Charlie must love his job (Exceptional Customer Service, Apple Computer)

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Charlie must love his job.

I got to speak to Charlie yesterday afternoon when I called Apple Customer Relations, but I’d better back up and tell you why I was calling Apple Customer Relations.

My company bought a PowerMac G5 Dual 2.5GHz for me 3-1/2 years ago. Until Monday, it had worked flawlessly, allowing me to do everything one might expect in a normal office environment, and even some things that are abnormal, such as running engineering design applications in VirtualPC. I loved having a Mac on my desk, as it gave me a certain amount of joy knowing that I was bucking the system a bit and not costing my company the $250/month that it used to pay to keep a PC on my desk. It was a Good Thing.

But now my Good Thing had a problem. After a software update on Monday, it decided that it wouldn’t reboot. I got a black screen. No video. The fans were acting funny. Rebooting seemed to work sometimes, but I had to work really hard to find a pattern of power button tricks that would make it reboot to a normal gray Apple screen. Using the Apple Hardware Tools CD that came with it yielded a cryptic error, “25TH/1/2: CPUA AD7417 AD1”. That didn’t look good.

Eventually, I gave in and decided to take the machine to the Apple Store for a Genius to look it over. I made the appointment for yesterday and hauled the machine off my desk, noting a small puddle of goo on my desktop. Uh, oh. Googling revealed that I probably suffered from a case of “Leaking 2.5GHz G5 CPU Module,” otherwise known as “Expensive Repair-itis.” But one guy… one guy lucked out and they replaced the dual G5 with a quad G5. Maybe I’d luck out.

Anyway, I hauled the machine out to the Apple Store yesterday and ruined a pair of dress pants in doing so, because these darned things are heavy and if you carry them so that they rub your pants as you walk, they’ll wear a hole in your pants faster than you can say “from the car to the Apple Store.” I told the Genius, Wayne, who was very pleasant, that I didn’t think it was a leak because I didn’t see a massive puddle, but I wasn’t sure. He opened it up and… puddle. After typing stuff into the computer, he said it’s a $916.25 repair. (A proposal: for amounts over $100, can we ignore the cents, please? Just round up and give it to the state treasury.) I told him that my boss wouldn’t spring for that, especially since an Intel mini was considerably less, so I hauled it back out of the store (further wearing a hole into the pants, by the way).

I related my story to my boss and he agreed, it was too much: the Mac… is dead. But I told him that I’d try calling Apple anyway and see what happened. And that’s how I happened to speak to Charlie.

I called Apple’s main number and asked the operator to speak to someone in corporate Customer Relations. She connected me to Charlie who was very pleasant, offered his sincere-sounding apologies on behalf of Apple, and I explained my story, pleasantly and with no hint of animosity in my voice. I also put it in bottom-line form: I simply would like for Apple to work with me to repair this Mac, hopefully at no cost to my company, because I really didn’t want to go begging for a repair or for another Mac. (I would likely get a Dell with Winblows on it if I did.)

“We want your experience with Apple to be a positive one,” he said, “so I’ll do everything I can to see that that’s what happens. But I don’t make any guarantees.” Charlie said he’d have to do some research and get back to me. I fully expected the conversation to end there, but he said that if I didn’t mind holding for 3-5 minutes, he’d get back to me and let me know what Apple might be able to do. Did I mind holding? No way! He even told me that if I had to hang up because I was at work and needed to answer another call, he’d call me back right away. Wow. I even believed him when he said it, too.

But 3.5 minutes later, he was back on the line. “Bill, I’ve got some bad news.”

“OK.” (Rats.)

“We don’t make that model PowerMac anymore.” (OK, knew that… oh, well.) “And, in fact, we don’t make those parts anymore, either.” (Sensible decision on Apple’s part, certainly.) “Would it be OK if we sent you a new computer? Would that make your experience with Apple positive?”

Ukkk… errrr… ummm… “Um, yes?”

“OK, then that’s what we’ll do. Now, I have to do some checking to see what we can replace it with. We like to replace ‘like for like,’ you see.”

Still in shock… “Errr, OK.” (OK, an Intel mini would be just fine here, Charlie.)

“Hmmm. How does a Mac Pro with dual quad-core Intel Xeons sound? Your old machine has a dual PC G5. This one will be a lot faster. And your old one has only 1GB of RAM. This one will have 2GB of RAM. Your old one had a 160GB drive, this one will have a 320GB drive. And it will be brand new, with a full one-year warranty, and it’s not a refurbished machine or anything. Is that OK with you?”

“Um, good grief, yes!” This is why I love to have a few shares of APPL in my portfolio! This is why I love to recommend Macs to people! This is why I like owning a widget!

We went through the details of the exchange process and the total cost to me and my company… $0. OK, so it cost them two of my hours to get this done, but $200 for a heckuva upgrade in processing power…? That’s a great investment.

“Now Bill, since this new machine has the new Intel processors in it, some of your old software might not be compatible. What software are you using?”

(No… he’s not going to do what I think he’s going to do…)

“Well, those versions of (the products) are incompatible with the new machine, so we’ll include the new versions of (the products) in this.”

(The cost to Apple just went up around $500, and I’m awestruck.)

“What kind of monitor are you using?”

(You have got to be kidding me.)

“I’ll have to check with a product specialist to make sure that the right cable is included to connect that monitor and that it’s compatible, so let me get back to you on that one.

“Now, is there anything else I can do to make sure your experience with Apple was a positive one?”

I was at a loss for words. After reading absolute horror stories on sites like—though very, very few about Apple—I was sure I was going to be stuck with the bill for the repair. But here I was, walking out of the transaction with $3500 of new computer hardware and software, all because Apple wanted to make a customer happy.

I asked Charlie one more thing: Can I tell people about this, or is this some kind of secret? “Oh, absolutely! Tell anybody you like!”

And that’s just what I’ve done. Granted, I’ve told the people in my office who are mostly Linuxheads and aren’t likely to rush out and buy a Mac on my story (with the exception of one guy who will change his recommendation to his daughter and his girlfriend). But perhaps when they’re considering a computer for a relative, or maybe for home, or something like that, just maybe they’ll stop in at the Apple Store and see what the talk is all about.

Apple, after all, isn’t about marketshare, it’s about mindshare, and stories like mine are exactly what it takes to get mindshare.

Charlie did a great job of getting Apple some more mindshare, and in the process, made one customer very, very happy.

He must love his job.

(Full disclosure: We have an insignificant number of shares in APPL, but after this experience, I wonder just how the hell they have appreciated at all. You don’t make money by giving away computers, do you?!)


Jennifer said:

Wow! I think I need to make a phone call. Man I hope I get Charlie.

Bill said:

Lemme' know how things turn out. I get the feeling that Charlie is one of many who are tasked with making things better.

Bill Eccles said:

Any word...? How'd you make out?