(Photograph copyright 2010, all rights reserved.)
Now to that rant I promised yesterday and didn't deliver... Except I can't do it. Not the way I planned, anyway. I can tell you a story. Let's see how that goes instead.
For the past four days, I've been trying to give money to Steve Jobs. And what a job that's been! I've never had so much hassle and kerfuffle trying to get someone to take money from me. It's a nightmare.
So, the back story is this. The Boy (That would be my husband, a nickname I shamelessly stole from Christie Blatchford which is another long story altogether.) never buys things for himself. Hardly ever, anyway. It's not that he can't afford to spend money on himself, he just doesn't do it. For example, he gets his jeans and polo shirts from Land's End. Overstocks. Work clothes he'll buy when he needs to and he doesn't skimp, but just for his own pleasure, not so much.
This means that I was overjoyed when I finally heard him express a wish to purchase something! It's rare. When it happens, I make every effort possible to make this easier for him. See, he hates shopping. No one could ever make him set foot in a mall even at gunpoint. Heck, even if someone had ME at gunpoint, he might think twice. Going to any store is something that he sees as a cubic waste of time.
Driving with him is a hideous experience. Parking, especially when he sees the rates, makes him bananas. Actually going in to a store? About 90% of the time, forget it. He'll stand outside with his hands behind his back, looking like the Secret Service. He does, too. Especially when he's got that leather jacket/beret combo going. Hubba hubba.
So. A few months ago, he expressed an interest in an IPad. Even though he's a PC guy, he figured the IPad would be a nifty way to read magazines and whatnot while he was traveling (which he does every week). Also, he then wouldn't have to do his shopping on the company computer - even though the company doesn't care about that. He just doesn't think they need to know about his new acid-green chair. Whatever. It sounded like a good idea to me.
He decided to wait. It takes awhile for Apple to get it right sometimes, so this made sense to me. When the time came, he decided to take the leap. He decided that he wanted the 32G wi fi only IPad. NOW. That's right. In 21 years of working for the firm, he has never owned his computer. It's never been an issue. On this, he had to have the machine immediately. Bless the lad, I can see his point.
So. We decided to go to an Apple store and just buy the blasted thing. Saturday, after we went to the Farmer's Market and then the gym, we showered, had a snack and set out. I decided to go to the store in suburbopurgatory because the parking is free, which would supposedly make him a little happier. I called the store before we embarked, they said they had what we wanted in stock, and we left.
It took 40 minutes to get there. This was not fun. All the way there, and keep in mind that we're dealing with a 40-nevermind-year-old guy, he was muttering: Are we there yet? Jesus Christ, YOU RAN A YELLOW! You're going to get us killed! Killed! You're driving like a bat out of Hades, woman! Oh dear Gawd. How the hell long does this drive take, anyway? What? How long has that construction been there? Do you come this way often? Well, I can see where that future suspension repair is going to come from! Oh Geez! Now we're in the suburbs! Yuck. I'm getting hives!
I was serene. I am long since used to this nonsense. Since he doesn't enjoy driving himself, I do it and while I've yet to follow through, he knows that if the whining gets to be too much, he can walk home. That is, there's a limit, he just hasn't quite hit it yet. Generally, when we leave the house he has no keys with him (Why should he? I have them, right?), so he settles down eventually. Faster even, when he realizes that he forgot his wallet, too.
So. 40 minutes for the drive. Five minutes to walk to the Apple Store so I could have the following conversation:
"Hi," I said, speaking to the kid at the door, "We're here to buy an IPad."
"Do you have an appointment?" she said.
"No. Can't I just go to the desk, get one, pay for it and leave?"
"Oh no. You have to talk to a salesperson. There's a 30 minute wait. You should have made an appointment. No one can speak to you now."
Can you see where this is going? The Boy heard the part about waiting and headed for the door. I caught him, found a guy in an Apple shirt wandering around, cornered him and told him what I was after. He wasn't thrilled about it, but he went in the back room.
"Sorry," he mumbled, "They aren't in stock. We probably won't see any for a couple of weeks."
