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Apple and the importance of customer service

Sales, gimmicks, ads, all pale to insignificance compared to how they treat you, the customer, in the days, weeks, months, and years following your purchase. It's something that needs to be considered part of the overall value and as part of the overall decision. Brian X. Chen, writing for the New York Times:

Product reviews are broken. They are great at telling you about the speed of a computer or the brightness of a screen. But there's a big gaping hole in evaluations of most products, from phones to computers to televisions.The product evaluations neglect to mention the quality of a company's customer service, which becomes the most important factor of all when problems or questions related to the product come up.I learned this lesson from a bizarre experience with a Samsung oven that I bought last year. This was no impulse purchase — I researched brands and appliances for days. But even that didn't help.

Chen contrasts this with the renowned customer support offered by Apple and Amazon. That's been my experience as well.

I've told the story before: When my iPhone 4s was hit by fireworks on New Years Eve, the screen ended up feeling like sandpaper. I took it to the Apple Store, and a Genius I'd never met before swapped it out free of charge. An iCloud restore and 30 minutes later, I walked out with what was essentially my phone made new again. Then I walked over to the carrier store and saw the rep telling a customer his non-Apple phone would need to be sent away for repair, it would take a couple weeks, and there were no loaner phones available.

This was back in the days before AppleCare+, and I'm now pretty sure it was replaced because Apple wanted to capture it and figure out what the fireworks had done to the screen. It was a unique situation. Today, though, I'd just pay the AppleCare+ free and get it fixed, at least twice if necessary. That removes a lot of stress from my life.

I, like many others I'm sure, have been driven apoplectic by problems getting non-Apple laptops serviced in the past, which is why I stick to MacBooks now. I've had several neighbors and friends-of-friend who suffered through problems with non-Apple tablets and phones as well. Many of them come to realize it's a cost, just like any other.

That's why, for years now, we've included Apple Store access, AppleCare service, iCloud restore, and other customer centric services as part of our reviews. Because it really does matter.

