odd time signatures

Is AAPL really a lemon?

(voice over) and now a break from politics, while I bring you the sad story of how Apple’s sterling reputation is being tarnished by their own customer service department. The Apple doesn’t fall far from the Dell tree…

Ask anybody and they’ll tell you: Apple is cool. They make cool products. The iPhone rocks. The iPod touch is awesome. We all wait to tune into the new product releases, which are so super-top secret they don’t even broadcast them. Many of us who used to use PCs have switched to Macs and for the most part, are satisfied.

For the most part. And then, there’s Jane. I’ve written about Jane before, because I so want to be her, driving all over the country, writing about it, meeting people, telling their story and telling hers. After Jane’s ancient PC died, a benevolent sponsor gave her a MacBook Pro with Apple Care and his hopes that it would be a trusted tool on her journey.

Four months later, the MacBook Pro has died. Not only has it died, Jane stands convicted of murdering it without a trial, evidence, or a chance to offer a defense.

Yet when I brought my four month-old MacBook into the Apple store, and residue was found near the hinges and fan, the guy at the genius bar insisted I must have murdered my MacBook by way of spillage. Argument was futile. He’d made up his mind — nothing but a spill could have caused the residue that was present, and there could be no other cause but spillage for the MacBook’s breakdown. The three-year warranty my donor generously purchased would not, I was informed, be honored.

Jane is more generous than I about Apple’s behavior here.

This isn’t a slam against Mac or Apple. Macs are popular for very good reason, and Apple’s customer service is generally rated high among customers. This is, instead, about my sense of disbelief and the feeling that I have been among the unlucky ones who’ve had their first Apple experience turn out badly. I don’t like being accused of something I didn’t do. It’s like being sentenced to hang for a crime I never committed, and having no way to prove my innocence short of having a CSI crime lab perform forensic tests. And while I realize that many criminals deny culpability, and that some people lie — especially if it might save them money — I’m not lying. The MacBook has rarely been out of my sight, has not been near anything wet, and has been kept in its storage bag when not in use.

When I read this, I got pissed, because I know of two other people who have replaced logic boards in their MacBook pros without spilling, too. The logic board dies. Maybe it’s flawed. Maybe the children in the factories where Apple builds their products didn’t handle it right when they were assembling it.

Maybe, just maybe Jane isn’t lying. Because, are all of these people lying, too? Look at these results, and these are just from people who post to Friendfeed. Here are some real-time Twitter results. Oh, and over here? Facebook search.

Residue or no residue, MacBooks die. Logic boards die. A customer who has a 3-year warranty in her hand and a 4-month old dead computer deserves the benefit of the doubt, Apple. It isn’t enough for your Geniuses to say she spilled. They need to prove it, and the presence of residue doesn’t prove it.

Other causes of residue

And of course, there is the possibility that we have a chicken-egg issue here. Maybe the failure of the board created the residue.

Apple has an obligation to acknowledge product weaknesses

Logic board failures on Macbook Pros are not unusual. According to MacinTouch.com, logic board failures are the most common failure on a MacBook pro. This is affirmed by the real-time search results I added above, and re-affirmed when I search on Google real-time results.

In other words, trends are clearly not in favor of this customer being wrong.

What happened to the customer being right?

Even if you’re willing to leave this as it is, the fact remains that Jane has a warranty that covers replacement of her logic board. All Apple has to do is honor it. Honoring it, even if they believe in their heart of hearts she’s lying, is the honorable thing to do, because she paid for an extended warranty.

Telling a customer they lie is not a way to build customer loyalty. Just ask Toyota about how well that worked for them.

The consequences of giving customers the middle finger…

Five years ago, I was a hard-core Dell fan, primarily because they had great reliability and customer service. Anyone who asked me got a recommendation to a Dell product, whether it was a laptop or a PDA.

Then my beloved Dell Inspiron’s warranty ran out, and the day after it ran out, the screen went black. Dell quoted me more than the cost of a new computer to fix it. By the time all of this happened, I was also aware that Dell’s formerly-stellar customer service had been offshored to call centers and the best anyone could get was a guy with a script.

I stopped recommending Dells. I didn’t tell my friends to buy Dells. I bought a Toshiba that was ok but whose keyboard I loathed and lived with it until I could find something I loved as much as I loved that Inspiron.

My white MacBook was that machine I loved more than my Inspiron. Over the past year, our entire family has moved to Macs. We have iPhones. We like them. But I’ll be honest: I haven’t had trouble with anything but one MacBook that lives a rough and tumble life in the hands of the drummer. Others, like Jane, have. And I am hearing more and more stories like Jane’s. The more stories I hear like Jane’s, the more I see in real time, the more I see Apple’s attitude toward their customers becoming one of entitlement instead of genuine concern that they are satisfied, the less likely I am to be a repeat customer.

I was set to order an iPad on Friday. I decided to wait, mostly because if I’m going to make that kind of investment, I want it to be in a company that values me as a customer and honors their commitment to their product warranties and extended warranties.

Do the right thing, Apple. Man up, repair her MacBook pro. Do it fast and you’ll give her a reason to love you again, and write about it. Just do it. You’ll be glad you did.

Related links and stories

Here’s another example of Apple calling a customer a liar re: a dead logic board. This site was created after a series of bad experiences with Apple customer service. And over here, an example of how customer service should have been handled for Jane: they replaced the logic board the same day. And here, a customer who was out of warranty suggests buying one…assuming automatically it would have been honored. Seems that there have been enough problems that Digg has an ongoing shoutout to force Apple to acknowledge the problems, too. Over here, an entire site devoted to MacBook Random Shutdown Syndrome (aka RSS)

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