When I got back from Europe my black MacBook wouldn’t boot, it just sat there with a disk icon and a flashing question mark. So I made an appointment at the Apple store in Emeryville to have it looked at.
When I got there, there was no wait, they were calling my name. The repair guy opened the Mac, took out the disk, went into the back room, and came back saying the disk was bad, I’d need a new one. How much? $160. How large? 80GB. I’ve been buying disks lately, I bought a 500GB disk for $150 a few weeks ago, and just bought a 1TB disk for $280. So I knew that $160 for 80GB, even in a portable form factor, was probably a ripoff, but I figured here I am now, I can get the computer working, so I said OK and shrugged it off.
The new disk went in, I signed a form, and was about to leave and asked for the old disk and the clerk said it was his not mine. They were going to send it back to the manufacturer. I figured it would be refurbished and sold cheap to someone in a third world country. Little did I suspect.
He got his supervisor. She insisted that the drive belonged to Apple, even though I had paid an inflated price to buy a new one. She showed me the language on the reverse side of the form I signed. It was even worse than she had said. There was no guarantee that the drive they had just put in my Mac was new! It might have been someone else’s defective drive. I said it was outrageous. I grabbed a copy of the agreement and left.
Now there are a lot of speeches I could give. Here are a few.
1. I buy Macs knowing they’re more expensive, but I expect to be treated better. I drive a BMW for the same reason. Luckily there’s Mercedes, Audi, Lexus, et al to keep BMW customer service in top form (which it has been so far, I’m on my fourth BMW). I always say this — Apple service is outstanding when you buy something, but it falls down, often, when you need it fixed. Not always, but often.
2. There are consumer protection laws that require auto repair shops to offer you the old parts. Why doesn’t that apply to computer repairs? Or maybe it does.
3. Apple prices are ripoffs, but this is an unusually heinous ripoff. To charge such inflated prices for used parts, they should have some shame.
4. They don’t seem to have any fallback when there’s a dissatisfied customer. As an Apple shareholder, I think it would work better if store personnel felt they were guardians of the company’s reputation. Consider for a moment that you are ripping off the customer. What tools can you offer the sales person to make good with the customer? Could you let the customers who object take their drives home? Could you offer a discount coupon on the next purchase, or free premium support for a year? That they let me walk out of the store, a person who spends thousands of dollars with Apple, feeling like I had been abused, says they haven’t got all the glitches out of their retail process.
5. Falling back on the fine print is really lame. I think they should tell you up front, before they do the work, that you’re not getting the old drive back. What if the data on the drive can be recovered? What if there are credit card numbers and other personal information on the drive? Source code? Trade secrets? Does Apple really want to treat their customers privacy so shabbily? For what? Don’t they already make enough money off the $160 price for the new disk? It’s amazing that a company can make it this far, having such special customers, and rarely if ever acknowledging it.
Blogs are one of the few Vendor Relationship Management tools we have that actually work.
Someday we’ll have elaborate information systems that allow a negative customer experience, one with privacy and security implications, to propogate far and wide, quickly. The vendor will feel pressure from customers immediately. Today our ability to influence vendors is very limited. But it isn’t going to stay that way for long.
I note that there’s never any fine-print gotchas when I’m about to make a $3500 purchase from Apple. It’s all smooth sailing. It’s only when my only power is to blog the experience that they hit me with the bad news. So our response has to be to make the blogging experience more powerful. (Interestingly this is where the Edgeio idea might have had some sway, not in selling products to customers, but selling information about vendors to customers (and of course competitors).)
This became part of the discussion in the previous post. I wanted to make sure Doc Searls saw this since he’s been carrying the torch on VRM.