"What is this, IKEA? (We all know IKEA is just Swedish for 'It's out of stock.')" I was getting testy, what with The Boy heading for the door and the thought that whoever I spoke to had told me that they WERE in stock, in fact that they had lots of them. The idea of hanging around waiting for a 12-year-old salesperson for half an hour didn't thrill me either. Not to mention the 40-minute drive in 90 degree heat.
"I don't know who told you that. We've been out of those for days."
"Doesn't Best Buy have them?"
"Do you know which ones have got them?
"No, and I'm not allowed to phone and find out."
So we left. The Boy was surly about it, but there's a Best Buy across the street from the Apple Store, so I figured we could ask there. A slap-happy optimist, that's me! They didn't have one.
*And here I have to insert something of an apology to Best Buy. I have long complained about the staff and their terrible attitude, especially to female customers. I have learned the way to navigate there, and I'll share it. Don't wander around the store. Go to the greeter at the front, smile and ask if they can find out if what you want is in the store. They're happy to do it. In fact, when they don't have something, they'll even phone around and find out if another store has it. This time they only thing they could do is tell me to check another store that happened to be on our critical path homeward.*
We checked a second Best Buy store and they couldn't help us either, but the guy did find out that the store that stocks IPads is so far on the other end of the city that it isn't worth the drive. It's PAST the downtown Apple Store by another 20 minutes in the car.
So we went home. The Boy was disappointed. After all, we had spent half a day TRYING to spend six hundred bucks. Being thwarted is a powerful thing. Emotions were running high. We went for a walk, stopped at our local for a beer, and determined that we would just order it online. We did just that. We felt better. Ok, I had a hip cramp from all the damned driving and he was still vibrating even AFTER I told him that the truck had been at least 30 feet away when I made that left..... ok, maybe ten.
Sunday morning rolled around. The sun was shining. The world continued to rotate. Everyone in the house was still breathing. A good day. We made another trip to the gym, (That foie gras isn't free any more. We have to earn it.) got home, make breakfast and commence to check e-mail.
"Oh shit-bugger-damn, those assholes!" The Boy trumpeted, "That is the absolute goddamned limit! I'm done! I quit! I'm going to order an HP web thingamie right now!"
He was clearly still reeling from the drive. I had no idea he was so traumatized. I poured a little coffee into him and made sure he was eating. Also, he isn't a patient soul at the best of times, and he was being tested severely by that point. Frankly, I'm surprised it took him that long to bust out the bad language. It turns out that the IPad we ordered wouldn't be shipped until the end of the month, but we were guaranteed to get it......right about the time we're going to be out of town for a week.
Now I was getting pissed. I had picked up on the psychosis and decided that dammit, I was going to get him the blasted machine no matter what! I suspect this is similar to parents who are desperately determined to get the hottest new toy for their kids at Christmas. Whatever. I was DAMNED if he wasn't going to get what he wanted within the next 48 hours.
First, I went to the web site. No dice. I couldn't open the invoice, even by signing in on my account (they make you have an account, even if you only spend fifty cents on a piece of string there). I had no choice. I phoned Apple. This takes time. To find the phone number, you have to spend about half an hour online. That's how many hoops you have to jump through.
Once you have the number and dial it, a perky male voice comes on, informs you that it can handle any question you have (yeah, right) and you have to say "operator" a dozen or so times while it runs through the entire call menu three times. No shit. This is the way it works. The machine switches you towards a human, after telling you (no matter what time of day it is or even what day) that they are "experiencing higher-than-average call volumes and you'll have to suck it up and wait...unless you want to go back to Automated Guy.
I got a human. Here's the conversation:
"This is Cedric (I'm making that up), how may I give you excellent customer service today?"
"Hello Cedric, I need help with an online order. Can you access order number (13 digits plus letters) for me?"
"Well Mrs. -----, I can't do that from here. I can send you back to the automated service, though..."
"NO!!! Gawd NO! Please no! Can you just transfer me to..."
"I'll transfer you to sales, ma'am."
(There was clicking on the line. Lots of clicking. And Musak. From Dr. Zhivago. Fitting. Something that sounds like half a dial tone. Then another voice.)
