My Apple 3G iPhone Experience: I'm Pretty Surprised, Pretty Disturbed, and Ultimately Failed

There has been a lot of discussion around the 3G iPhone, and I’ve been leery. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to shift away from my comfort zone with my Blackberry, but I figured it was probably time for a change and time to go through the awkwardness of shifting experiences.

Always learning and all of that.

Obtaining the 3G iPhone wasn’t really that difficult. Wait in line, pay the premium, activate the phone, go home and tinker all day get back to work.

All-in-all, it was pretty painless, pretty fun and my inner geek was giddy as a school girl.

Then, strange things started happening.

The Troubles Begin

Sometime in the first evening of 3G iPhone ownership, things started getting wonky. Things felt different, and applications started acting up. It was frustrating and I was frustrated, but I was willing to suck up some of the blame to my unabashed downloading and installing of nearly every single application I could get my hand on.

I did a full restore of my phone.

A couple of hours later, things were back to awesome. I went to bed.

I woke up, all set to get back to geek, and something strange was afoot.

There was no email in my Inbox. Nothing. Nada. Zip.

Look, I’m not going to pretend I’m uber-popular, but, dammit, I get a lot of email. Something is generally broken when I do not.

I fiddled. I adjusted. I tried things out. I nearly cried. And yes, I even checked the 30-something emails on my laptop before I broke down and called AT&T, knowing this was going to be the equivalent of standing in line for the new roller coaster at Disney. I was screwed, and I knew it, but I wanted this to work.

I talked to my first rep who transferred me to Apple Support faster than you could say “a…”.

30 minutes later, after the 20 minute AT&T queue, I got a rep. I explained the problem (“Not getting email”). I repeated my vital information a few more times and explained my problem again. I was told the network is slow, all new people signing up, etc. Just be patient, Russ.

That sort of seemed like a cop out, so I explained that my wife’s 1st Gen iPhone, right there in my hands, was getting email and we were both existing subscribers. The rep didn’t get it or didn’t care–I’m not sure.

I explained that I felt the person did not understand my question and asked to please be transferred to a supervisor.

<click>

I spent over an hour on the phone to get hung up on, and I was even being a pretty nice guy.

My ear was sweating from the phone and I was parched, but by gosh I got right back on the pony and started the process allllll over again, with a few extra more “punch in your phone numbers” and “what’s your addresses” thrown in for good measure.

As if I was talking to a twin, I got…the same problem all over again.

I explained that I felt the person did not understand my question and asked to please be transferred to a supervisor.

<click>

At least it was only about 30 minutes of my time this time around. Oh, and I had hit the “Take a survey” button before the call, failed the person miserably and asked for a follow-up call, knowing I’d never get one, of course.

Not to be outdone by the hanger-uppers, I called again.

Miraculously, I found a person who could help me–and did!

I went to Settings > General > Reset > Reset Network Settings

A nice, full reset of the phone and within a minute or so, all my email started swirling down to my phone in 3G & wifi goodness.

Of course, I still hadn’t been able to get MobileMe to work, no one would answer the email requests I sent in… I did finally get a response and was asked to reply to that email with information which bounced, as luck would have it. About a week later, I got the MobileMe issue fixed because a rep was kind enough to help me out via the chat help.

Just the Beginning

I was surprised when the same issue happened again a few hours later, but I was armed with the knowledge of how to heal myself, so I did that.

A few hours later I did it again. And again. And again.

Early the following week, I made an appointment for the Genius Bar on Michigan Avenue in Chicago and make a lunch trek to the store.

The only real difficulty I had was that I have an AT&T-purchased phone, so they had to give me a “white box” model, made specifically for these exchanges (hmmm…), instead of a pretty Apple black box.

I’m not that much of a prima donna, so I let it slide, happy to get my iPhone back.

Except that the “Genius” took my screen protector off and got it a little dirty, applied it crooked, etc. They should have just issued me a new pack and let me do it myself, but if I pay $15 for a replacement… eh, phone is back and I’m happy.

On my train commute home from Chicago, a rep from AT&T called me to follow-up from my poor experience that I had.

<insert needle scratching across record sound>

Really.

She was kind and she informed me that if I felt I was having problems getting the people to understand my question and get it answered that I should feel free to ask for a supervisor.

I let her know I had done that.

She instantly issued a $25 credit to my account and told me she had the history of my calls in front of her. I let her know the last person was quite helpful so, you know, please don’t make him eat paste while the others were being forced to eat it.

All Good Now?

