Its Sunday morning and rather than spending time with my family I am sat here writing about a truly horrible experience at the Apple Store Trafford Centre yesterday. I have used this store in the past for both purchases and repairs to my iMac and in the past the experience has always been mixed, but never this bad.
The first thing you notice when you go into the store is the number of staff who congregate together in groups, like Meerkats stood ideally looking into the wide open expanse of the world awaiting some magical event to remove them from the mundanity of their day. The Meerkat mob does this as a simple act of survival, less they be eaten by a predator, Apple staff in their blue t-shirts seemingly do it to avoid having to provide any real customer service. This assessment is not based on my recent visit alone but from passive observation during pervious visits too. The other thing you notice is the amount of buck passing that goes on, if a customer walks into any other retail store and asks for assistance the likelihood is the person they ask will either assist them or kindly walk them over a person who can assist them. At Apple it is a case of simply pointing in the general direction of a person (stood in one of these groups) who may be able to help you.
Yesterday I went into the store with a specific aim and walked out about over 3 hours later feeling badly let down and de-humanised by it. I did not thankfully spend the whole 3 hours in the store, if I had I think may have been bereft of all sanity. In the last few months I have taken my iMac to the store on two pervious occasions to be repaired for two separate issues. The first time was to replace the DVD drive and the second to replace the LCD panel due to screen burn, on both occasions I would say that the service was mixed, but the problems were dealt with in a timely and satisfactory manner. Special mention has to be given to my second visit (to have the LCD replaced), having got to the store early the person I dealt with took it upon themselves to take my children to take them over to the iPads and let them have a play whilst I waited, this made up for the fact that I had to wait way past my appointment time, a little kindness goes a long way. Having had the LCD replaced my iMac began to develop grey smudge marks in the top left hand corner just days after having a new screen, because the repairs come with a 90 days warranty I contacted Apple and was advised to make an appointment to take my machine in for repairs.
Any warm gooey feeling I may have had for Apple customer service was quickly about to disappear by my visit yesterday. Anyone who is familiar with the position and layout of the Apple store in the Trafford Centre would know it is not the most accessible being located smack bang in the middle of the shopping centre. The nearest car park entrance is next to Selfridges, on a Saturday afternoon the nearest parking you are likely to find is right at other end of car park next to Debenhams, not the longest walk but it can seem like a mile lugging a 27 inch iMac with you. Having just about found parking and dragged myself through shoppers I arrived for my ‘Genius Bar’ appointment approximately 15 minutes late, having waited in the queue for the Genius Bar for a few minutes I spoke to the first member of staff I could find and advised him I had an appointment and I was already 10 minutes (actually was 15) late. He didn’t say much but went and got someone who was supposedly going to help me.
It is at this point that things started to go horribly wrong, the person I spoke to said I was over 10 minutes late (no disputing that) and therefore I could not be seen for my appointment, so I tried to explain the fact I couldn’t find parking and that I had to carry the machine , she didn’t allow me to finish my sentence and basically said that was not her concern (which in reality it may not be) and that if I continued to ‘raise my voice’ she would end the conversation, the fact I wasn’t actually raising my voice seemed to not register with her . To say her attitude from the onset was obstructive would be an understatement, as I was unhappy not only at her tone but the circumstances of having to wait 3 hours to get my machine looked at I continued to put forward my case explaining I had travel over 20 miles to get to the store and it wasn’t easy. The response of the member of staff was shocking, she told me that she travelled a similar distance to work in the store and that it wasn’t too far and it didn’t take that long so she didn’t see why I was complaining about having a wasted journey to the store. The arrogance of that statement alone would only be perpetuated by the rest of the conversation. At this juncture I have to point out that no where in Apple’s communication about booking Genius Bar appointments do Apple state that turning up later than 10 minutes will mean effective cancellation of the appointment, if i had known I would have most likely not bothered even asked to be seen. I accept the fact that turning up late is not a great start but making the 10 minute rule a little more obvious would save so much trouble as I am sure I am not the only one who has had this problem.
