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.