A Tale of Two Experiences or One Bad Apple…

Stiffness and more than a little pain in my neck and shoulders convinced me this week to order the necessary hardware to get my laptop up off the desk and help me improve my posture. Being in no small part a bit of an Apple fanboy, I ordered one of their beautifully designed extended keyboards.


The keyboard arrived this morning, and I was reminded again–from the design of the outside of the box, to the experience of opening it, to the minimalistic eloquence of the object’s design–that Apple are the uncontested masters of experience design. I mused briefly on how far behind them every other company I know of is, and clapped myself on the shoulder for being a discriminating customer with taste.

Fast forward to lunch. I pick up my iPhone, tap something into it, and go to push the little button on top that locks the screen.

It’s gone.

The ingredients of experiences are feelings, and this is a story about feelings. That button seems to have just fallen off. I’m a little surprised and disappointed, but I’m not fanboy enough to expect that Apple’s products are indestructible. I’m willing to forgive. “No big deal,” I think, “I’ll just go down to the Optus (my mobile provider) shop and get them to replace it.” Considering Optus’ reputation for service I wasn’t surprised that they palmed the whole thing off to Apple in about 5 seconds.

At this point I was, oddly enough, relieved that I didn’t have to deal with Optus fools who never give me the help I’m after. Instead I had a perfect excuse to enter the beautiful Apple Store down on George St. and I was looking forward to them handing over my shiny new replacement iPhone.

To get a date with an Apple Store “Genius”, you book an appointment online. So off I went to Apple’s lovely web site, clicked around a bit (Support > Repair > Enter serial number > Make an appointment), and landed on this screen:


Ahhhh, just the kind of design I like: clear options, no fluff, and an overall feeling of simplicity. Lovely. I was pleased to be here, and optimistic about wrapping up this appointment business quickly. I’ve got an account at Apple, so I clicked “Member”. After two screens they want my membership number for something I’ve never heard of called “One to One”. No explanations. I feel a bit stupid and confused as I return to the screen above and start again. Let’s click “Guest” and see what happens.


Sign in, easy, quickly done. I like these kinds of tasks, this is obviously where I want to be. Next!


I obviously want technical support. Click! Now I’m getting somewhere! Maybe I was stupid to click “Member” back there, but let’s forget about that shall we? I’m smart now and my new iPhone can’t be far away!


iPhone of course! Click! Rolling along now, almost done!


A layer warns me to update my software and backup my data before I come to the store. Prudent advice. I’m not very interested right now to be honest, but it does heighten my optimism –if they’re telling me what to do before coming to the store, then I’m almost there, right? Continue! Click!


Uh. Wait a sec.

Confused. Also disappointed but mostly just confused. Surely after asking for my info, and even instructing me what to do before I come to the store, surely after all of that it must be possible to get an appointment? And if there’s no appointment, surely Apple wouldn’t just slam the door in the face of a customer with a problem? Even if they were to offer me an appointment in two weeks or two months time, it’d be better than this. Must just be a bug. Surely. Or maybe I did something wrong?

There are only two options: “Done”, which I’m not, and “Exit”, which most certainly won’t get me what I want. They might as well reduce it to a big “Piss off” button. For lack of any more sensible option, I click “Done”, which brings me back to the support start page. I dig the serial number out again, click click type type click click. Perhaps I’m in denial, but I’m determined to get an appointment.

Imagine calling tech support, and after a couple of questions the operator states flatly, “I can’t help you,” and hangs up. This is what just happened to me. Twice. No help. No option how to continue. Just a refusal to give me an appointment. This is what we call angry. I try it all one more time for good measure, which only makes me angrier.

So I ask my friends if they know what’s up. One of them replies, “it always says that.” With that I decided the whole thing’s hopeless, and made a plan to put on my irate face and drop by the Apple Store (without an appointment) to make the life of some clerk (they’re obviously not Geniuses) uncomfortable until I get my replacement.

And this morning I was in love with Apple.

Update: I did eventually get an appointment and everything went great. Which somehow makes this experience even more disappointing.


  1. Tom Voirol says:

    Excellent article, Matt. I’ve wondered about their Genius Bar policies too.

    Effectively what you have is three resources – time and number of support staff. What Apple did was limit time by only allowing you to book Genius Bar appointments up to three days in advance. Every slot is twenty minutes so we have a restricted resource.

    If that is how they want to play it then they will just have to scale up the number of staff on duty to accommodate the demand for support. Whenever you go to the shop though there are hardly ever more than 3 or 4 “geniuses” manning the 20 or so stations.

    Underneath all the swanky design of Apple’s support offering there is something seriously wrong with their operations.

  2. Ian Stalvies says:

    Great description Matt – had a similar experience trying to renew my UK visa a few years back, they had TWO phone lines for the whole country – and if one of those lines was busy – which it always was – it actually DID hang up on you cold.

    Based on her WDS preso last week, sounds like a job for Suze Ingram and Service Design, no?

  3. Matt Balara says:

    It wasn’t the fact that I couldn’t get an appointment immediately that I found irritating. It was the brusque manner in which I was presented with a dead end. If they’d at least let me know when I might be able to get an appointment I would’ve been satisfied (see my new post with a simple suggestion for improvement). When I did actually go to the store the experience was very smooth and satisfying.

    Absolutely! Although overall I reckon Apple does it all pretty good. This feels like it was just an oversight, a weak link in the experience chain.

  4. Alex says:

    Wonder why they neglected this scenario at apple… It’s very important for branding. Your story came as surprise to me.