Monday, August 29, 2016

The Temptation of Apple; A Customer Service Parable

Have you heard the phrase, "I've been to hell and back again"? Well, I survived a trip to the Apple Store for technical support this week. Honestly, I don't believe in Hell. But if I did, I think it actually might BE the Apple Store.

Perhaps you think of Apple as retail heaven. Maybe you hear a celestial choir each time you swing open those glassy, pearly gates. Your heart beats faster as you enter that white, polished, glossy space with all those amazing digital devices, lined up like shiny forbidden fruit, beckoning and beguiling you. The youngsters in blue polo shirts appear to you as though angels (or are they serpents?) to welcome you upon your arrival, "How can I help you today?" they chime, and you reply in chorus with the heavens, "Mac Book Air! Hallelujah!"

Personally, I find those kids terrifying. I got to my nearest Apple store at 11:30 on a Tuesday morning. A trio of overly-eager youths greeted me, like Cerberus, the three-headed hound that guards the gates of Hades. "How can we help you today?" they said in unison. 

My guard went up immediately. How breezy, outgoing, and self-possessed they were, with their iPads, speaking to each other on their head sets. They probably have a code, "Nana Alert!" to warn the others. 

"Um, I'm having trouble signing in to email," I winced that I was stupid enough to admit I was having trouble with something. One of them smirked. She was thinking it. I could see it on her face, "Typical Old Lady knows NOTHING about computers!" 

"OK, ma'am," she Ma'amed me. "Who's your provider?" 

Oh, no! A question I couldn't answer. I was dreading this. "Mm, no idea. Outlook? Live?" 

"What does your email address look like? Is it something dot com?" 

There it was. That condescending tone. Yes, it's SOMETHING dot com! I told her my email address. She tapped something into her iPad and mumbled into her headset. 

"Okay. Which device are you having trouble with?" 

"My iPhone and my Mac Book." At least I knew this much.

"Okay. Come with me. I'll give you to a Specialist," like handing me over to the high priest of sacrifices.

"Hello there, My Dear," he hissed. Who told him he could call me "My Dear"? "How can I help you today?" I repeated the whole story a second time. 

"Do you have an appointment?" I was temporarily stunned by his question. He threw me for a loop. "Uh, no," I reply, with a bit of attitude, trying to regain my composure, "It is totally impossible to make an appointment!" Lord knows I would have made an appointment if it hadn't been for the fact that the store's phone number appears nowhere on the Apple web site and you can't sign up for an appointment online.

"Right," he said. Was he just teasing me? "There are some people ahead of you." I looked around at the other Condemned Patrons in the room. Every one of them was over 60. OMG, is this where old people come to die? "HOW DO YOU TURN THIS THING ON???" I heard one woman ask. "Oh Lord," I prayed, "Please let these kids think I'm hipper than the rest of these old fogies."

"Give me your name, and I can get you in the queue," he said, like St. Peter telling me which direction I'll be going.

I told him my name. That was when he started calling me, "Miss Lesley." I haven't been a "Miss" in 40 years. And this kid I've never met is calling me, "Miss Lesley."

"If you give me your cell number, I can text you when we're ready to see you, Miss Lesley," he offered, "It should be about 45 minutes."

I took the walk of shame past all the youngsters in blue shirts on my way out of the store. I went to gobble down some lunch, which I couldn't enjoy because I was waiting for my text. I didn't dare be so cavalier as to leave my phone in my purse where I might not hear it. I couldn't risk missing my cue. St. Peter would be calling. I popped a Tums.

Exactly 45 minutes later, I got the text saying, "Come on back! We're ready for you!" I'm sure this was meant to sound upbeat. For me it was like a bell. Tolling.

At the store, I was once again greeted by a chipper youth, "How can we help you today?"

Oh, please, I have to go through this torture again? She sent me to a Specialist. The Specialist wanted to know how she could help me today, and after I explained the whole story for the fourth time, she took me to wait in Purgatory — which at the Apple store is a very uncomfortable high stool at a work table half-way down the store, where there is a computer turned on streaming Fox News. She said, "A Genius will be right with you." 

This particular torment lasted what seemed an eternity. I was about to complain, "I got a text saying you were ready for me 25 minutes ago," to the denizen of darkness who was walking toward me, but he was assigned to the old gal sitting across from me. I protested. "What's going on?" I wailed, "I've been here way longer than this lady!" I am not usually so vocal, but really!! 