I certainly thought so. Until later that evening, when my email stopped coming to my phone again and just hung while I was trying to poll the various accounts.

I called the support, again. This time, however, I went directly through Apple.

I spoke to a man by the name of:

Chris M.

He’s an iPhone Support Specialist, and I’ll spare you all his information, unless of course, you need some help and then you can send me a note with your email and I’ll share it. Chris was a patient, thorough person and worked with me through a lot of long waits–upwards of an hour as he made me fully restore my phone, just in case the previous restore had captured something nasty that brought the same problem back to haunt me.

Everything seemed fine. Chris gave me all of his information in case the problem came up again, and we both agreed that this certainly was odd to have the same thing happen again, and certainly it should not be the phone.

I guess that must have meant that it was me, because it happened again the very next day.

I emailed Chris in the evening and he called me at home to help with the issue. That was pretty cool.

We checked out a few more things, I popped off the screen, unscrewed some hinges and took out the battery and stuff…

Just kidding.

Then he made me an appointment for Saturday at the Genius Bar in Oak Brook, Illinois for 1:50pm to exchange the phone a second time. This wasn’t great news, but it was better than a “not perfect” phone.

From Not-So-Great to Right-in-the-Crapper

I grabbed my 4 year old daughter and headed off to the mall. I figured we could share a little daddy-daughter fun at the outdoor mall with the big Disney and Land of Nod stores. Sometimes, it’s great to be a dad.

This day was not one of them.

We arrived a little late thanks to an accident on the tollway–and thanks to being a little late.

I explained this to the older woman at the Genius Bar as she frowned and checked me in–I think.

I think, because she just stopped and walked away from us while an older guy was being kind of bark-y to people and was moving around us. A younger girl popped up at the computer and asked me what I wanted.

Excuse me?

I asked her where the other woman went–she was helping us and didn’t say anything, just typed away on the keyboard and said nothing. Could she please go get her so we could find out what was going on?

“I’m replacing her, she’s on break. Why are you here?”

What? I just gave her some information. I’m here for a replacement phone with an appointment made for me by a Product Specialist ™. Please go get her so we can find out what’s going on.

“I’m here now. What do you want?”

Inject your own tone; it was busy, I was holding hands with the apple of my eye and getting frustrated. I told her I was there for a replacement.

[blank stare]

Older guy is still walking around barking. My daughter is tensing up.

Me: “Could someone please help me? Excuse me? Could someone talk to me?”

[blank stare]

Me, to barking guy: “Excuse me sir, can you help me? Hello?”

[ignoring]

Me, louder: “Excuse me, Mr. Brick Wall, Anyone, can you please help me? What’s going on here?”

Barking guy, who, by the way, looks like this (only less blurry):

I'm old and angry! Get outta my store and off my damn lawn!

He yelled at me. He really, seriously yelled at me.

He yelled, “CAN’T YOU SEE WE’RE BUSY?!” and summarily ignored me with the replacement person standing in front of me.

My daughter asked me, in a pretty dainty, nervous voice, “Daddy, why did that man yell at you?”

Good question.

I wasn’t exactly sure why I was getting ignored and yelled at, but I pulled my daughter out of the throng of people and the rage of a bitter, old, orange-wearing man to calm things down. I’m sure he was happy I disappeared, but I walked back up to him, tapped him on the shoulder and when he looked at me I pressed that good ol’ camera button and snapped his picture and let him know he was about to be “Internet Famous” and then twitpic’d that thing out to the few followers I have.

The reaction from Twiterati was one of surprise and shock.

The reaction of the guy sounded something like “mucking berk” but it was busy and I’m not real sure why he was talking gibberish anyway.

Down But Not Out

We left, but I wasn’t about to be finished. My iPhone was still less than perfect.

I called our pals at Apple. It is, after all, in the iPhone’s contact list by default.

This was not about to be easy, however. I got through to someone who was a little surprised, if not offended, by the story. He connected me to an iPhone Product Specialist. Sort of. It took about 30 minutes, so I shopped with my daughter (kitty alarm clock, tambourine, wind-up bird in a cage, sweater vest and a work shirt) with the ear piece in. She was not a fan, but we had fun.

I spoke to a Product Specialist. He basically told me he’d “see what he could do”, which really kind of floored me at this point.

He called the manager of the store (Jamie, for what it’s worth) and called me back. They could do an exchange for me, but it would have to be white.

I allowed myself a chuckle, thought of a couple of friends with their white phones, decided I could turn this into a “Stormtrooper” type of thing and my inner geek would be satiated.

