y confidence in Apple has taken a nose dive this month. They dropped the ball again today, delaying the delivery of my replacement computer two more weeks, without bothering to tell me. It'll be at least two months after I originally placed my order before I get a working computer. Apple has my money. All I have from them so far is the AppleCare protection plan disk and a string of broken promises.
I wrote a post two weeks ago today describing how the new iMac I ordered arrived after a month's wait with a cracked screen. I ordered in October, on the day the new iMacs were announced. After waiting a full month already, getting a computer so badly damaged from the factory was a major disappointment.
When I called Apple to report the damage, I was transferred around between about seven phone-support people in a 90-minute phone call, trying to arrange an expedited replacement. Apple's corps of telephone people are extremely polite (if a little robotic), and every one of them acted as if they had never heard of an out-of-the-box computer with a cracked screen before. They listened with a tone of disbelief as I described how the box the computer came in was totally undamaged. All the packing was intact. Even the protective plastic sheet covering the screen was completely unflawedbut the glass screen itself was shattered.
I suggested that since the packaging was all in pristine shape, the computer appeared to have been broken in the packing process at the factory, not in transit. All of the Apple support staff assured me that this sort of thing simply never happens. By the fourth time I heard that, I began to wonder if underneath the polite veneer Apple's support staff were insinuating that I had somehow caused the damage myself. I offered to send photographs, but they said don't bother.
It turned out they weren't being entirely truthful with me.
In pleading with Apple to put my replacement computer on the fast track, I naturally expressed some frustration that it had already been nearly a month since I ordered the computer. The thought of waiting another month for a replacement was distasteful, and I wondered if I should just cancel the whole thing and order again at a more convenient time (rather than tie my money up for two months with no computer to show for it, and then be forced to take delivery on a new computer at the peak of the holiday rush). But two or three of the people I talked to sounded very empathetic and assured me that replacement computers are treated very differently; I would be "put at the head of the line," and the computer would be shipped priority delivery immediately by Fedex. I should have it in a week, two at the very outside.
That delighted me. What terrific customer service, I thought. "A week" would have been two days before Thanksgivinga perfect time to set up a new computer, while watching football. But frankly I thought "a week" sounded too good to be true, so I really wasn't surprised when I looked at the online Apple Store the following morning to check the status of my order and discovered that my order wouldn't ship until December 1. I didn't call Apple to complain about the delay, but it was hard not to be slightly irritated. The new ship date set my delivery date back by ten days. I would have to wait more than twice as long as two customer-service reps had told me to expect.
December 1 in Shanghai is November 30 in Los Angeles, so I checked my order status when I got up yesterday. "IMAC 27"/4850-512MB Not Yet Shipped," it said, but underneath it still read, "Ships: Dec 1." No problem, I thought. That means it'll ship this afternoon.
But when I got home yesterday afternoon and checked my order status again, the ship-date had quietly been changed to "December 14." I had received no e-mail notification, and no explanation was given for the delay.
Naturally, I called Apple support to see what had happened. The first person I talked to tried to tell me the ship date had always been December 14. Even when I told her the whole story in detail, she didn't seem to digest any of the salient points. When I finished, she said, "Sir, I'm looking at your order on screen now, and it still says it's shipping on the 14th. It hasn't been delayed." I'd been on the phone with her more than 20 minutes already, and she clearly hadn't grasped why I was calling. I was scheduled to do a radio interview in 10 minutes, so I politely excused myself and said I would call back again later.
After the radio interview, I called Apple support again. On my second call, I spoke with a different agent. He understood my complaint after only two explanations, but he said he had no information about why my order was delayed. There was nothing he could do to speed it up. He could credit me for the discount Apple offered on Black-Friday sales of these computers. Or if I preferred, I could cancel the order and he would give me a full refund.
"No," I answered. "First I'd like to talk to a supervisor or someone else who can get an answer to my actual questions about the reasons for the long delay. I don't mind being put on hold. I'll be patient."
Thus this second call lasted more than two hours. I was on hold for at least two-thirds of that time, and the customer-service rep dutifully picked up the phone every three minutes, each time intoning robotically, "Mr. Johnson, I do apologize for the delay, but my supervisor is still working on another case, and it will be a few more minutes. Are you sure you want to keep holding?"
I was determined to outlast the annoyingly hip background music on Apple's phone system, but I ultimately failed to keep that resolution. The customer-service rep kept trying everything he could think of to get me off the phoneoffering to have the supervisor call me when she finished the other case; assuring me repeatedly that there was really nothing he or anyone else could do to speed up my order; and one or two times practically begging me to cancel my order and accept a full refund.
I told him I might very well cancel the order, but first I wanted to talk to someone who could answer my questions about the reasons for the delays. I also wanted a straight answer to the question of whether I can reasonably expect that a working computer will be shipped to me sometime before Christmas. After all, I ordered this thing October 20. I ought to be at the head of the line already. And no one had offered me a single word of explanation yet. Expecting me to be happy with robotic apologies and a new delivery date (whichif metwill get the computer to me less than a week before Christmas) didn't seem like very good customer service to me. It still doesn't.
He told me there are in fact "many other people" awaiting replacements in front of me, and that's why he simply cannot expedite my order in front of theirs.
"But I ordered on the first day the new iMacs became available," I protested. "How can there be so many replacements scheduled ahead of mine? Are you honestly saying there is a full month's worth of defective computers that need to be replaced?"
"I didn't say that," he protested.
"You did say there's a long line of people waiting in front of me, and the ship-date for my replacement is now a full month after I sent the damaged computer back," I reminded him. "What else could that mean? If the problems with the new iMacs are really that severe and widespreadand if the production delays in Apple's Shanghai plant are as bad as it seemsI want to know, so that I can write about it.
"Also," I said, "I was promised an expedited replacement and told I might receive the replacement in a week. So why wasn't I even e-mailed when the shipment was delayedtwice? Is it standard procedure for Apple to change the ship-date like that on a priority order and not notify the customer?"
"We don't send out e-mail notifications for that," he said. "All our ship-dates are estimated times, not guarantees. They are subject to change."
"So you're saying it's Apple's policy not to notify customers when shipments that are supposed to be expedited get delayedeven when the delay is more than two weeks, and comes at the very last minute?"
"I didn't say that," he objected again.
"Then what did you mean when you said you don't notify priority customers when there are two-week shipping delays?" I asked.
That's when he said he had already given me all the information he could, and that no one, including the supervisors, had any more answers for my questions. He was polite. So was I. But it was clear that this was going to be the end of the discussion. This time I didn't ask him to keep me holding for the supervisor. After two hours, it was crystal-clear that no supervisor at Apple had any intention of talking to me yesterday.
The customer-service guy did say he would credit me for the Black-Friday discount plus a little extra, and he told me the supervisor is going to see if there's anything she might do to insure the fastest possible delivery for me.
I'm certainly not holding my breath, and the entire experience leaves me with a very bitter taste in my mouth. When customer service is that bad, mechanical apologies don't cut it, even whenespecially whenyou get thirty of them during a single phone call. I hope this is not a harbinger of things to come at Apple. The decline of Dell began with customer-service issues exactly like this.
If there's a serious problem getting the new iMacs to people in good shape and on time, Apple ought to come out and say so. I could respect that. But I'm not going to be a happy customer if they keep stalling and stonewalling me.