He explained, "THIS LADY HAS AN iPAD. I ONLY DO iPADS. YOU'VE GOT A MAC BOOK AIR! YOU NEED A MAC BOOK GENIUS!" I found his shouting a bit impertinent — an assumption that all senior women are hard of hearing.

I was a full half hour in Purgatory until my very own Genius came along. I thought, "This is it. Next step, the Inferno." I walked with him toward the very depths of the store for what I thought would be the final level of humiliation. But, I must say that he was very kind. A Boy Scout type. Personable. Smart. Almost-angelic. He listened to my tale and wasn't the least bit patronizing. He fixed the problem with my email (which as it turns out was not "operator error" as I'm certain you have all surmised it would be) by deleting my account and re-installing it. He healed my Mac. I left the store as though reborn. Walking on a cloud. Saved from the fiery fate of computer shaming. 
So, what's the moral of my story? Is it: customer service from the customer's point of view is sometimes very different than the service provider's? (Apple Inc. might think they've perfected their system. I let them know differently in their customer follow-up survey.) Or is this a parable about the kindness of one man who didn't discriminate against an "old lady"? Who restored my dignity and faith in youthful computer geeks? I like to think it's the latter. (I gave him high praise in the survey.) Maybe my assumptions about them were as thick as what I believed theirs were about me. 

In the meantime, I hope and pray that nothing else goes wrong with my devices, forever and ever. Amen.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Dear Dee-Dee in Dayton,

Seeking a steady course to navigate life's stormy waters? You may well turn to prayer or meditation. Need a listening ear to talk through those deeply personal issues? You might ask for counsel from clergy, therapists, your spouse, or dear friends. But for all your other garden-variety, knucklehead problems, you can't go wrong with Dear Abby.

I started reading Dear Abby as a pre-teen. I haven't always agreed with her, but for the most part, I think that this lady's advice is pretty much right on the money. I've written hundreds of letters to her myself. All of them in my head. 

That's right, I have not sent a single one. Whenever something irksome crops up, I find the mental exercise of writing to Dear Abby can be highly therapeutic. Usually, by the time I've composed an imaginary letter, I've pretty much gotten over whatever it was that was bugging me or solved whatever problem I needed to solve. It works like a charm when you're angry-vacuuming or furious-ironing.

You could try it, too! Here's how. Really dwell on your issue until your brain's ready to explode. Then, start off with:

Dear Abby

Good start, right? 

Add a line that makes her feel good and that will assure her you aren't a total self-centered narcissistic nut:

I haven't missed a single one of your columns since the 1960s when you used to say that anytime boys and girls get together they should keep four feet on the floor at all times!  I avoided teen pregnancy because of you! Thank you!

Then, make sure that she's paying attention. Your problem is pretty bad, right?

Even though I have read your advice for nearly 50 years, I haven't had such a dilemma as I do now that would make me write to you.

Next, describe yourself. Be as flattering as you want to be. It's your bio. You're the protagonist of your story. Paint yourself in the best light possible: 

I am a 63 year old woman, pleasant, friendly, and a heck of a good .…

Add details about your personal life. This is so that Dear Abby knows that you are undoubtedly the one in the right regardless of the disagreement you're writing about: 

….happily-married, retired from a brilliant career, community-do-gooder, now a stay-at-home dog mom, humor blogger, and part-time aspiring artist who….

Now, you're ready for the body of your letter. This is where you launch into your particular predicament, introduce the antagonist(s), and set up the question:

For the last few weeks, I've been….

It has left me feeling…..

And I really wonder if I should tell them that they….

Or if I should stifle the urge to…..

Fill in the blanks as appropriate. 

The next section is the "sell." This is where you stress the urgency of your issue and drive it home with emotional emphasis:

Do I risk being called a.….?

Or am I perfectly justified in being….?

Honestly, Abby, I don't know WHAT will happen if I don't….!

This ……is driving me CRAZY!

I REALLY need your advice!

Finally, close your pretend letter with a compelling, thematic sign-off that recaps the acute nature of your dire need. While you're at it, give yourself a clever nickname that sums up your current mood. This is the most creative section of your letter, so give it all you've got:

Yours in anguish,

Dee-Dee (Distressed and Distraught) in Dayton

There. You've gotten it all off your chest. Now, don't you feel better? And just think: you saved yourself a postage stamp! Go! Write your letter.

Dear Abby,