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Sunday May 14, 2006 6:44 pm

A Horrible Apple Store Experience Turns Good

Posted by Andru Edwards - Categories: Apple, Features, PC / Laptop

So, the Gear Live crew is back from E3, and we hope you enjoyed the coverage we have brought you thus far. You can look forward to a bunch more video footage over the coming week. For now, I wanted to let you guys in on a horrible Apple Store customer service experience I had a few weeks ago, and how the LA Grove Apple Store went above and beyond to fix it. During E3, my MacBook Pro went belly up, and I was left with a useless computer at one of our biggest coverage events of the year. Below is the email I am sending to the LA Grove store, as well as the Seattle store that I made the original purchase at:

Dear Grove and UV Apple Store staffs,

I recently had encounters at your stores that I wanted to tell you guys about.

I live here in Seattle, and frequent the University Village Apple Store often, spending probably close to $8-10,000 per year on Apple products. I am one of your bleeding edge consumers who knows the ins and outs of all Apple products, probably before the stores know about them themselves, as I am also a CEO and journalist who has close ties to Apple PR and has attended multiple Steve Jobs keynotes.

I recently had a horrible experience however. I purchased a MacBook Pro at the UV Apple Store back in April, and immediately found it completely unacceptable due to a high-pitched whine that emanated from the right-hand side of the screen and keyboard. I exchanged the MacBook the next day, only to find that the next one had a similar issue. I returned that one the next day, and it also had a whine, but this time it came from the left-hand side of the keyboard. There was also a pretty audible clicking sound under the right-hand palm rest, which I assume is where the hard drive lies. This was my third MacBook Pro in three days, and I came back the next day to exchange it. Yes, it was a pain (and waste of time) transferring settings and setting up a new computer every day for three days straight, but at over $3,000, I wanted to make sure my purchase was flawless.

I went in to the Seattle Apple Store to make my third exchange, and was told I needed to wait. Ten minutes later, the store manager came to me and asked what the problem was. I explained it as clearly as I could, but was interrupted multiple times. One of the techs came out and said that the sounds from my MacBook Pro were “within spec,” and that it was fine. I was then told by the manager that if I wanted to exchange it again, that I would be charged a 15% restocking fee.

Now, I did my research, and there are certainly owners of the MacBook Pro that experience the whine, and others who made exchanges to find that they were able to get them without the whine. Heck, check discussion forums for the MacBook Pro on Apple.com, you can’t avoid the MacBook Pro whine threads.

Anyway, my machine wasn’t even making the whining noise when I brought it in because it only did it when there were multiple programs running. If I started up Photo Booth or something else that used the built-in iSight, the whine disappeared. I told the UV manager that I would pay the 15% restocking fee for a new MacBook Pro if I could get one with a newer serial number. Two associates of mine had the whine, and exchanged them for a unit that started with W8614, and the whine was gone. I was then told by the tech that no MacBook Pro models even had that serial number. I was being given the run-around, and it was apparent that the UV store cared more about their bottom line than about quality customer service. I couldn’t believe that this store was representative of the company that had previously done right by me - every time. I was able to reach a compromise that said if my computer had a problem that Apple officially recognized within 90 days, a return would be allowed with no restocking fee required. It was better than nothing, but I was still worried.

Fast forward to last week. I was in Los Angeles covering E3, using my MacBook Pro as my main machine - whine and clicking sound in full effect. The day after I arrived, OS X would no longer boot. When I turned it on, all I would get it a black screen with a blinking white cursor. I tried booting from my OS X install disk which I brought with me everywhere due to paranoia that the hard drive would fail because of the clicking, despite what the UV Apple Store tech said. I called AppleCare, and we couldn’t even get the install disk to format the drive. The drive was totally unresponsive.

I found a local Apple Store in LA, The Grove, and went there at about 8:50 PM, ten minutes before closing. The gentleman there helped me until well after closing, and was able to format my drive. We started the install process, and I was on my way. Of course, I lost all my files, but at least the MacBook Pro worked…or so I thought. The install would fail every time. The hard drive just wasn’t able to do what it needed to do…but this is where it gets good.

I went back to The Grove the next morning to explain my problem, and this is where I had what I consider to be the absolute best customer service experience of my life. The Apple Genius, Topher, listened to my problem before interrupting or diagnosing anything. He then tested, and saw that my MacBook Pro was not working right. He booted from an external drive, and saw that my internal drive was toast. I explained to him what my purchasing experience was at the Seattle store, and he looked shocked, saying they should have allowed the exchange - a clicking hard drive isn’t good. I agreed.

However, there was no way it was going to be fixed in time, even if I became a ProCare member. I told him that I would do whatever it took, and he suggested that I might just buy an iBook, use that for the week, then return it. Then, bring the MacBook Pro back to the Seattle store. I told him I was completely unsatisfied with their service, and asked if there was anything else I could do.

I had no receipt on me. This wasn’t the store I bought the unit from. It had been well over the two week return period since the purchase. Despite all that, do you know what The Grove did for me?

They gave me a new MacBook Pro in exchange for my dead one. Topher checked with another manager, Colin, and that was how they chose to resolve my issue. Now, I could have been lying, and could have been someone that bought a damaged MacBook Pro on eBay for $5. However, these guys saw the need that I had, and they wanted to HELP. They wanted to provide the customer service that Apple is known for - total opposite of my Seattle UV store experience.

To all the managers reading this: Topher and Colin are two of the best employees you guys have. I was completely and utterly amazed that they would give me a new machine when all I wanted was an as-quick-as-possible repair. To me, they are why I love the Apple brand, and they have renewed the faith that the University Village store took away. To the UV store, your employees could learn a thing or two from how The Grove handled this situation. Instead of paying attention to their pocketbook, customer service was their #1 priority.

Andru Edwards
CEO, Editor-in-Chief
Gear Live Media

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