This Apple Store Sign Seems to be a Sign of Apple’s Broader Troubles

I’ve been at the Apple Store a lot recently. Four times in the past six weeks, to be precise. I’ve probably also spent at least 10 or 12 hours on the phone with AppleCare, including three or four hours Monday (on a holiday)… and I still have a 6-month old MacBook Pro that is crashing and rebooting all the time. It’s useless.

So, I might not be blogging the rest of the week, as I am traveling and don’t have a good backup computer (my home office iMac doesn’t travel well, ha ha). Being my own boss means not having an IT department and owning (and paying a premium for) Macs has been troublefree… until now.

Windows has the infamous “blue screen of death.” I learned that Mac has an equivalent (in stylish Steve Jobs-turtleneck black). Rest In Peace, Steve. As it’s become cliche to say, the company hasn’t been the same since he passed).

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During these repair and troubleshooting attempts, Apple seems more like they are trying random things instead of having a systematic approach to finding a root cause.

After the first Apple Store visit, they replaced the logic board (which meant them having my machine for a week).

A second visit to the Apple Store led to them reseating the video cable internally (which they did while I waited). That was an attempt to solve the weird display distortion problems that I had before the system started rebooting (and then refusing to boot).

The last two visits to the store focused on running diagnostics and reinstalling the operating system (something I have done four times in different ways). We’ve done a totally clean install of the OS to try to rule out software issues and it still crashes.

The Sign That’s a Bad Sign

The last two times I was at the Apple Store in area, I noticed something that seemed off. These visits were just over a week apart.

One of the two big beautiful glass doors had a ratty looking paper sign on it:

Again, that sign has been there for over a week. It normally isn’t there, of course.

Is the door broken? Are they incapable of getting it fixed? Are they trying to save on air conditioning? It hasn’t been that hot in Texas this year. I should have asked somebody.

That sign is such an inelegant, non-Apple bit of ugliness on a beautifully-designed store.

Apple can’t figure out how to fix my laptop. They can’t even figure out how to fix a door (or create a proper sign). It’s a sign that Apple isn’t the same company it used to be?

This laptop cost just under $2000 in November, 2016, including Apple”Care” and tax. I’ve never had such a bad experience with an Apple product before. If they hadn’t set such high expectations in the past, I might not be as disappointed now.

I’ve begged and pleaded with them to just replace the hardware, but they refuse. People in the stores and on the phone say they’d want to, but can’t… due to corporate policy. I’ve had it in to the store four times, but they only count “one repair” because it was only kept from me for a week one time… which seems like a very non-customer-friendly way to count such things.

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When “Customer Relations” Makes Things Worse

I read online that Apple CEO Tim “Not Steve Jobs” Cook reads hundreds of customer emails each day and that can help get issues resolved. So, I wrote a very professional email to Cook. I tried to make the case that not replacing my laptop was wasting a ton of Apple time, in addition to my own. I tried playing the “what’s the lifetime value of a customer who has bought six Macs in 10 years, along with many iPhones and iPads?” card in case that would help.

Yesterday, after that fourth trip to the Apple Store, I got a call from an executive customer relations staff member who wanted to talk. She called and left a message while I was on a conference call with a client. I was pleasantly surprised and that got my hopes up.

She gave me the same story about “wanting to help” and “taking ownership” of the situation. But, no they wouldn’t replace my laptop.

As I told her, the phone call made me MORE upset. If they had just ignored my email, that would have been fine. I can’t understand why they would take the time to call only to say they can’t do anything other than getting me on the phone with another AppleCare support person who, guess what, wanted to run more diagnostics.

The customer relations person said, “We have to rule out that it’s not a software issue.”

Um, what have they been doing all this time? It seemed, to me, that we ruled out software when a totally clean MacOS install still caused the system to crash. They replaced the logic board without ruling out a software problem.

She actually had the nerve to say, “We’d hate to have you get new hardware only to have the same problem once you restore your Time Machine backup.” Um, I hate having a totally bricked, non-functioning laptop. Thanks for saving me the hassle of getting a new computer that doesn’t work. I’m willing to take the risk of trying new hardware… is Apple being stubborn or cheap?

