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Apple Customer Support Fiasco

I just had the most inexcusably bad experience with Apple Customer Support. So shockingly bad that I can’t even believe it was Apple on the other end of the line.

Let me preface my story by saying that I’ve been a devoted Apple customer since I was in the 5th grade — 17 years ago. In that time I have owned seven Macs (each purchased at full price, brand new and souped up). I wrote a regular column for MacHome Journal when I was in the 8th grade. I wrote a monthly column for MacAddict Magazine when I was in college. I attended MacWorld Expo in NYC in 2000 and 2001 and have watched the WWDC keynote live every year that it’s been aired.

I’ve probably spent upwards of $25,000 with Apple over my lifetime. I think that should make me a pretty damn valuable customer of theirs. But the way I was treated on the phone today proves that I’m not.

This morning I asked the Twitterverse how I could most easily extract an audio file from an mp4 video that I have. The most popular answer was to use QuickTime Pro. Since I don’t already have it installed on my computer, I went to the Apple Store to purchase it. Yes, I could have asked a friend for a registration code or stolen it from somewhere online. But I didn’t. I wanted to pay for it because I love Apple.

As part of the purchase process, I logged into the Apple Store using my Apple ID, which I’ve had for many, many years. It’s my old mac.com email address, which I haven’t logged into in ages and never migrated over to MobileMe (me.com). Mac.com switched over to MobileMe in July 2008

When I submitted my order for QuickTime Pro and the purchase was complete, I was notified that my Registration Code would be emailed to my mac.com email address. Apparently I had missed the option to change this email address to my current one, or it wasn’t there in the first place.

Apple Store Order Details

The Registration Code is not displayed on the Order Details. While I am able to edit my email address on this page, there is no button to resend the Registration Code to that email. The only way to retrieve it would be to get into my mac.com email account. As you can see above, it clearly states in blue that it was “Electronically Delivered.”

I went to Me.com and attempted to log in using my Apple ID (my mac.com email address) and password. I got an error message that reads: “Incorrect member name or password.” While the credentials allowed me to log into the Apple Store, they didn’t allow me to log into Me.com so I was stuck.

I had to run to a meeting this morning so as soon as I got the chance this afternoon, I called Apple Customer Support at 1-800-676-2775. This was the number that is provided at the bottom of my order details.

Here is a detailed account of what took place on that 48-minute and 37-second call.

  1. Customer Support answered my call. I explained the situation above and they transferred me to Quicktime Technical Support.
  2. I explained the situation again and they transferred me to Sales.
  3. I explained the situation again and they transferred me to Online Sales Support.
  4. The gentleman in Online Sales Support seemed to truly understand the situation and wanted to help, and put me on hold while he looked for more information. While on hold, my call was somehow transferred to Customer Support.
  5. I explained to Customer Support that my call had accidentally just been transferred and that I had been on hold waiting for the person in Online Sales Support who was helping me. He asked for my case number, but I hadn’t been given one. I told him that the previous rep had asked for my Mac’s serial number (despite the problem having nothing to do with my Mac). Maybe the incident had been documented on my account. It hadn’t.
  6. I explained the situation again to the gentleman in Customer Support. This was now the fourth time. He told me that only Sales could get me the Registration Code. He put me on hold to transfer me. I checked the call duration on my phone: 21 minutes so far.
  7. He came back at 28 minutes. He introduced me to a lady from Customer Support for Online Purchases, and said she would take care of me.
  8. I explained the situation again to the lady in Customer Support for Online Purchases. She asked for my order number, my billing address, and my full credit card number. Then she put me on hold because she doesn’t “have access to that information.” 33 minutes.
  9. At 36 minutes she came back on the line to let me know that she’s still “trying to locate that key.” She told me that she found a page on the Apple Support website — the customer-facing Apple Support website — that explains how to retrieve a lost QuickTime Pro key: “You can login to the Apple Store with the Apple ID you used to purchase the key and retrieve a copy of the key.” I explained to her again that the Registration Code was not displayed anywhere on my Order Details. I offered to take a screenshot and send it to her. She put me on hold again.
  10. At 42 minutes she came back to tell me that she’s waiting for someone to get back to her who knows where to find the key. I asked her if I was the first person to ever call asking for a Registration Code for a purchase made online. I asked if no one had ever called before because they lost their Registration Code. I asked her why there wasn’t a standard process flow for easily helping someone to retrieve their Registration Code, either by resending it via email or simply telling it to them over the phone. Her only answer: “I don’t have access to that information.”
  11. At 45 minutes she got the response from the person she had contacted: It takes 24 hours to generate a Registration Code. This hadn’t been indicated anywhere in the purchase flow, the order confirmation, or anywhere else on the site. I explained this to her. She repeated that it takes 24 hours to generate a Registration Code.
  12. At 48 minutes and 37 seconds, I hung up.

