html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Bad design for a trivial problem.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bad design for a trivial problem.

I left the flood fighting class in a great mood. I love learning well-designed systems. I am delighted by every small detail revealing thought and effort. It should have been a great day, but then I went to the Apple store to get my iPod fixed. Can I tell you that I fucking hate that store, especially the Genius Bar?

Look, I hate gadgets in general, except that I love that my Shuffle sings to me as I ride around town. Her name is Julie. Julie is pretty good, as gadgets go, because she has almost no functions and doesn’t force many choices on me. But I am now on my third Shuffle in nine months; the first one stopped working after just one trip through the washing machine and dryer. The second one just kinda stopped working. She wouldn’t hold a charge once I turned her off. Because I hate gadgets and I hate understanding gadgets, I’ll go through almost any ridiculous work-around to avoid dealing with them. I have been bringing New Julie to work (because obviously my home computer doesn’t have a USB port), charging her for the morning and listening for a while in the afternoon, and then recharging her for the ten minute bike ride home. Once I turn her off, she won’t turn back on, so that was it for the day.

Except that the flood fighting class was right by the far Apple Store. And they gave us an hour-fifteen for lunch! And I thought surely I could replace a clearly broken piece of equipment, still under warranty, in an hour and fifteen minutes. Here’s the thing, fucking Apple Store. I do not want to have to have an appointment with a Genius to get a minor piece of electronics replaced. I want to walk into your store, gesture sadly at the broken thing and have any of your hovering clerks walk into the back and get me a new one. I do not require that your clerk have any specialty knowledge to perform basic customer service. I think that replacing my broken Shuffle is a task unworthy of a Genius. I also question the time spent on diagnosing and repairing the problem in what is to you a five dollar product, but you seem dedicated to your fucking Genius Bar system.

And here is why! Your fucking Genius Bar and profoundly annoying appointment system is really a way to minimize the costs of providing that service to the customer. I can respect that requiring customers who want tech support to make an appointment spreads those customers through the day and optimizes the time of your freaking Geniuses. That is a good system, although not one set up for my benefit. But telling me that no one else in the store has the authority to replace my broken iPod and that my problem cannot be addressed in the hour and fifteen minutes I allotted to it? That I can make an appointment and return another time? That just means that the Apple Store does not want to bear the costs of adequately staffing its stores.

When I am angry like this, a twenty-year-old manager with no real authority needs to hear about it. I explained that the perpetual line at the Genius Bar means that they are understaffed. She said that the Genius Bar was for my benefit, and I tried again to explain that customer service does not require genius. But I was out of time for lunch. I returned after my class was done. It took twenty minutes to get seen by a Genius, time enough for several regular salespeople to solicit me. It took another thirty minutes for the Genius to confirm that New Julie was not holding a charge. In ten more minutes, he gave me New New Julie. Two hours and fifteen minutes, Apple Store. Are you proud of that?

Apple people are always on about innovative design and how Apple is more intuitive and does everything right. I genuinely like the iPod, but that and the Apple Store are the two places I’ve interacted with Apple. Mysteriously broken product and annoying as fuck customer service? I am not more impressed with Apple than I am with any other gadget. I am not more impressed with Apple than I am with the DMV. They will not win converts like this.


Blogger Bob V said...

I recently became an Apple supporter, but I think you're totally right. Apple is good for having neat stuff. They don't necessarily have stuff that will last you forever (or in your case, even a short time). They don't have particularly great customer service either. The Genius Bar system makes terrific sense for the computer business ($1k-$5k products), but it makes no sense for Shuffles. I wonder what costs that Genius incurred in trying to fix your Shuffle. I do understand his trying to charge it, because I would guess that fixes it a sufficient number of times to make it worthwhile.

Anyway, Apple is not a magical mystical company that does everything well. They just happen to put out some sexy products from time to time. And that's the thing. They sell sexy design and usability. Sometimes, they ignore other things. That said, I'm glad I bought my Apple stuff.

8:32 PM  
Blogger poot said...

i just had a similar problem last week. genius schmenius, some problems don't need genius. sometimes i'll forego genius in favour of "plays well with others" or "is a good listener".

