Jo Anne sat at a table beneath this iconic poster of the late visionary iconoclast, Steve Jobs, for nearly an hour last week, arguing with a series of Apple customer service reps over warranty coverage of a failed $20 iPhone power cable. Five people: the gal at the Apple franchise dealer and her closeted manager, then two agents at the Apple call center and, finally, their supervisor.
Writer Gerald F. Lieberman said it best:
“If the first person who answers the phone cannot answer your question, it’s a bureaucracy. If the first person can answer the question, it’s a miracle.”
At issue was whether the power cable on my wife’s five-month-old, $649.99 iPhone was simply frayed … or was its wiring exposed.
When my wife handed the failed cable to the gal at the store’s customer care counter, Jo Anne anticipated a simple exchange. The cable had failed, it was under warranty, please exchange it for a new one.
And so it began.
The gal took the cable into a back room through a door marked Employees Only and returned a minute later to explain what her manager had ruled. The wiring was showing, so the warranty was invalid. If the cable had been only frayed, the warranty would apply. If the store exchanged the cable, Apple would not reimburse them -- because the store hadn’t honored Apple’s warranty requirements concerning power cables.
Jo Anne's position was based on cause and effect – the way everything else in the universe works: the cable had frayed, therefore the wiring was exposed.
Who knew the iPhone’s $20 power cable was so dear to Apple?
If my wife talked to Apple directly and won an exception, the exchange could happen, the gal said, whose name we had by now learned was Casey and who had come over to our side because she felt sorry for Jo Anne.
Right there and then, Jo Anne got on her iPhone and called Apple.
The first agent talked to her for a while and passed her to another.
The second agent talked to her for a while and then asked to speak to Casey.
Casey talked for a while and then carried the phone to her manager – still taking cover in the back room – for further consultation.
Then the phone was handed back to my wife. The second agent talked to her for a while and then transferred her to his supervisor, Carlos.
Carlos relented. He would deliver a new cable to my wife -- via Fedex Priority Overnight. She, in turn, would send the failed cable back to Apple for examination -- via Fedex Priority Overnight.
She had to provide a credit card number, however, and a hold was put on the card for $20.
The next morning the new cable arrived at our home and the failed cable was returned. So far, the $20 hold has not been charged.
Winners and losers here?
My wife has a new power cable – winner.
FedEx collected revenue on two Priority Overnight deliveries – winner.
Casey was paid for spending an hour with us, but she earned no revenue for the store – loser.
The store manager in the back room, whom we never saw – loser. (Think of the Wizard of Oz’s famous line, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”)
Biggest loser of all – Apple. Salary and benefits for three agents for 44 minutes.
It isn’t funny. It’s sad.
Because when The Apple Computer Company was launched in 1977, Steve Jobs established three core principles.
- First, Apple would empathize with customers
- Second, Apple would focus on doing only a few things, but doing them really well
- Third, Apple would apply its values (simplicity, high quality) across everything it did
It wasn’t only a dinky little power cable that failed last week. It was Apple Inc., that failed.
And they didn’t fail only us. They failed Steve.
In my next blog, "Magic to do."