The guys who were sitting around me at New Work City were as shocked as I was at what had just transpired. Mark Burstiner, who used to work at an Apple store, came over to my desk and told me that I should be to log into Me.com using my mac.com email address. He watched me do it. I saw the error. Then he said that I should go through the Forgot Password flow, so I did. I accurately answered the security questions and I changed the password. Then I went back to the Me.com homepage and tried to log in again. I got the same “Incorrect member name or password” error message. Even he was stunned.

Twelve hours after I purchased QuickTime Pro, I’m still unable to use it. Had I been able to walk into an Apple store and buy it, it would have taken me less time. But the Apple stores don’t even carry it anymore.

I needed to get something done quickly this morning, and my network recommended QuickTime Pro. But Apple has made it impossible for me to get my work done. Had I seen a notice that it takes 24 hours to receive a Registration Code for online purchases, I wouldn’t have bought it. I would have found an alternate solution or asked a friend who already has it to help me do this small task. But Apple doesn’t have the notice displayed anywhere. Instead they led me to believe I could have it instantly.

I’m disappointed in their failure to properly set my expectations, and I’m outraged by their inability to ameliorate the situation. There was no apology. No remorse. No recourse. It was one of the worst customer service fiascoes I’ve ever experienced. And it was with the last company I would have ever expected it from.

Apple has lost my trust. They wouldn’t reciprocate the devotion I’ve given them for 17 years. I don’t know what else to say. Today is a sad day.

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  • http://twitter.com/zeldman Jeffrey Zeldman

    Damn. That's a terrible customer experience on top of bad UX.

    You wouldn't know it, as I never blog about this stuff, but I've actually had one or two rather disappointing experiences with Apple myself.

    One expects bad service with Verizon or Time Warner Cable (or, for that matter, with non-Apple computers). One expects better from Apple. Apple has trained us to expect a considerate experience whether we're using their hardware and software or shopping in their store. When Apple fails, it just hurts. As if your mom suddenly stopped loving you.

    (BTW, speaking of bad UX, the “Discus” comment system here is buggy and frustrating. I can almost never just post a comment here. Something always goes wrong.)

  • http://www.centernetworks.com centernetworks

    was this the audio from the video last week – oh gosh! :(

    sorry to hear your story – and to think we just talked about how important customer service is – i've been saying since i am 15 yrs old that it's the difference.

  • http://twitter.com/zeldman Jeffrey Zeldman

    For instance, while I was writing the preceding comment, the “Post” button disappeared. I had a comment form, but no way to post. I had to copy my comment into a text editor, close the window, go back to the referring page, load this page again, scroll to the bottom, paste my comment into the form field, and hit the Post button.

    And what happened after that? The whole “Discus” environment disappeared.

    When it reappeared, my comment was not visible. The site said there were no comments.

    I then closed the window again, returned to the referring page again, followed the link again, reloaded this page again, and scrolled to the bottom again. Now I could see my comment.

    Loading the same web page four times simply to post a comment and confirm that it has been posted is a bad experience and a waste of time. To someone who doesn't know you, it undercuts your claim to be knowledgeable about user experience.

    I would lose this Discus system — it's just pointless, and it's clearly incompatible with the Macintosh computers you claim to love. (Bad Java app? Or bad Flash app? Whatever.)

    WordPress's default comment system is very good. You don't need this silly Discus thing. It doesn't create a feeling of community. It just creates a feeling of suck.