11:23 PM  
Anonymous justus said...

You sound like someone who has never worked in support. I think it was the first Dilbert book that Scott Adams wrote where he says that everyone is stupid. Not just people who watch NASCAR or buy Apple products, but everyone. He related a tale where his cell phone stopped working and he went into the store full of righteous fury. It took the store person 30 seconds to diagnose the problem: he had put the batteries in backwards.

The company I work for has a 5 year warranty on our products. When something gets sent back under warranty we replace it no questions asked but we also run extensive diagnostics on it to help us find and avoid future problems in our design or manufacturing processes. Over 50% of returns are "NFF" -- No Fault Found.

I wouldn't be surprised if Apple has similar rates and at my company figuring out how to reduce NFF warranty returns is a huge project (I'd estimate at least $10 million a year). One recent report put the cost of an iPod Nano at $90.18 in materials and $8 to assemble for a profit margin of 50% before marketing and distribution takes their cut. That's pretty damn good but it means a single NFF warranty return has destroyed all profit from that customer.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

I've never worked in support. I have worked retail. I had a strong suspicion that New Julie was too broken to repair on the spot, but in person I was entirely civil to the Genius clerk checking her out. With your scenario, it makes perfect sense for them to have clerks do the obvious, wipe every iPod and reinstall the software. I wish those clerks weren't a bottleneck, though.

Really? The materials and assembly for a Nano come to $100? You're a usually reliable source, but that doesn't square with my notions of the costs of electronics. Am I wildly off?

9:42 AM  
Anonymous shannon said...

Wow, at least they replaced your shuffle on the spot. I took my mother's broken ipod to an apple store where all they did was confirm that it was indeed broken. They then refered me to their website and told me that I could submit a repair request there. I suggested that they could send it back to apple for me, seems reasonable no?, so that I could avoid the hassle and time of waiting for Apple to mail me the special apple packaging materials, but they said they were incapable. My impression: spend $400 on an ipod, ipod craps out 15 days later, get worthless customer service, and have to wait 2 weeks to have your ipod fixed. GO APPLE!!

10:55 AM  
Anonymous justus said...

The materials and assembly for a Nano come to $100? You're a usually reliable source, but that doesn't square with my notions of the costs of electronics. Am I wildly off?

That was the for the first generation Nano. The biggest single cost was the flash which was around $55. Flash costs have come down so Apple is making more of a profit with the second generation Nano.

Profit margins vary a lot in electronics. In the consumer space, some things have razor thin margins, others have huge margins. A 50% profit margin is pretty big for most electronics these days.

11:01 AM  
Anonymous ed said...

Meg- even I've been using Apple products for years, I've always been much more impressed with the concept of the Genius bar than the execution. I don't think they've ever actually *fixed* anything for me, but they are awfully consistent at confirming that things are broken (which I already knew). The ones I particularly dislike are those who develop a bit of an attitude of superiority (probably arising from the fact that people are calling them geniuses all day long), when they are just snotty-nosed little undergrads who can't solve my problem anyway. I think they are very good at solving the easy questions (i.e. it doesn't work because you didn't turn it on) and not so good at dealing with the more complicated problems.

That being said, I still go to the Genius Bar when I need to, and I vastly prefer it to the service calls to India that I have to deal with when I have to work on my mom's computer.

Besides...the Genius Bar guys were dumb enough to give to a new Shuffle after you sent the first one through the wash. Suckers!!!

2:50 PM  
Blogger Dubin said...

They all suck, everybody's customer service sucks, it's the end of the world, I tell you! I almost killed myself the other day in the Sprint store.

3:30 PM  
Blogger LucasBoden said...

I am so thankful that you blogged this experience because I actually thought I was going insane to be angry about my experience today.

I drove to the Apple Store today to get a broken shuffle fixed/replaced and they told me to make a reservation and come back in 2 hours. I didn't make a scene, but just questioned the policy and one of the pretentious apple lemmings actually had the nerve to say "wait your turn like everyone else or just buy a new one" Oh the insanity.

4:30 PM  

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