Wasps' Nest
A Deer with an Arrow in its Side: Stop Hunting in Old Farm Hill Park

Apple Redefines Genius

According to Apple, "genius" is a necessary precondition for someone being able to take an equipment repair order. (So sayeth my local Apple store: I've got a call in to Apple's PR department to ask for confirmation.)

This afternoon, I naïvely set off for the Apple Store with two pieces of broken equipment: a dead wireless mouse which I'd had sitting around for a couple of months and a PowerBook that just recently stopped talking to its keyboard. I learned upon my arrival, to my dismay, that I needed an appointment with the Genius Bar to make a drop-off of two broken pieces of equipment. A friendly fellow immediately signed me up for an appointment, almost two hours away, but suggested I just take a seat and I would be helped a whole lot sooner than that.  Needless to say, a mom who arrives with a three-year-old in tow cannot wait two hours.

When, after 35-minutes, a man was willing to take my repair order, he began immediately to complain about the condition of the wireless mouse I'd brought in. Yes, it was kind of gucky. I use my machine very heavily. He claimed he could tell that somehow liquid must have gotten into the mouse. I have two kids—one of whom had been very good in their store for going on 40 minutes at this point. I would not swear that the mouse had never seen liquid. But some of what he was talking about looked to me like the results of summer humidity if it was anything other than very heavy use. The strong implication was that I was lying about the purchase date of the mouse. The ship date of the computer it came with was 5/11/05. I just use it a lot. (And using it a lot, unfortuantely also meant that I changed the batteries a lot, up until it broke.) I never owned a wireless mouse prior to the arrival of that computer.

After not very long, there ensued the following dialog:

ME (in a loud voice): It does NOT take a genius to take a repair order.
GENIUS™: According to Apple, it does take a genius to take a repair order.
ME (still in a loud voice): That's got to be the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

(I did tell GENIUS™ that "this was one for the blog" since this was a completely new one on me!) The GENIUS™ did not take well to this conversational gambit.

The GENIUS™ went to get a manager GENIUS™ and together they tried to bully me into the idea that the mouse should not be covered by warranty with the manager GENIUS™ occasionally making reference to the possibility of calling security if I didn't accept their judgment that the mouse covered by the Apple Care Agreement was not covered by the Apple Care Agreement. (The fact that I came with a blonde toddler must have made me look like an easy mark. Or maybe they didn't believe that a mommy who looked like me could have the computer usage patterns that I do.) I suppose I should point out I am not accustomed to being threatened by customer service people. I don't think that's ever happened to me before.

SO, OK, I'm a really irritated customer who feels she was ripped off on her Apple Care agreement because the local store refused to make good out of pettiness. Can I say anything positive about these people?

Well, yes, actually. Once I managed to get the assembled GENIUSes™ off the subject of what a dirty rotten lousy wireless mouse I'd brought them that couldn't possibly be honored under the warranty I'd paid EXTRA MONEY FOR, let alone under the boilerplate warranty that came with the computer—a subject that they clearly wanted to discuss at great length until long past when my son's school bus was set to arrive—the initial GENIUS™ fixed the keyboard problem with the PowerBook in about 30 seconds: a loose cable inside.

These WERE competent technicians, and competent technicians with some actual people skills. But what the Apple Genius Bar is at the Westchester Mall in White Plains, New York, is a woefully understaffed repair department in which everybody's dirty laundry gets aired in front of all the other customers also waiting their turn. In the hour I spent there, there was no one who came for arcane information available only from highly skilled technicians. There were only tense, angry customers who had waited way far too long for the most basic level of service. There was also the occasional person who wandered in with a piece of equipment, stood around looking tense for ten minutes or so, and then left again when he or she truly understood the full horror of the situation. And I was not the only mom to get borderline hysterical about missing kids at the school bus because of an unexpected wait. A pair of blonde women left shortly after I arrived muttering about needing to do 80 mph up 684 and trying to triage whose kid might not get met at the bus stop. (Not meeting your kid at the bus stop is a very grave mommy offense with dire consequences for mommy's social standing.)

SO. What is to be done? Both the guy I first yelled at, and his boss, who threatened to call security, are people I'd probably even like if I encountered socially. But at the White Plains Apple Store, the Genius Bar concept just ain't happenin'. What should happen is that if the Genius Bar is supposed to be the repair department servicing all those who own Apple equipment, then they need to double the staff. (I don't own an iPod, but my impression from being there for an hour is that iPods break a lot. There was a parade of dead iPods.)

Did Apple make a wise financial decision by making me hang out and nickle-and-diming me on replacing a $40 mouse that goes with a $3,500 computer? Well, no. I'm not going to try to bring the company to its knees by swearing never to buy another Apple. I'm one of their more loyal customers.

But, um, guys: After I did the quick repair drop off, my plan was to blow a couple of hundred bucks in your store buying a badly-needed external hard drive. But between keeping track of my three-year-old, and sitting at the Genius Bar to make sure I was seen as soon as possible, I didn't have time. Sorry.

And oh my God am I glad I managed to revive my G5 myself without recourse to the Apple store—it was out of commission for a week following the blackout. I can't tell you how upset I would have been if I'd hauled my G5 all across the rather large Westchester Mall and up to the 3rd floor where their store was to encounter these terms of service. (And I had such a positive image of the Genius Bar before today!)