    (But you are great.)

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog Whitney Hess

      I actually just sent a long letter to Disqus about their usability flaws yesterday. If they don't pull it together I'll switch back to WordPress comments. Sorry it was such a pain for you. That's certainly not the kinds of experiences I want to create here on my site.

      • http://twitter.com/LawrenceH LawrenceH

        Works great in Chrome.

  • http://twitter.com/chrisgeyer Chris Geyer

    Sorry to hear about your troubles with Apple support, that is definitely a shocker. For Quicktime Pro though, there is a new update in Snow Leopard to Quicktime X which as I understood it has a lot of the same features, so if you are upgrading you may be able to just use that.

  • Christopher Fahey

    Shortly after getting my first mac in 14 years, the keyboard broke. I lugged it, and a USB keyboard, to an iPhone conference sponsored by Apple. No less than three real-world, live, in person Apple tech support people walked up to me to help. One of them was the guy in charge of the Apple roadshow itself, a super senior tech support person. They tried everything for me. They even hooked up their own machines and various emergency external drives they had with them to my machine to help diagnose and reinstall various USB and plist file doohickeys. They spent about 3 hours with me, all told, in the lobby of this conference center in midtown Manhattan. I was amazed and fell even more in love with the whole Apple thing — even though ultimately they didn't fix it and I had to get the whole computer replaced!

  • http://twitter.com/breezyskies Brie Anne Demkiw

    This brings up a lot of interesting points about how expectation plays into the customer experience. As Jeffrey pointed out, if this had been with a company you didn't have high expectations for, it still would have been an awful experience, but wouldn't have *seemed* quite so bad (and you wouldn't have felt hurt by the loss of trust). I see it as the opposite of the way Zappos uses your regular / average expectations of online purchases to give you that extra “wow” with overnight shipping and VIP upgrades, etc.

    This particular example is obviously a process issue (a solid process is not in place for retrieving reg codes OR for giving them out in the first place / notifying users of expectations), but how does a great company with a solid reputation for exceptional customer experiences (aka high expectations) solve the outliers? In some cases it won't matter. For example, my favorite brewery, Stone, is exceptional in every way EXCEPT that the food at their bistro is very hit-or-miss (and they change the menu often). Everything else about them is *great*, so even though this is a consistent issue, we let it slide and still eat there because both the atmosphere and beer selection is amazing. In the case of Stone, it doesn't matter to us because they are so good in every other way. In other cases, like your example with Apple, a single bad experience completely changes your view of a company you have a very long-term relationship with.

    Interesting topic and would love to see more posts about service experience (design).

    • Marci Nemtzow

      My newer iPod Touch stopped working about 11 months after I bought it. Because I am in the military and was in the process of moving to Germany, I didn’t call Apple about it until I had had it for 1 year and 20 days. I was told it would cost $79 to repair it, plus various other charges. I was also told that Apple could not ship my iPod Touch to Germany. That left me with unpalatable choices. After a few days, I decided to leave my iPod Touch with a co-worker. I called Apple to give the company the address to ship the box, so that my co-worker could then send it in and act on my behalf. I was then told that the cost of the repair would be $99. I paid for a repair and left the iPod Touch in the U.S. while I went to Germany. Six weeks later, I received an email from Apple informing me that my service order had been cancelled. I have a phone line that allows me to call the U.S. for the cost of monthly service, with no extra charges, but I can’t call Apple’s “toll free” numbers without incurring overseas charges. I can’t find a way to email Apple. I called a Best Buy that used to be local to me, for ideas. The sales representative found a live chat button on an Apple web site, but it was not showing up on my computer. After several long searches, I finally found a web site that asked for suggestions to make Apple a better company. I emailed, informing them of their awful customer service. I included the serial number of my iPod Touch and the repair identification number. I have not heard anything from Apple as a result of this email. Meanwhile, my co-worker in the U.S. still has my iPod Touch, which is essentially an expensive paperweight, and Apple has not sent him a box for him to mail in the iPod.

