It has always irked me that there has never been any service to speak of upon purchasing a PC computer embellished with Windows. I think the world owes Microsoft and Bill Gates a great deal, and there is so much about Windows that I adore. Vista is a beautiful operating system and I have had good luck running it, in spite of the painful wait for the service pack.
At this point in my life, my computers, and any electronic device that has to sync to them, are my most valued means of productivity. My TV broke — it didn’t get fixed for months. Good riddance! My surround sound went on the fritz, but I still had two speakers out of five that were working, so who cares. But let a computer, BlackBerry, external hard drive, or other piece of prized gadgetry become inoperative, and panic ensues.
The impact of customer service on product choice has become less important as goods become cheaper and more disposable. Computers are certainly one of those items that can be easily and cheaply replaced. However, because of the nature of my data (photography, writing, and years of research data), migrating to a new computer is a burdensome process for me, so I tend to look at computers as long-term keepers. I’ve had the same custom-built, PC desktop for almost five years, along with two rebuilds to keep it up-to-date.
Then I had two very bad computer experiences almost back-to-back. The motherboard fried on both my custom-built ABS desktop and my HP laptop (it was the second time in six months for the HP laptop). ABS had contracted with an outside company to perform the warranty service for my 3-year warranty, and when I called them to get the computer fixed, I found out that company had just gone out of business the night before. Such is my good fortune! So on the day I called ABS, they were swamped with phone calls and complaints, and they offered no support to replace their dissolved service contractor. With my HP laptop, my Comp USA extended "gold" warranty went away when all Michigan Comp USA stores went out of business. So I had two dead computers and no warranty for either one, though I had paid for two extended warranties. No service whatsoever, and everything came to a halt. I found a local guy who does good work, and he now does all of my PC repairs and rebuilds.
I figured I had enough of the drama with PCs, and so I went out and bought a MacBook laptop in July 2008. I spent a considerable amount of money (about $2,000), after paying for the laptop, sales tax, Apple Extended Care, One-on-One training, some software, and a year of Mobile Me. I bought the Mac because I was tired of a lifetime of watching the Windows hourglass twirl before my eyes. In spite of taking good care of my computers, they always developed bizarre software problems after a short period of time that no one could figure out. And since the PC manufacturers — HP, Gateway, Toshiba, etc. — don’t support the software they don’t make, you’re out of luck. And of course, they buy all the parts from other manufacturers — motherboard, hard drive, RAM, video card, etc. — and can’t support those either. They’ll replace those parts when they are under warranty, or when you buy an extended warranty from a company that doesn’t go out of business. My AMD-equipped Hewlett-Packard laptop is the fastest computer I have ever owned, but the lack of reliability is not balanced by a satisfactory follow-up service plan.
So after about five months my MacBook developed the hourglass (or twirling, colorful ball) disease. It got worse and the computer got slower…and slower. I took it to the Genius Bar (Apple’s moniker for tech service) at Partridge Creek Mall, and the tech guy saw that Google Desktop was sucking up a bunch of memory. He thought that might be the problem. He noted that Google Desktop is often a culprit in slowing down computers. He got rid of the program and I took the computer home. No change. Still sloooow. I took it back to the Apple store. This time the tech thought it might be some updates/patches that hadn’t been installed. We installed them and I took the computer home. No change. The third time they kept the computer and replaced the hard drive (and that didn’t do it), and the fourth time the techie said that my running Firefox, with multiple open tabs, was a problem. I don’t remember the exact technical language for the issues with the Firefox browser, as opposed to Safari. But that’s the one explanation I had trouble dealing with. I know Firefox has its issues, but every MacHead I know runs Firefox, with multiple plug-ins, etc. It seemed to me that I should be able to run Firefox without my computer behaving like a Commodore 64. But I refrained from using my beloved Firefox to see if that would clear up the hiccups.
No change. So I took it back — again — and this time I had a Genius Bar techie, a nice, young kid, who had worked with me before on this problem, back when the hard drive was replaced. I gave an oral history of my issues, and he looked up the notes in their system. I simply said, “Do you think maybe it’s time to replace this computer?” I came to believe I had something that is unusual in Mac World — a lemon. A computer that refused to get out of 2nd gear. I was becoming sour on Mac, in general, after several months of non-performance from my pretty, white MacBook.
I love Mac, its software, its creative genius, and the fact that Apple supports everything from the hardware to the software. Any time you have any problem with a Mac, no matter how small or stupid, you can call someone at the store or bring your computer in to work with someone to get it solved. They support everything you left the store with, and they even assist you with any additional browsers or software that you have installed, if they have knowledge of it. They will help you with anything that is within their ability to understand. When you buy a Mac you are never left stranded. Now that’s service. That’s exactly the kind of service my busy and demanding life needs. That’s why I bought a Mac.
Look at Apple’s One-on-One, which costs only $99 per year. You can make appointments at the store to work with MacHeads on specifics that interest you, whether it be the browser, learning shortcuts/special techniques, email, iMovie, iPhoto, Bento database, etc., etc. Now some people, especially the youngsters, have plenty of time to play around all day and weave their way through each and every new program, etc., but I’m just not so fortunate. Now I’m really good at learning anything on my own, however, my overwhelmed schedule in recent years makes One-on-One an ideal, cut-to-the-chase timesaver for me. I got quick-hit tips on iMovie, Spaces, Bento, and other things I didn’t have familiarity with, and from some terrific kids who really know the software.
At the Tennessee farm, July 2009.
So getting back to the Genius Bar, I don’t think the young man took 60 seconds to say, “Is your computer backed up? If so, I can send you off with a new computer within 15 minutes.” Just like that. He knew the frustration I endured, and how long it went on, and he really felt, at that point, that they couldn’t nail down the problem with that computer. It was a mystery, and in the world of technology, I understand that not everything can be perfectly solved. I think they had to try what they thought would solve the problem — giving away new computers to curb customer frustration just cannot be a part of any successful business model. They tried, and appropriately so, and I think that he, as an Apple pro, knew when it was time to quit and make this customer whole again.
So he sent me off with a MacBook Pro to replace my MacBook. It has more memory, a backlit keyboard (which I love), bigger hard drive, better monitor, the new touch pad system, etc. They upgraded me to a better, faster computer, and also gave me Snow Leopard, too. That is how Apple stays so successful and grabs market share — it has unique products like no one else, along with services to offer that no other computer manufacturer can match. This is why I paid twice as much for the MacBook, as opposed to another PC that would bring with it the same troublesome hurdles for a demanding user like me.
Do you think Apple won over this customer with its commitment to first-class customer service? The MacBook Pro is humming along nicely, and I am getting my work done, so yes, Apple will benefit from my continued commitment, my referrals, and from the wide audience that will read this article.
Karen DeCoster [send her mail] is a libertarian accounting/finance professional and writer. She rides a Harley, shoots lots of guns, and buys Boston Legal DVDs. She likes to put in long miles on her hybrid bicycle, lift heavy weights, use the crock-pot, overindulge on Gouda cheese, do primal workouts, play Frisbee, get lost in the woods, and hang out at Bass Pro Shops. She won’t trade in her clunker for cash and it is highly unlikely that she will become a Czar in the Obama administration. She openly advocates resistance to the current regime in power. This is her LewRockwell.com archive and her Mises.org archive. Check out her website.