I can’t tell.

Last year, my wife and I had to get a new dishwasher for the house we bought. The KitchenAid model, which cost nearly as much as the MacBook Pro, had a problem where it would stop in the middle of its cycle. After one repair attempt, it wasn’t better. So, the retailer and KitchenAid came and just replaced it. I’m guessing they considered that multiple repair trips and customer dissatisfaction were too expensive. They did the right thing by us and I’m happy, even though we had the initial problem. Why won’t Apple do the same, even though the laptop is 6 months old instead of being 6 days old like the dishwasher? Remember, I paid for AppleCare (note to self: AppleCare is pretty worthless),

What To Do?

So, if I don’t blog the rest of the week, that’s why. I’m writing this on an iPad with my iMac’s Bluetooth keyboard, which I brought with me as a backup plan. I don’t like working on the iPad as much as the MacBook Pro.

I’ve been a loyal Apple customer for nine or ten years now. I’m seriously thinking of going back to Windows. I might not like the OS as much, but there is competition for the hardware, at least. Apple seems to be acting like a monopolist who likes using the “middle finger” emoji.

What would you recommend, tech wise? I can go buy a “backup” MacBook Pro and then sell this one when it’s finally repaired. But, I refuse to do so out of principle. I feel like Apple has abandoned me, so I refuse to spend any more money with them.

Sorry for the rant. Do you see any parallels to other businesses or situations that you deal with?

Epilogue: I have a working laptop again. See my comment for more about their service recovery efforts.

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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an book titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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18 Comments

  1. John Hunter
    Twitter:
    says

    I agree that sign is more important than many people might think. For a company like Apple that spends likely hundreds of millions of dollars a year on design and conveying a message through that design (in Apple stores, with products, with presentations, with ads…) it is not acceptable. They have held themselves to high standards. When that starts to slip if they are not proactive it slips quickly.

    For a normal business they would be at the mercy of the management company to fix the door and the manager of the store would pass the buck to them. I can say if I were the manager of that store for Apple, if it wasn’t fixed immediately I would have it fixed myself (and then bill the management company). If it couldn’t be fixed immediately I would have a decent sign put there and it would make sure it got fixed very quickly. That isn’t the same action I would take if it were some small shop I was responsible for where I knew we could only afford a cheap place and things like broken doors take a while to be fixed. For an Apple store that is unacceptable.

    My main complaint with Apple is the poor software quality over the last 5 to 10 years. Software quality started to slip and kept slipping and no-one at Apple that had the authority dealt with the decline. The Apple Maps fiasco was a symptom of this long term failure by Apple. Tim Cook responded to that symptom but I don’t see Apple giving software quality nearly the attention it deserves. My MacBook Pro has had numerous software issues for years. I have looked at other hardware and it is very difficult to find hardware of the quality of Mac laptops. My next computer would likely be an Ubuntu laptop if I can find good enough hardware. Another option is installing Ubuntu on the MacBook and just using that most of the time (there are some reasons Mac software can be useful so having it as a fallback is a benefit). But it is sad that Apple has let software quality slide for so long.

    1. Mark Graban
      Twitter:
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      Thanks for your comments, John.

      Maybe I should just go back to Windows since that’s what most of my clients use. I have played with Linux before, but that seems like a hobby, not work grade for what I do.

      Apple Maps is only slightly better. It gives inaccurate directions to my home, but Google Maps and Waze (owned by Google) got updated when I reported the problem. Apple Maps was an arrogance play? It stinks, but you’ll use it because it’s Apple was their view?

      iOS has gotten glitchier, it seems. Two times when AppleCare and then customer relations called, some bug or problem prevented me from using “swipe to answer” to answer the phone. So I missed their calls. If the basic PHONE functionality isn’t working right… ugh. And visual voicemail is slow and glitchy since they added transcription to messages.