Rene Ritchie
Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

21 Comments
  • I'd add that the retailer is just as a important as the product. For example; Costco, as they will take a return from as far back as 10 years ago. Another point; take an Apple phone to AT&T for repair, and they will tell you it takes weeks for a replacement.
  • Or in my experience, AT&T will just send you to Apple. Which was OK for me because there was an Apple Store around the corner. But turning your customer away when they bought the device from your store with an "it is not our problem" attitude is not good business.
  • Exactly. Ever since I switched from Windows and the Palm Pre to go all-in with Apple in 2011, I couldn't be happier with Apple's customer service! People bitch and moan about problems here and there with a particular product or service as if a competitor is therefore a better choice, but they don't take the context into account: you're total Apple experience across all products and services, i.e., the ecosystem and that amazing customer service! But, of course, we'll likely see the Apple-bashers and Rene-bashers here sometime soon.....wait for it....
  • The one place where Apple support stumbles is in that of paid support contracts - if you are an organization willing to pay, you get get support from some PC manufacturers that far exceeds what Apple offers at any price. That said, what Apple offers for a single consumer is fantastic. It is too bad the "Apple Genius" ad campaign was so ham-fisted, because their level of in-store support, not the expertise of any particular "Genius" him/herself, is arguably Apple's strongest consumer-level differentiator.
  • In every small company I have work for I have been the person who brings the Apple Macintosh desktop in to the organization in a significant way. I have to say that I generally agree with what I believe your point is, namely, that large support contracts with Apple have never been satisfactory to me-they are not bad, but I find that the knowledge required for higher level support, say, XSAN support, was really not worth the money. However, the way that I have always been treated with support contracts or personal support for personal Apple items has always been very good, even if the technical support was lacking in terms of expertise. Over the last 18 months I have purchased three new Mac Pros for myself and colleagues and the service contracts that we have had have been very good with very excellent and knowledgeable technical support when required.
  • "Sales, gimmicks, ads, all pale to insignificance compared to how they treat you," This need to be repeated.
  • I had a remarkable experience at our Apple Store a little while back. While I was talking to a salesgirl about cases, my wife went over to look at the new 5K iMac. My wife came back and announced "I'm leaving you." What she meant was that she was enamored with that big retina screen. I decided to take it literally. I told the salesgirl, "It appears I need a new wife, and you'll do perfectly." The salesgirl then started to do a little presentation about how my wife is really the best model for me, that her operating system is mature and all the bugs worked out while her own operating system still has a lot of bugs (she was young and very cute). She went on and on, in computer-related terms, why upgrading to a different model at this time was not in my best interests and my wife is indeed my perfect choice. That is always my experience with the Apple Store, and what I observe of other people's interactions there. They do not try to up-sell you unless what you tell them you intend to do does not match the capabilities of what you think you want. They have tried to down-sell me when they suspected I was intending to buy something inappropriate to what I had communicated I needed. They care and want you to be happy with your purchase. It is very important that they don't sell on commission and don't care whether you just want to browse or intend to go home and order online. They just want you to be happy with your purchase if you do get something. In this day and age I find that remarkable and the way all businesses should operate.
  • I had a painful experience this week. Last Friday I went for a jog in my ridiculously light shorts without zip pockets. I usually carry my phone in my hand or it's zipped up tight, but I ran to catch a walking light and my 6 Plus fell out of my pocket and the screen got smashed. First broken screen ever! Anyway, I live in China and the closest Apple Store is in Shenzhen. I couldn't book a Genius Bar appointment so I embarked on the two hour trip hoping that someone might be able to help me. I spoke with a genius, his supervisor and finally the store manager. The manager didn't really want to help me. He said they couldn't fix my screen due to a problem with their tech hardware, so I would need to pay equivalent of USD $329 plus tax for a replacement. Non-Apple store service in China is painful, with service centres quoting 2 to 4 weeks turnaround, so I though the Apple Store was my best bet. After a while, the manager asked for my phone and walked off with it and headed towards a table with two other colleagues. When he came back he said, well I was about to authorise a replacement of the phone at the display replacement price, but unfortunately your phone is bent, so you will have to pay the full $329 plus tax equivalent price. He said the bend is my fault. Now, I don't think I bent my phone - but maybe is became slightly bent in my pocket due to the screen breaking and what I imagine might be a compromise of its structural integrity. Anyway, I couldn't really see the bend, but the manager said he had verified it and the screen replacement was now impossible. I asked him to meet me half way between the regular cost of a display replacement and the cost of the full replacement, but he wouldn't budge. I felt totally responsible for the screen, but uncomfortable about the almost unnoticeable bend. I left the