Last week, I had an experience that few people have in their lives - A visit to an Apple service centre, with a dead iPhone. Not mine. A close friend called me to help when his iPhone 6 did not switch on, after charging. As the phone was within warranty, we were entitled to free service or replacement.
No Genius Bar in India. We went to the nearest Apple centre at F1 Info Solutions, Dadar (West). Contrary to my expectations, this was not an exclusive Apple franchise, and serviced Asus as well as Apple products. It was interesting to see the subtle caste system that exists in the service set up for the two brands.
The list of Apple Engineers was published with pictures and designations eg. Junior Apple Engineer, Customer Service in charge etc. Asus engineers had no such distinctions.
Apple had a designated customer service rep at reception who was clearly senior and better trained. She also had an iMac while the Asus service rep had a floating laptop that kept disappearing inside with a technician.
Customers were given short shrift at the Asus counter, while Apple customers got longer face time with the service reps.
The waiting area was unfortunately common so Apple customers had to be exposed to the usual ruckus, confusion and raised voices that pervade in all Customer Care centers.
We had to wait for around 10 minutes before the rep met us. The process of registering our complaint was smooth but from here onwards the customer service experience began to unravel.
1. She told us there is no policy of giving a temporary substitute or replacement phone.
My comment : We are talking about a 64 GB iPhone 6 valued at above Rs.60,000. A temp replacement would have been a godsend. There are third party phone repair companies that offer this convenience. Apple could even charge for it!
2. She told us that the phone would be checked by Apple and they would decide on a replacement and it would take minimum 2 days before we got any update.
My comment : No online tracking number, no helpline number was given where we could check the live status. Even HTC service did better, giving me a ticket number that I could check online.
3. After 2 days, needless to say, we had heard nothing. Repeated calls to the centre were not picked up. This part of the experience was not different from any of the service centers I have visited - or for that matter, from MTNL or any other government office.
My comment : A customer service center HAS to answer calls. And if you are Apple, then it should be table stakes that this is done. Not answering calls increases the frustration and anxiety level of consumers.
4. On Day 3 morning, my friend visited the center and they still had no update, though it was 72 hours since the phone had been handed in. So we called up the Apple Care Helpline. It was a refreshing experience to get a customer care rep on the line within 3 minutes, and one who was polite, fluent and wanting to help. I use the term 'wanting to help', because practically, she could not help. She had no knowledge of our case, despite receiving the IMEI number, no ability to track where our phone was or get back to us. The best that she could offer, was to give us a reference number, and ask us to call her from the service center. She promised to speak to the service centre and then give us an answer
My comment : There seems to be a huge gap in communication if the service centre claimed that Apple needed to decide what to do with our phone, but Apple had no knowledge of it, and needed to speak to the service centre. Who really has the authority to replace the phone here? Apple or the service centre? And why were we not told that?
5. My friend had given my number to the service centre, and on Thursday evening (72 hours after we gave in the phone) I got a missed call from them. Refer to Point 3 - repeated calls were not picked up, so my friend visited again in the evening. The service centre not only had no fresh information, they did not know who had called or why.
My comment : Atrocious customer management, given that Apple does not get thousands of complaints every day unlike other phone manufacturers. If they have a dedicated engineers, then why can't Apple give a dedicated customer care phone number at the service center? We asked for the customer service manager to meet us, but the receptionist refused to let us access him.
6. On Saturday, we went back to the centre. This was our 4th visit. This time, we were told that we are getting a replacement phone. However, she could not say when it would come in. If it came before 4 pm on Saturday, we could collect it the same day. Otherwise, we would need to come back on Monday. She claimed that the shipment had left Bangalore. She told us that the engineer from the service center would call us when the phone came. We showed her the missed call on Thursday and requested her to check. She went inside and came back with - wait for it - our brand new replacement phone. She told us that it had 'just come'. We were too relieved to fight or question. We just took it, signed the necessary papers and left.
My comment : A gap in communication between Apple and the customer service center is OK. But this pales in comparison to the gap between the reception desk and the technicians in the same service centre. Our conclusion (which we cannot prove) is that the service center can independently decide to replace a handset that cannot be repaired, and they even have handset inventory to do so.
The fact that the handset was replaced, with no questions asked, within 4 days. This is a decent time period, by any standard. It appears that Apple set up a system to fast track replacements, by giving the service centre autonomy to go ahead without centralising the process. Yet, it's not about the number of days, but how those 4 days were spent. As customers, we were not made to feel reassured, in the know, or happy that our complaint was being fast tracked. In these 4 days, we felt lost and it seemed no one knew or cared what was the status of our complaint. And that's something no one expects from Apple. Despite getting a new phone in a short period, the whole episode left us with a bad taste in our mouths, and that's a pity. Had they told us definitively upfront ''Come back on Saturday to collect a new phone", we would have felt better!
I am publishing this post, on behalf of my friend, who wants people to know what his experience was like. He is a hardcore Apple fan and he has been a bit shaken by this experience. I think that he may hesitate next time before he buys an Apple product. And that is a shame. I hope someone from the company reads this, and takes it up!