      I’m in San Jose. Maybe I should visit the Apple Store at 1 Infinite Loop? I can use my iPhone to make a “Roger & Me” style movie about Tim Cook? :-)

  2. J.Lindsey
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    Mark I feel your pain. That store is my store as well. Immediately after purchasing my most recent MacBook Pro, with the ridiculous touchbar, my backup went pear-shaped and I required assistance. There was no systematic approach to the issue as numerous folks in the line-up made the same exact attempt at a fix in sequence (which I had done at home). It was a poor customer experience and this new machine has no meaningful attributes my 4yo laptop didn’t have. Disappointing. Why pay that premium for quality when quality has sadly left the building? I believe I’m done… have never owned the iPhone simply because I’ve never thought it was the best phone, so my barrier to exit is probably lower.

    I recently purchased my very first PC- previously I’ve owned Macs with virtual machine capability (for Minitab)- and while the Microsoft Surface Studio User Interface is not optimal it does work and I don’t feel like I’ve been outright robbed.

    1. Mark Graban
      Twitter:
      says

      Sorry to hear about your problems. I rushed out to buy this 2015 era MacBook Pro when the new model was announced. The keyboard on that one stinks and USB-C is too far ahead of the curve. They even refuse to have a lightning port for iPhone 7 headphones (and I refuse to get iPhone 7 because I like a headphone jack).

      Apple seems to have lost customer focus on many levels.

      I thought this machine would be an improvement over my 2013 MacBook Air. Other than the Retina screen, it hasn’t turned out that way. So disappointing.

  3. Karen Martin
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    says

    I was at that Apple store last night and the sign was still there. So sorry for your computer woes… there’s nothing more frustrating, especially for people like us with no IT department.

  4. Bob Graban says

    This recalls the time when I took Mark to Atlanta to look at Georgia Tech. It was shortly after the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and the professor was talking about the FBI mistakenly pursuing a security guard, Richard Jewell for the bombing – they eventually caught the real bomber. He then remarked that some institutions are no longer what they used to be, and then asked me, “oh by way, how are things at General Motors?” Ouch! But the point is that institutions and companies can’t live on past glories – look at Sears. What have you done for me lately?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/30/us/30jewell.html

  5. Mark Graban
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    says

    Apple is finally taking some good service recovery steps with me and my “CrashBook Pro” as I’d taken to calling it.

    Because of my email to CEO Tim Cook’s office, an “executive relations” person reached out. She was completely unhelpful and hid behind policy in saying that I hadn’t reached “the threshold” that would get me a replacement. Again, this was after four Genius Bar visits and 10+ hours on the phone with support. Her solution was to run more diagnostics. They had to “rule out” that it was a software problem (which I thought had already been proven not to be a software issue).

    But, the local Apple Store manager reached out because of the Tim Cook email and decided that it WAS right to replace my 6-month old laptop. He was properly sympathetic and apologetic and was working to make sure I’d get a working machine ASAP.

    He even called the store in San Jose (where I am for client work) so I could get that replacement last night.

    The replacement is the newer MacBook Pro (an “upgrade” that I don’t want, for a number of reasons). But I have a working machine.

    Better yet, they are ordering me the exact 2015 MacBook Pro model that I wanted to keep using and they are giving me a RAM upgrade for free (after I had offered to pay for that since they were custom ordering something). When that one arrives to the store, I can choose to keep this one or take that replacement machine.

    So, Apple went from being totally inflexible and unhelpful to being completely flexible and helpful. It restores my faith in them someone, but even broken companies have heroic managers, I guess. But, I appreciate it.

    I didn’t ask about the door sign. I’m curious to see how long it stays up. If it’s still up when I’m back in two weeks to pick up that MacBook Pro, I will ask the manager about it :-)

  6. Mark Graban
    Twitter:
    says

    What don’t I like about the new MacBook Pro version:

    1) The keyboard has very little travel, it’s loud, and it doesn’t feel right
    2) The Touch Bar seems like more of a distraction than anything helpful
    3) The USB-C only design is ridiculously bad for me and how I use a laptop. I’d rather have the machine be thicker and have real USB and HDMI ports (which is why I want the 2015 MacBook Pro replacement)

    I spent some time in the Windows Store (or is it a Microsoft Store?) that was almost right across the hall from the Apple Store in the mall.

    The Windows Store was almost completely empty (but a guy was having fun playing X Box). I stood there for a while near the Surface machines and finally somebody came over. He was very helpful in explaining the differences between Surface Pro, Surface Book, and the Surface Laptop coming soon.