In a last ditch effort to try and persuade the member of staff (who later transpired to actually be a store manager) I told her that waiting 3 hours was a little too long because I had my son with me and what was I going to do to entertain him for 3 hours whilst we waited. Granted the Trafford Centre is vast but to spend 3 hours in a souless place like that deosn’t bear thinking about, her response was the same as before, she simply raised her hands in the air and said thats not my concern. Compare this to the little touch of class shown on my pervious visit where my children were given games to play on the iPads and the seating was rearranged for them so they were comfortable. One bad Apple (pun intended) can so easily spoil the whole batch. All through the conversation I kept thinking one thing, why is this person begin so rude and robotic with her answers ?, spouting out training manual rhetoric and not seeing my point of view. The reason became clear when she accused me of undermining her, when she initially said that I thought she was simply using the word out of context, but now knowing she was a manager it becomes clear. Her altercation with me had nothing to do with Apple policy, or the fact I was late it had turned into her not wanting to look weak in front of her staff. The conversation had quickly descended into farce I was faced with the choice of waiting 3 hours or coming back another day. I was so hurt by effectively being made to look stupid in front of other customers, I told her that she could keep the iMac and I was going to walk out of the store ( I was never really going to leave my iMac to her and walk out), I felt it was a good opportunity to not get angry and involved in a heated argument, a few seconds to clear the head are always good. I hadn’t even moved a yard when I turned to get my son that I noticed the member of staff I was dealing with laughing, there is no doubt in my mind that she was doing in a mocking way to further humiliate me. It has to be remembered this was in front of other customers waiting in the ever increasing queue to see the Apple Genius Bar.
When I asked her what she thought she was laughing at, after a prolonged silence , shocked look on her face, going bright red and stuttering over her words she claimed she was not laughing at me but at something someone else had said over the radio. Even if this were the case (which I do not for a minute believe to be ) , the level of unprofessionalism it takes to laugh in the face of an already unhappy customer is staggering. Either Apple’s training is lacking or this particular member of staff sees her self above and beyond the reputation of her employers.
To cut an already long story short I made an appointment to come back 3 hours later, I was told that my only method of complaint was to email the Trafford Centre store, I could not speak to a senior manager or book a time to speak to one. I was later informed that all emails of complaint to the store actually go to a team of people which includes the person I wished to complain about and that I had to trust her to deal with a complaint about herself independently and honestly. Truly shocking!!!!.
When I came for my appointment 3 hours later , the first question I got asked was what can I do for you?, you would think it would have been obvious? So no notes had been made to tell the person dealing with me what the problem was, another shocking faux pas. I was told that the grey smudge marks on my screen were effectively my fault because I had a laser printer (which is never used by the way) in the same room as my iMac which causes environmental impurities which are then sucked into the iMac and cause the problem. I feel this is a cop out but I had no choice but to accept that version (for now) . I found over 80 pages of discussion on this very issue on the apple forums , so so many people being mistreated by Apple over this issue. When I asked why I wasn’t given advice on caring for my screen (i.e. not having a Laser Printer in the same room) when I was either sold the iMac or when it was repaired etc the response was we can’t tell you everything (but you didn’t even tell me anything) and that I should see the website (without pointing me to the correct place on the website I need to see) . I think the case of smudged screens needs further investigation and Apple are failing in the duty of care to consumers by flatly refusing to advise consumers about a known issue with their machines. Even shoes come with care instructions yet Apple simply vaguely point you to “the website” after and not before the event. I have written about the smudged screen issue in a little more detail here
I shall be writing to the Apple media team regarding the atrocious behaviour of this particular member of staff and will update with any response I get. I am reassured , if not a little concerned that it is not only me that seems to have a problem with the Apple store experience if you want to read more stories of woe please read here, here , here ,here and here. All these I found via google within a few minutes.