store after two hours completely disgruntled. When I got home I took some pics of my phone and started up a chat with Apple Support in the USA. They were great and amazed by my story. They setup a case for me and helped me to make an official complaint against the store. They also added some notes to my case because I said I will go to Hong Kong and the Apple Store in Central is always so busy and impossible to get a Genius Bar appointment. So yesterday I took a long day trip to Hong Kong and arrived around 12:30. The guys were so helpful and said they could fit me in at 3:30. I went back and the Genius said they will try to replace my display for $129 USD equivalent, but if they can't replace it, they will still only charge me $129 for a full phone replacement. They also said if the screen replacement works, but if I'm not comfortable after checking it, I can opt to pay the $329 to get a full replacement phone. Anyway, the screen replacement was fine, and it only took an hour. They said the bend was within 1mm so it really wasn't a problem for the display, plus I don't really notice it. I went home happy, because they were fair and offered an acceptable solution. But this variance in service attitude between the two company stores is something I'm sure Apple would be concerned about. I usually shop in Hong Kong, but I will never go to the Shenzhen store again. I'm going to buy Apple Care Plus from now on! Sent from the iMore App
  • Agree 100%. My iPhone 5 lightening port stopped working a week before the iPhone 6 was going to be announced and the AppleCare+ rep replaced the phone for free and waived the $50 fee. Five days later I had new iPhone 5. Sent from the iMore App
  • Good article Rene! Good customer service stems from good training. Unfortunately, training is usually the first thing that is cut when budgets are tight. In places I have worked, the training is usually "learn as you go". This type of "training" can take a long time to produce any type of tangible result. Additionally, I save seen people hired who are "experts" in the field but have issues with communication. Skills like Microsoft Excel or Word can be taught. I would rather hire someone with better communication skills that I could teach the technical skills to then the other way around. Apple is a great example of hiring based more on personality and teaching the technical skills needed for the job. Helpful tip: There is the role of Expert at Apple stores if you need someone more technical or "seasoned" to answer tougher questions.
  • Apple has been rated #1 by Consumer Reports for their customer service for 14 years straight. That is no mistake. Apple has the best support. If you get an Apple product, you have only one place to go for support for the software and hardware. If you get a other hardware, you may have to go to the hardware manufacturer or the software manufacturer and might get passed back and forth. With Apple it is a one stop shop and they have the nicest most professional tech advisors that work at AppleCare and Apple Retail Stores. Sent from the iMore App
  • Agreed! I believe this is how Apple makes most of their money. Brand loyalty is an amazing thing, and part of the reason people keep coming back is the fact that their customer service is top notch. Making an appointment and getting serviced at the Genius bar at Apple Stores can be a hassle at times, but it sure beats having to pack up and ship your device away to a service center five states over.
  • Another anecdote: my sister accidentally washed her son's iPhone while he was home from college. It was in his pocket, she threw the hoodie in the wash and bam - dead iPhone. She went in to the Apple Store nearly in tears and they just replaced it with no hassles or grief. She wasn't even asking for a free replacement - she was just hoping for a discount or something on a new one. At that point she broke in to tears for real. She wrote letters to every level of Apple support thanking them. Apple did not have to do that. They were under no obligation whatsoever. In fact - I would not even tell anyone to ever expect that type of service - but they did do it. Here is the reality though: Apple ate the $100 or so it might have cost them to make that phone (probably less), but it earned them many new sales. At that point in time my nephew was the only person in their household with an iPhone, and that single gesture right there got that family to switch to iPhones for everyone in their next upgrade cycle. They went from 1 iPhone, 1 windows phone, and three android phones - to 5 iPhones. And have also upgraded them all since. So Apple taking that one time hit earned them at least 8 more sales than Apple would have had! I have had similar good experiences with Apple support (although none quotes as extreme) and they have earned a lot of business from me. My two biggest were my sleep button on my iPhone 5 got occasionally unresponsive. I took it in to Apple (past warranty) and they didn't even hassle me - just said OK and swapped the phone out. Once I had a hard drive in a MacBook fail - still under Apple Care - and there was no hassle, no interrogation - just "we're sorry this happened" and they shipped off the computer and it was back to my home in three days with a new hard drive. As long as they keep up the good customer service, they'll get my business. And right now that includes three iPhone 6, five iPads, one iMac, two AppleTV, one AppleWatch, and several iCloud services including iTunes Match and tons of iTunes digital purchases. That service goes sour and I start to find alternatives slowly but surely...
  • Rene I've given you a hard time lately in some of your recent articles, but this is spot on and I'm grateful you wrote it. More companies need to take notice, and more reviewers need to at least factor this into their "bottom line" when reviewing a product. The post-sale experience is just as important (if not more) as the device or product itself.