  • Michaela

    I really feel bad for you and for sure it was an extremely frustrating experience! We expect only perfection from Apple! Now, if I am reading your blog correctly this was your first bad experience in 17 years! Plus we are not talking Apple Products but Customer Service. Ok! They blew it but let's give them a second chance! We are not perfect, why do we continuously ask for perfection?

  • dantekgeek

    Thats awful Wit, but I can't say I'm surprised.

    Apple support might be great in the stores, but on the phone, they use the same type of unthinking idiot all other companies do.

    When I was ordering my PowerBook G4, I kept running into a problem with the online store incorrectly calculating sales-tax. This wouldn't normally be a HUGE problem, except for that the credit card I was using had a limit only about $3 more than what the total would have been with accurately calculated tax. (I was living in an un-incorporated part of a county, but I was being billed the tax for the city nearby, which had I higher tax rate).

    After hours of trying to order online, using different billing and shipping addresses, etc, I was having no luck, so I picked up the phone.

    Round and round and round I went, explaining and re-explaining the problem to the monkeys on the other end. After about an hour and a half of waiting and arguing, I finally got transferred to a sales manager at corporate who was able to help as soon as I explained the situation (he put a $20 credit on my account so the card would go through).

    In both our cases, we weren't only fighting against a broken computer system (wrong tax, inability to re-send registrations), and a broken management system.

    The people on the phone, if by some miracle actually are able to understand a problem, usually aren't empowered enough to actually do anything about it. When companies hire smartly, and empower their employees, things get incredibly better.

  • http://www.usefulusability.com/ Craig Tomlin

    Wow, that is truly a bad customer experience. It's hard to believe Apple wouldn't have a standardized way to deal with your situation easily and quickly. Hopefully someone from Apple will find this and be able to put things right for the next set of customers who have this issue.

    PS – I probably would have hung up well earlier than you did – congrats on the patience!

    :-)

  • http://timmy.vox.com/ Tim in SF

    I had a problem with a quicktime purchase too. My response was to purchase a second key, which I got right away, and then call back and cancel the first key, which was a bit of a hassle but in no way what you went through.

    This stuff is not supposed to be user friendly — It's supposed to be idiot friendly, and lady, you're no idiot. Sorry.

  • labru

    Too bad, that you could have had the total Snow Leopard package with mostly the same QuickTime funcionality for the same money, as of today!! But that doesn't excuse the bad customer support though! Keep the faith (in Apple), lady!

  • http://twitter.com/LawrenceH LawrenceH

    Sounds like two different issues, Apple's failure to smoothly transition users over to me.com and the ridiculous statement that it takes 24 hours to generate a registration key.

    IMHO me.com should have never existed in the first place. Changing your entire online identity just 'cause you were able to snag a cool URL makes sense only if you are a Russian spammer. I thought the whole thing clanged when they announced it and your story shows that it was way worse than just corny, it negatively impacted existing users for marketing purposes.

    I am gunna go out on a limb and say that the 24 hour registration code statement was a bold face lie told by the the support team you were dealing with. There is no way that you should have to wait even five minutes to get a code like that, 24 hours might as well be 4 to 6 weeks.

  • http://twitter.com/ajkandy A.J. Kandy

    Sorry to hear about your issues — I would have recommended you use an application like WireTap Pro or Audio Hijack Pro which can save audio from any running application. The free, open-source Perian library of codecs is also really useful to open odd file formats.

    The migration to me.com was badly handled indeed. Was it necessary to purge the old mac.com database or something? Another part of the disconnect here is that they have no way to identify you as a long-time customer. Frankly, companies *should* treat their most loyal customers a little bit better, and maybe Apple has taken theirs a little too much for granted. (Then again, it's not like we're going to switch to Dell or HP. I visited their sites to comparison-shop for a friend and was frankly laid flat on my back with how absolutely primitive and unusable their sites were)

  • http://twitter.com/dkruythoff Darius Kruythoff

    Told you to use mplayer.
    http://bit.ly/1GTrFi
    I only spend money on stuff I can't do for free.

  • http://twitter.com/drywall Ben Byrne

    I had a similarly miserable experience when Apple shipped my new iMac DOA (blogged here). Apple's saving grace was that shortly afterward I received an email from Apple asking me to rate how my call went. I gave them hell and shortly afterward got a call from someone at Apple who had read my survey response and made it her personal mission to set things right, which she did (blogged here).