    I’m still wary of Windows, but which company has the most innovative and impressive hardware right now? I’d say it’s clearly Microsoft, by a wide margin. Interesting to see how that has evolved.

    1. Mark Graban
      Twitter:
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      4) Doing away with the MagSafe power adapter is a huge step backward too. I’m clumsy and MagSafe prevents me from my MacBook from hitting the floor.

      1. J.Lindsey
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        says

        I think you will find your new battery life to be inferior as well – I’m sad to say. Like you, I’m waiting for myself or one of my kids pull my laptop off the workspace and onto the floor.

        Apple made another small fortune off me on usb-c adapters just so I can use this thing with any other equipment I already own. (Btw I later found you can get those much cheaper on Amazon)
        It’s made me appreciate all the lovely USB ports (4) on my MS Surface Studio (+Ethernet port, SD card, miniUSB, and headphone jack)

        1. Mark Graban
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          Apple forgot what the MacBook Pro is supposed to be. If you want tiny and no ports, that’s MacBook.

          Thankfully, this one is temporary. The keyboard is something I could get used to. But the ports situaton is ridiculous.

          They ordered me a replacement 2015 MacBook Pro. I will be happier with that. I also have a home dock that fits that version MacBook Pro.

          I can’t believe the inconsistency that Apple had a headphone jack on the MacBook Pro but not the iPhone 7. Do these silos at Apple even talk to each other? Where is the product strategy???

        2. Mark Graban
          Twitter:
          says

          Today at a client, they had no guest wi-fi. I didn’t need internet. But they offered me an Ethernet cable. It would have been hilarious to plug into my Ethernet to USB adapter and then plug that into the USB-C adapter. I should have tried to see if that would work.

          1. julianna
            Twitter:
            says

            I had to buy an Ethernet to USB-C adapter for that very purpose. the multi-adapters have worked for me. the Ethernet to usb-c also has ports for HDMI, SD and microSD, USB. Here are links to a couple of the adapters I purchased on amazon and currently using: http://amzn.to/2s03Leu and http://amzn.to/2sHQhBV

            I hope this is helpful.

            It’s all so incredibly inconvenient (and unsightly with all this adapter nonsense)- and everyone in my house can hear me typing this… unbelievable how loud this keyboard is. Steve Jobs is surely turning-over in his grave.
            Sadly I’m finished with Apple.

            1. Mark Graban
              Twitter:
              says

              I think the keyboard has gotten quieter over time (and I’ve learned I can type more gently). But I still think I’m going give this one up when my replacement 2015 MacBook Pro comes in. Apple is given me the choice… but I still think the older one is better.

      2. John Hunter
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        says

        Eliminating the magsafe and tiny reductions in size while having less than great battery life are the 2 biggest lame moves in the MacBook Pro imo. Small RAM size is also lame. As you say, Air exists for tiny form factor for those that don’t need pro level machine (Air is actually great for the right customers – Pro is much less great for customers that really want Pro level machine).

        The myopic focus on tiny size reductions seems at the core of numerous usability failures by Apple in the last 5 years.

        The touch bar seems questionable (I haven’t used it) and if the keyboard is really lame that might bother me (I have a feeling I am less sensitive to that than others so maybe it will be ok for me. My guess is the usb-c is likely to be a decent tradeoff of short term annoyance for real long term benefit (but I could be wrong on that).

        1. Mark Graban
          Twitter:
          says

          Sure, I can imagine a time when being able to charge on the right side might be marginally helpful, but I’ve been fine without that.

          The real Pro users want more than 16 GB of RAM, which Apple is supposedly going to address in the next version.

          I’ve adjusted better to the keyboard that I thought. It’s loud, though. The Touch Bar is very meh. I turned off some of the features on it… the flashing and changing of it was distracting. It takes more taps to adjust volume than it did with hard keys. Not an improvement. Ironically, that Bar is supposed to make things easier?

  7. Mark Graban
    Twitter:
    says

    To close out the story… I got my replacement MacBook Pro yesterday. For me, the 2015 edition is right machine. Two weeks with the 2016 edition confirmed that.

    The sign was down from the door, too…

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