  • Way back, my wife's G5 iMac began to give her serious trouble. Turned out the logic board was bad, along with the fan. It was out of warranty and about 6 months past the AppleCare. They replaced the fan, the power supply and the logic board. For free. I truly believe that buying into AppleCare gets you a different kind of service. Probably helped that we had a MacBook and a PowerBook, an iPhone, and like three iPods. Guessing Apple knew that too. Loyalty.
  • At the end of last year when everyone was having their "12 Days of XMas" deals, I needed a phone for my younger son. He has an ipad and he takes the bus to school and he has been using my old 4S but he needed something a little more "current", bigger screen etc that he could call his own. I was very reluctant to put down the big bucks needed for a new iPhone (even the refurbished and second phones are very pricey) so I happened to see Microsoft had a tremendous deal on some of their Windows phones. I bought a WinBlu Mobile Windows phone for about $100. Unlocked, dual sim, 5" screen etc. It is a great looking phone with a beautiful screen, and while it is true that there are just not that many Windows Phone apps out there, the OS is excellent, very customizable, very intuitive and all in all, it is a really nice phone and OS. For $100, it is almost disposable.
    Fast forward about 2 months and one morning the phone is totally bricked. Will not turn on. I called the Microsoft store and because it was more than 30 days, they would not take it back at the store, I had to get it repaired at the phone manuf (but it would still be covered under warranty). I called Microsoft and after about an hour on the phone, email chat etc, I was basically told the same thing. Sorry, SOL, talk to the phone manuf.
    I called the phone manuf (WinBlu) and they are based in Florida. While they were very pleasant, they told me I would have to ship the phone back to Florida, and by the way, they don't pay for shipping to or from Canada so I would have to pay for my own shipping each way. They would also not send a replacement in advance so we would have to be without the phone until it is repaired and returned. Short story long, it took almost 2 months for them to turn it around and send it back at my cost for shipping to and from the US. I guess that is 1 situation where the closed Apple software / hardware ecosystem works to the advantage of the consumer. (I do have to say though, that when I play around with my son's phone, I am pretty impressed with the Windows OS. )
  • I definitely have found Apple help service amazing and definitely fast. No wonder why iOS is well popular and has a rabid fan base and consumers. Because of the good customer service Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Today I took up Apple offer for a free personal setup session. I opted for the online session, which I booked two days ahead of time. About 15 minutes before it was due to start, got a reminder message. That took me to the website to prepare for the scheduled start. ... The session started on time, was well organized, and nevertheless, flexible, so that it could be tailored to my needs. As it turned out, I was well ahead of the curve, thank you Serenity and Rene, so we skipped ahead and even covered a few off topic tangental things. My specialist, Kevin Q was personable and well prepared and helped me to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. All and all, it was one the best customer service experience that I have ever experienced, as well as one of the best online learning sessions that I have done too. Apple as really raised the bar high on this, and, I am speaking as Customer service specialist for a large financial services company. Sent from the iMore App
  • I just like to point out that if the device came from a brown/non original shrink wrapped white box then it is EITHER A RETURN/refurbished product even though they said it was "new" it is not. The first incident of a defect of the antenna of the iphone 4 we notified Apple and they gave us a brand new shrink wrapped 4s instead since we just needed to pay a little more for the 4s. Another incident came when my mother's ipad air's magnets kept making noises when closed with the smart cover and they took out a brown box already opened and said " here you go a new ipad air." At that moment I was stoked and very happy but when I got home and looked closer there was some slight scratched on the edge of the 3.5mm port and some debris as well so I knew that this is no way brand new and it was not in shrink wrapped box! But as I checked the warranty status it was purchased a month afo I believe and then a week later I checked again and it showed only 30 days left of warranty.
  • Totally agree with the article! I wish to share my experience with Apple as well. I bought a new MacBook Pro and to my surprise I found the screen broken after I came back from a small vacation, and this was just 10 days after the purchase. I rushed to Apple service centre and was advised that physical damage and liquid damage are not covered under warranty.
    I called Apple customer care and requested them for a free replacement as I had enrolled in MBA program at Indian School of Business and had paid a hefty sum to them. I was out of cash and was in no position to get my screen replaced.
    After a few days I got an email stating that as an exceptional case my screen will be replaced for free by Apple. They considered my request because I am a student.
    I couldn't have imagined such customer service from any vendor in India.
    My trust and faith in Apple product grew many fold after this incident!! Sent from the iMore App
  • I'm not going to go into the very lengthy details but a past experience with Best Buy and a Dell laptop and my sons experience with a Sony Viao laptop left me firmly committed to never buying from those businesses again. I've been treated better at Walmart. If you don't consider customer service and warranty when you spend the hundreds of dollars for these products then you're on a course for disaster.