  • theredheadsaid

    wow. I'm surprised this is your first experience with the clusterfuck that is Apple customer service (online and phone). If I have any issues whatsoever with an Apple product, I simply Google the problem as Apple support never has the answer. And if I can't find it there, I go into a store. By contrast store employees are amazing. I often wonder how a business can have such rabid fans when the customer service is so across-the-board terrible. I suppose it's because there's no substitute for Apple products out there. I hope you get thigns worked out!!

  • ambrogio

    I had a pretty terrible experience with Apple customer support just after buying my first Mac about 15 mos ago. Multiple calls to support. No way to get email support. Taking it into a distant (closest) Apple store w/ no luck. Shipping it off and finally, to top it all off, they ship it to the wrong COAST of the continental US, which delayed my getting it back for an extra several days.

    But they certainly do have their product design down pat. :)

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  • annemaurer

    That's a terrible experience. Apple should know better. I recently had an experience with my iMac G5. I wanted to upgrade from Tiger to Leopard, but the OS CD got stuck in the drive. When I tried to get it out, nothing worked. I called Apple Support at the 800 number, and was told to bring it to the nearest Apple store (Duh!) as if I couldn't figure that out for myself. So we took it in as something called a “Quick” Drop and left it with the so-called “Genius”. There's nothing quick about a Quick Drop. We were told they would look at it and get back to us in 24 to 48 hours. Those times came and went. Nothing. We were told that the people ahead of us with appointments came first, and that we should have made an online appointment. How can you make an online appointment if your computer doesn't turn on?? (Duh! again) Apple should have an emergency person at each store for exactly that type of problem. They could look at it and at least tell
    you what is involved and approximately how much it would cost. The next time there's a problem with my Mac, I'm taking it to Best Buy. At least they have the
    Geek Squad who look at it right away.

  • http://www.chopstixmedia.com/ Ian Fenn

    If you can access the apple store and your account info, you should be able to go to 'Downloadable Software Purchases' to obtain your key. That's where I found my key. I hope this helps. Ping me on twitter if not.

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog Whitney Hess

      Come on. What do you take me for? Of course I checked there! The key isn't listed.

      • http://www.chopstixmedia.com/ Ian Fenn

        Hey, it's easy to bypass that link as it's not on the drop-down menu you get if you click 'Account'. Plus, your blog post referred to checking only the order details, which is a different link?

        Another thing to check is that you're logged into the right store just in case something funny has happened. My key isn't shown if I log into the main US store, but only if I log into the UK one. There it's shown directly under the listing for 'Quicktime 7 Pro for Mac OS X'.

        If that's not the issue, I wonder if Apple has pulled the sale of Quicktime Pro due to the introduction of Snow Leopard (which has a new Quicktime and no Quicktime Pro) and you got caught up in the transition. Frustrating.

  • http://www.goodusability.co.uk/ David Hamill

    This is a great post. I felt your pain, we've all been there with one company or another.

    This illustrates the point that music and software vendors are not only competing with piracy on price. Very often its a user experience issue. If you make it as easy to do this stuff legally as illegally then you'll find that a lot of people actually want to take the legal approach.

  • http://www.titidirectonline.co.uk/mobile-phones Dual Sim Mobile

    nice

  • http://twitter.com/dailyrev dailyrev

    Apple's an empire now. Same story here, same disappointment and disillusionment.

  • davidinbrasil

    I'm glad you've had good experiences with Apple – it seems a lot of people have. My experiences, however are 180 degrees opposite of yours – I've purchased two Apple products (laptop and iPhone) and have had horrible experiences with them both.

    The laptop (PowerBook G3 Wallstreet) crashed more often than the Wright Bros. It crashed or froze 3 times a day. It would say “you've experienced an error of -3″ or some such cryptic message. I mail ordered this thing and lived in E. TX, so there was no local support at all. I was stupid, I guess, and never thought that Apple would actually help me with this (remember, I had mail ordered it and didn't know anyone else who owned an Apple), so I did not call them about it – I just thought that this is how they work. After putting up with this garbage for 6 months, I shelved the computer, bought an IBM and never looked back.