Return to Ignorance

I went back to the store.

Mr. Grumpy was there, but I informed him I was there for Jamie. He was looking smug–or maybe I was just defensive and PO’d and had a tired kid on my hands–and told me Jamie had stepped out. I let him know I had an appointment, made by a Product Specialist a few moments ago and his face sort of shifted a bit.

Jamie was tracking down my phone.

The place was still crowded–like they were giving away gold and gas cards. The old grumpy guy kept circling us and I asked to have him stay away from us. Little kids don’t like yellers, after all. We got bumped into a small area by the door to the stockroom.

Time doesn’t pass too quickly in this situation.

One guy, with a white goatee (and this is for the sake of Apple & Oak Brook Apple Store) saw that my daughter was doing very well. She was tired, but hanging out, being patient and far more level-headed than, say, any Apple Store employee to date.

He called her princess. +1

He disappeared into the stock room and came back with a bright yellow t-shirt, although too big, it was a gift for a kid. +2

He was very nice and she thanked him. He was high-five worthy in a -10 sort of universe.

You rocked, sir, and you were kind and empathetic. It’s as if you actually understood customer service and you were surrounded by monkeys from a CareerBuilder ad.

Jamie did pop up a couple of times, let me know he was looking. He asked if I had my receipt of purchase–which I did. Oddly enough, I had explained to the Product Specialist that I had my receipt–but that it was from an AT&T store purchase, since I had already gone through the issue at the Michigan Avenue Apple Store.

Oddly enough, this AT&T receipt meant that Jamie, the Store Manager ™ was unable to swap my phone. “It’s a part number thing, you understand. I wouldn’t even be able to swap the SIMs–it wouldn’t let me and the phone would be no good to you.”

Kind of like the one in my hand. Except it works, but the data would cut out from time to time. Which would be no big deal if I wasn’t an uber-geek who relies on data more than voice, of course.

Of course.

Jamie let me know that he wouldn’t be getting another shipment of phones in the next day (Sunday), but probably “early next week…”

He was, after all, really sorry.

Really?

Then why didn’t anyone apologize to me, to my daughter for being yelled at? Why didn’t anyone understand the impact of that? Why didn’t anyone apologize for dropping the ball, being rude and not communicating as they should?

Where Failure Meets EPIC FAILURE

Clearly, I was not happy.

I had just went through some hell–from a product perspective all the way down to having an uncomfortable talk with my daughter about “how people really talk to each other”.

I explained to Jamie that really, none of this seemed enough.

He explained that it was entirely out of his hands.

Entirely?

Really?

I started to leave. We needed to get out of there before I said a lot of things that aren’t meant for the blogosphere, yet alone truck drivers (and I can say that; my father was a truck driver and that brings cursing to a whole new level, folks).

“Russ…”

I stopped. Perhaps this guy was worth the trouble. He wasn’t actually unkind; he was pretty genuine and tried to be thorough and I think he wanted to help. Heck, I’m sure he was exhausted and had had it up to here with damn people like me.

“Yes?”

“What do you want me to do?”

Yes, he said that.

He may as well have spit in my face.

My opinion is that when you invoke such a phrase you’re quitting.

What do I want you to do? Give me a free iMac. I’ve been eyeballing a refurbished one to purchase through the Employee Purchase Program, but after 12+ hours of my time wasted throughout this process, I’d call that about break-even. Plus, I’d be replacing a Vista PC, so +1 Apple, right?

I didn’t say that.

I knew the answer. “You know I can’t do that, sir.”

Do I? Then why did you ask what I wanted you to do.

Instead, Jamie, you should have given me some options. You should have bent over backwards a little bit.

You should have prevented this blog from being written by doing something as simple as a discount card, an option to <do something else>, some music, some ProCare, something.

Yes, you should have.

Shame on you for NOT even thinking of it, but instead asking me what I would like for you to do.

You, Jamie, failed. I’m sorry, but that’s an F-.

Sidebar: I worked for a video store while in college. My district manager always told me that 1 complaint card would sting worse than taking a $100 loss on the day. Think about that. That’s 1 phone call versus 30-40 video rentals back at the time.

That’s the way customer service works. You don’t take advantage of the uber-geeks who want your product. We do have our limits. And we don’t deserve to be treated poorly in any situation. We are your fans, your advertisers, we are the goofy people who stand in long lines outside of you stores that generate free media coverage for you.

The Follow-Up?

