenever I try to get help I feel like a little lost puppy. Maybe that’s how Steve Jobs wants it. If I could have made this purchase online, I would have.

Tips & How To's

7 Tips On How To Talk To Customer Service Reps

I have more experience as a phone jockey than most people would be willing to admit to. I worked as a technical support (and sometimes billing) agent for Comcast High Speed Internet for over 2 years and I worked as a medical survey taker for about a year. Needless to say I have dealt with thousands of people over the phone, both as someone responsible for answering questions and solving problems; and as someone looking for answers to very specific questions, as a surveyor I was confronted by a lot of uncooperative secretaries and administrative assistants. These years of working on the phones have given me a lot of insight on how call centres operate, what needs to be done to get what you want and how people respond to certain lines of questioning. I have assembled some tips to help all you normals whos idea of a good job is not spending hours talking to people on the phone:

  1. Plan Ahead: Take 5 minutes before that call to jot down 3 or 4 distinct points that you need to resolve (if you have more than 4 issues you should probably just quit your service provider). During the call refer to each point separately, don’t move on to the next point until you have a satisfactory resolution to the first one. I usually plan out a flow chart of responses, counter responses and if/else statements in my mind ahead of time, I think this probably has more to do with the way my mind works than anything else. Though it may be helpful to you to try to anticipate what the rep’s response will be to a given question.
  2. Smile, Be Courteous: One of the first things they teach you in CSR training is to always smile, the customer can hear you smiling over the phone. As dumb as it sounds, it actually is true. The same thing holds true as the customer. If you’re too upset to be able to smile, you shouldn’t make the call. Be courteous and respectful, always assume that the rep knows what he or she is talking about – until they prove otherwise – and address them accordingly. If they do prove to be un-knowledgeable or uncooperative skip to #5.
  3. Be Logical: Complaining about the service, becoming angry about your last bill, or otherwise being overly emotioal generally won’t get you anywhere. Front line reps don’t usually have the ability or authority to give you a credit or fix your service just to make you happy and get you off the phone. Try to be logical, logic is hard to argue with. If you are unhappy with the service, have clear examples of what you are unhappy about and why. Ask the rep if they have any way of verifying your quality of service (such as connection logs on a cable modem), or if not what the best way is to report the problems and document them on your account. If you have a billing issue, make sure you understand the billing cycle properly, and clarify the line items you don’t understand, if there is a legitimate billing error, it should be totally obvious and you should not have a problem getting it corrected. Again if the rep is totally illogical or does not seem very knowledgeable about company policy, or if the just can’t do simple math, skip to #5.
  4. Don’t volunteer information: This one is a little counter-intuitive. If you have to call back more than once about an issue, don’t bother referring to the last phone call or volunteering any information – it’s a waste of time. Most companies keep sketchy notes at best, a lot don’t even bother to note your account. Start each call like a new call. An experienced customer service rep will be able to identify what your calling about and how to fix it within the first 30 – 45 seconds of your call – based solely on your choice of words and tone of voice. Talking about the last call usually just confuses the rep and complicates the conversation. If you’re finding yourself calling back about the same issue numerous times, see point #3 and #5.
  5. Escalate: Good call centres have a pool of agents acting as “supervisors” set aside to handle “escalations.” Although in most cases they are not actually supervisors, they are almost always much more experienced, they often have better training, access to more tools than a regular agent and they’ll usually have the authority to more liberaly apply credits to you account.  If you’re getting nowhere in the conversation with the front line rep, ask for a supervisor. Important insider note: Sometimes call centres have policies to discourage escalation. For instance, as an agent working for Comcast, I was not allowed to transfer a caller to a supervisor until they’d ask 3 times. Additionally: If you’re calling about a tech support issue, it may help to ask for a tier 2 tech. Tier 2 support doesn’t seem to be overly common, but it’s worth a shot.
  6. Ask for documentation: If you are ever given information that you have a hard time believing – like a super awesome calling plan or some sort of free kitten promotion – ask for documentation. Get the rep’s name and ask for a ticket number. Even if the rep completely fabricates this information, being able to say “last week so and so told me, she gave me ticket number 1337”  will give you some extra credibility if you ever need to call back about the issue, or verify the details. If you want to be a real jerk, ask the rep to read back the contents of the ticket.
  7. Know when to hang up: Any decent sized company – i.e. any company you might be having trouble communicating with – will have litteraly hundreds, if not thousands of agents taking calls at any given moment. If you’re not getting anywhere with a customer service rep, if you think you might start to yell, just hang up. You’ll probably get someone better when you call back.

If these tips don’t help, seriously consider switching to a different provider. Or quit whining!