Why there is no recession at the Apple Store and why ATT is clueless

November 30, 2008 by Andy Ebon

In the depths of the economic doom and gloom we have been hearing about on a regular basis, some businesses are not participating.

One of those businesses appears to be Apple; makers of computers and personal electronics.

On Black Friday, I had an appointment at the Genius Bar of the Apple Store at Town Square, Las Vegas. I had been having an odd problem with my iPhone. When I picked up the phone on an incoming call, I could hear the caller, but they could not hear me. To make it worse, the problem was intermittent.

A couple of days prior to the appointment, I had an extended discussion with iPhone technical support. We tried a number of things, but were not sure if it was an iPhone problem or an AT & T issue. So, on my follow up call, it was decided that I would go to the store, and probably exchange for a new phone.

When I arrived at the store, about 4:30pm, it was slammed. Your basic buzzing beehive. I was greeted at the door, and signed in for my 4:40pm appointment. The flat screens, mounted on the wall, behind the Genius Bar, alternately showed the appointment cue for IPod/IPhone and Macs. As well, there were quick technical tips being shown, in rotation with the cues.

I was called up by Christie within a couple of minutes of my scheduled time. We walked through the issues to that point, and agreed that they would exchange the phone. Only problem, they didn’t have my model in stock. She called the Apple Store at Fashion Show Mall, and set up an appointment (pick up time) for Saturday morning. I went there, the next morning, and the exchange was handled promptly, efficiently, and with a smile.

Guess what? The iPhone was not the problem. Still had the same symptoms. I contacted AT&T tech support via online chat. They tried to slough me off on Apple. I wouldn’t allow it. I spent an hour, online with them. To no avail…. Back to Apple phone support.

I ran it down again. The customer service representative elevated my call to an Apple Product Manager who conferred with a counterpart at AT&T. It was decided that if I could stop by an AT&T store, they would exchange the SIM card. That was the likely culprit.

I agreed, and dashed over to the AT&T store and was served by Mitch. He listened to my recap, smiled and said, “Oh, I’ll take care of swapping out the SIM card, but that’s not the problem.”

“How do you know that’s not the problem? How can you be so sure?” I asked.

“I’ve experienced the same thing,” he responded. Mitch went on to explain that this was a local, 3G network problem. AT&T was upgrading the 3G network (which is its high-speed service), and there were ‘intermittent problem.’ All I needed to do was open up my phone ‘settings’ and turn off 3G, reverting to standard speed. He figured in a week or so that the upgrades would be done, and the problem would disappear.

Mitch told me I wouldn’t notice any significant difference in phone service. We made the adjustments and, magically, the symptom went away.

Focusing on the result, ultimately, the problem was resolved. I did burn up about five hours of needed time, in the process.

Here is what I learned along the way.

  • Both Apple Stores were staffed to the max, with trained, competent, people.
  • Apple’s challenge is that they are in partnership with AT&T; however, they were willing to do ‘whatever it took’ to solve my problem, even if it meant exchanging the phone.
  • AT&T online service was too willing to blame the issue on the iPhone and not knowledgeable or aware enough to consider their network as a potential problem.
  • The quick diagnosis and solution at the local AT&T store, by Mitch, demonstrated the the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing. It struck me that if the local stores know of an issue, and its solution, then there should be a mechanism to inform tech support. Clearly my problem was not unique.

What should this mean to you, as a business marketer?

  1. “You are as strong as your weakest link” applies here. The fact that Mitch could solve the problem did not make up for the time wasted with lack of intelligent AT&T support, online. On the other hand, everyone I dealt with at Apple was ‘on the ball’ in every way I asked of them. They didn’t even balk at exchanging the phone, even though it wasn’t absolutely clear, at the point, that the iPhone was the source of the problem.
  2. The crew at Apple reminded me of Southwest Airlines. Some people enjoy their jobs. Others don’t. It’s easy to tell the difference. They have a passion and knowledge of what they do, and it shows. Despite the fact the stores were slammed, they were ready, willing and able to meet the challenge.
  3. Sometimes, as a customer, one has to be relentless. Not having proper use of the phone was about to become a huge problem (read my upcoming post of December 1st), so I wasn’t about take no for an answer, or back off until the problem was solve. The customer service approach was decidedly different in the two arenas.

The big message: People in your company (even if it’s a 1-person) must be clear on your outlook about serving the customer/client and providing the appropriate result. I’ve been an Apple customer since 1984. AT&T is my cell phone provider, simply because they have an exclusive relationship with Apple. If that relationship changes, my experiences with them, between now and then, will determine if it continues.

Ask yourself how your company goes about address and resolving problems. Even better, how do you prevent problems from occurring in the first place.

Your examples and comments are not just welcome, but encouraged.

Andy Ebon
The Wedding Marketing Blog

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Andy Ebon Andy Ebon (78 Posts)

Keith Alan has been in the DJ biz since 1975, started hosting weddings in 1982 and went full-time in 1993. While personally hosting over 60 weddings a year on the weekends, his mid-week programs generate income through out the year. Young children and seniors are the strong points of the business. Outside of the weddings division of Keith Alan Productions, Keith’s summer program, Campardy™ has grown from 1 event in 2000, to 75 events within a 6 week window! Keith is busy with game shows, trivia, photo booths and extreme bingo the other 46 weeks of the year.


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