I sent an email to my buddy Chris M. at Apple over the weekend and let him know I was pretty unhappy. I let him know that I thought he’d done right by me and I’d share that with people, but that I had really been met with a poor reception and pretty terrible follow-up from the Apple store.

It’s Tuesday now and he hasn’t followed-up. I sent him an email today letting him know that I was disappointed not to have received a response from him.

Now, I’m back to square zero, with a phone “mostly works”.

How do you think I feel?

12 Responses to “My Apple 3G iPhone Experience: I'm Pretty Surprised, Pretty Disturbed, and Ultimately Failed”

  1. Wow, that’s total misery. I wonder if Apple is so used to killer products they have forgetten then need for customer service?

    Reply

  2. Wow, you’ve given me serious pause on the whole iPhone 3G thing. A lot of my hesitation is with AT&T; I’m really surprised all of this happened at the Apple store.

    I also 105% agree on the whole “What do you want?” question. That’s a total cop out; usually from people who don’t want to put themselves on the line or want the customer to stew. As a customer-service person, there’s always a way to improve a situation, if you’re willing to stick your neck out or just think a bit. It may not be the perfect solution, but a little effort goes a long way.

    Reply

  3. This really makes me think twice before embarking on the whole iPhone experience.

    Then again, I tend to not even bother going to stores when 5,000 people are in there. Call me a not-AS-early adopter.

    Reply

  4. Wow! Whay an experience. Thanks for sharing t.

    I was contemplating an iPhone since my contract with mybcurrent provider is expiring in two months. I think I’ll try something else.

    Reply

  5. Total misery is right. Being a long term customer of Charter Communications (St .Louis – local cable internet provider) – I know how bad customer service can get – although this story takes it to the next level.

    I tend to go into most customer service situations (apple & at&t stores included) expecting this kind of scenario to play out for me….and it never has. I’ve had an iPhone for nearly a year and have had a really good experience – even with customer service…

    Like you, I purchased the phone at at&t, experienced some issues and went through an exchange process at the apple store. This was a relatively painless process and my issues were resolved with the new phone — much to my surprise — as I said I go into all of these situations ready for battle…

    Maybe everything has gone south more recently, but i guess what I’m getting it as that I’m surprised at the fact that I’m surprised to hear this story!

    Reply

  6. Russ, I’m really sorry you had this experience, especially with Sydney by your side. It’s very surprising that you would be treated this way by Apple, the king of brands, but a lot less surprising for AT&T. I had a problem in March with the BlackBerry I bought in November (kept losing the data connection), and after a couple unproductive phone calls to Verizon Wireless, I just went into the store, went up to the tech support desk, and said, “Look, I’ve made several calls about this issue and it hasn’t been resolved. I paid for insurance. I want a replacement phone. Now.” I waited 15 minutes while he got a new phone and transferred all of my data. I haven’t had any problems since.

    So yes, the iPhone is cool and sexy and futuristic, but I care much more about good service than I do any of those things. And that’s why I’ve chosen not to buy one.

    I hope that they allow you to get a replacement phone soon. Good luck!

    Reply

  7. The whole story sounds like a nightmare. After reading all of this I canceled my order (which I was already waiting for to arrive for the last 8 days) with AT&T this afternoon. It may be the coolest phone on earth, but nothing would compensate this kind of behavior towards customers. I have just chosen not to deal with a company with an immature customer service to avoid possible future frustrations. Thanks for warning potential (but not anymore) Apple and AT&T customers such as me.

    Reply

  8. [...] – bookmarked by 5 members originally found by MetalDripht on 2008-10-28 My Apple 3G iPhone Experience: I’m Pretty Surprised, Pretty Disturbed, and Ultimately Failed [...]

    Reply

  9. Sorry, but thats what you get for buying an Apple product. End of Story.

    Reply

  10. Easy solution to this entire problem: buy a Blackberry.

    Apple is an entirely annoying company with terrible customer service and over priced/hyped products.

    Their entire corporate identity is an oxymoron; a large corporation with an anti-corporate face that serves only to identify the most trendy and pretentious in a coffee shop.

    Reply

  11. @ Whitney….

    Verizon Wireless, and AT%T are not the same company. But I digress.
    To Sebastian… he had a blackberry before he bought the crap iPhone.
    Second, most of you are all “AT%T is crap” when it was Apple that was crap.
    I’ve never had any issues with AT%T customer service, ever, and I’ve been a customer of theirs for 3 years now.
    What I haven’t been, is an Apple customer. Think about that!

    Reply

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