    After 10 years of muttering bad things about Apple, I decided to try again. I bought an iPhone. Because I now live in Brasil, where iPhones cost >$1000, I purchased a second-hand one thru eBay in the US. It came with a defective battery – it lasts about 30 minutes on a full charge. Now, the fact that I purchased a phone with a bad battery isn't Apple's fault, but the fact that I can't replace the one consumable part in a phone is! $200 later, I have a working phone. It's a big Okeedoke, in my opinion; my friend's Droid works better. PLUS, the iPhone is the one phone that doesn't like to be moved from one place to the next. Every time I update the firmware thru iTunes, it re-locks itself to AT&T. I called Apple's “award winning support” (their phrase) and was told that unlocking it was the only thing I could do, but of course, they couldn't help me do that.

    So, no, I can't imagine ever buying another Apple product again. Sure, a lot of people have good experiences with them,but I'm now 0 for 2 and about $3500 down, and not willing to gamble that I'll be one of the lucky ones this time.

    David Sundin
    davidsundin at yahoodotcom

  • jazstar

    I have been having the same problem as you with not being able to log into me.com and not being able to retrieve my Apple ID because the system is totally flawed. I am going to have to go and sit in the Apple Store while some sales person who just thinks I don't understand computers (I am a web producer) takes me through the whole process and watches the system try and reset my password a million times without actually retrieving the Apple ID. There are other ways to find this Apple ID (although this should be very easy – every other website can manage it), but I've done that and it still doesn't let me log in.

    I am now going to have to try and get a refund for a product I have not been able to use because of such poor UX/site development, which surprises and disappoints me of Apple. And I am very surprised that when then are forums full of people having the same problem, it has not been addressed. Irritatingly, all the comments from Apple tell people to go to the Apple ID forgot page which does not do the job! Perhaps they should actually try what some people are outlining is happening and see for themselves instead of just assuming they are idiots.

  • http://www.upbids.com Upbids

    Ive had a similar experience with apple, but i guess it depends on the customer service rep.

  • http://n/a Brian

    I had the same experience when I had a Mac out of the box not turn on… I had spent 5 hours on the phone with Apple at 1-800-676-2775. I did talk with at least 6 diffrent people and at least 4 different departments. I still have a mac that I took out of the box 3 weeks ago. I finally just emailed my Apple sales person and they are looking into it for me. I give apple product a B grade. I give Apple customer service a big F.

    I give DELL computer customer service an A+

    They love to give you the run around.

    If you want a lot of RED tape to got through then go with Apple Computers.

    I am also sorry you had to deal with it to…

  • Mike

    I’ve been fighting for a week with apple about an ipod that they shipped to the wrong address. I’ve spent more than 8 hours on 6 phone calls and the only result is that they have shipped another ipod to the same wrong address, and charged me again for it. They are incredibly incompetent and pathetic. Like most of you I am a long time mac user with almost 20 years and over 100k spent. Plus my entire company runs on macs. But I am reconsidering after this horrible experience. It has been absolutely the WORST customer service I have ever experienced anywhere without exception. You have my sympathy!

  • Manny

    Don’t give up on Apple, you’ll be sorry in the long run. Think for a second, have you ever messed up? Why wouldn’t you give a company as large as Apple a second chance?
    Buy a PC, see what happens…

  • Katie

    I [knock wood] continue to have excellent service when I’m dealing with the humans at Apple. The me vs mac account problem I have basically given up on solving though. If one more person walks me through the same steps I shall scream. I did call Customer Support on it once and the young woman found my records and told “Oh, my God, you have 4 accounts! How did *that* happen?” She was enquiring of the Universe, not me. Unfortunately, after she’d been on the phone with me for a little more than an hour [and that was her working to straighten it out, not sitting on hold or waiting for someone else] she finally told me that the downloads were tied to the account so if I dropped any of the accounts I was going to lose some access [thank you, obscure DRM requirements] so she suggested I choose one and continue with it and she’d straighten that one out for future, ongoing use. And now there’s Lion….