"Hello Mrs. ----. This is Tina (I'm making her name up, too). How may I give you excellent customer service today?"
"Tina! So glad to hear a voice...any voice (I was starting to sound a little unhinged, but I think she's used to that), can you access Order number....."
"Yes, ma'am! Here it is! It's going to be delivered August __."
"Er, Tina, we're going to be out of town. Can we change the shipping to overnight? That way we'll get it before..."
"I'm sorry ma'am, we can only do that if you cancel your order and reorder."
"Ok, let's do that. Right now. The same credit card..."
"I'm sorry ma'am, you have to do that online. You can cancel the order with me, though."
At this point, I'm shaking and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, "Tina," I say in gentle, dulcet tones, "Honey, I'm trying hard to give you folks money here, and I just can't seem to do it. Can you at least tell me if that thing is in stock?"
"Oh no ma'am! If you re-order now, you'll lose your place in the line and it'll be September before we can ship it. And I'm not allowed to tell you if an item is in stock."
"Fine," I muttered softly while humming a Ramones tune and clicking a pen on my teeth, "just please cancel the order."
I hung up and The Boy spared me a pitying glance before returning to his newspaper. We've had the "why on earth do you think they'd help with anything" conversation many times. I live in hope, but it's really the triumph of hope over experience.
We read the papers, I baked a cake, we started to prep dinner, there were cocktails. Things were looking up. Naturally, I had a brainwave. The downtown Apple store was going to close at five, and it was ten to five. I stopped everything, and reeking of onions and gin, ran to the phone.
Someone actually answered. This is a minor miracle. When you phone an actual Apple location, the phone system ALWAYS tries to send you to the national call center. That way lies madness, because if you do push the wrong button, you'll be told that they can't give you the phone number to any store AND they can't transfer you.
"This is Dillon (another made-up name), can I help you?"
This voice sounded kind of cranky. I was reassured in a way. It sounded as if the artificial perky had worn off.
"Dillon. Do you have the 32 gig IPad wi fi in stock?"
"No. No one has that one in stock. Nowhere in the country is THAT MACHINE.... *puff puff* in stock. We have the 64 gig version here."
"Great, here's my credit card number, put one on hold and I'll get it first thing in the morning."
"Ma'am. No. We aren't allowed to do that. No holds, not for anyone, not ever."
"Ok, then just pay for the thing..."
"NO! *long shuddering sigh* I mean no. We need to take an imprint of your credit card."
Ask yourself, people. When was the last time anyone ever took an imprint of your card? I smelled bullshit.
"Fine. I'll be in first thing in the morning." I hung up.
This morning, I was at the store less than five minutes after it opened. I walked over to the cash desk in a purposeful manner, asked for the 64 gig whatsit and waited. She looked for a millisecond as if she were going to ask if I had an appointment, so I said, "Listen, kid. No appointment. Just a credit card. Do. You. Have. The. Machine."
She turned and looked for it. For a second, it looked like she was going to say something, but found the cabinet empty, shivered for a second, opened another door and found the thing. On a pile. Beside ANOTHER pile of the same device, the one that whatshisname couldn't even tell me if the had or not, but could certainly never put on hold..... that had cards labelled "Hold for..." on them taped to the boxes.
I rallied. I paid for the IPad. Told the very nice cashier what I'd been told the day before and also told her that her company wasn't doing her or any of the other staff any favors.
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That was the adventure of my weekend. It sucked. I was going to write a profanity-laced rant at Apple, at the lousy service, at the crappy set-up they have going, about the shit customer service...but then I had a think as I was driving home this morning. (Parking downtown for 36 minutes, $17.00. Worth every nickel.) There was very loud music (Smashmouth. Fush Yu Mang, their best disc.) on the CD player. It's calming.
See, the people that work at Apple are terrific. They are smart young people. They know their stuff. They are extremely well trained and they honestly and sincerely do their best to help their customers. They're nice. Honestly and without any qualifiers, these are nice people trying to do a good job. NOTHING in the surreal journey that I had to go through to buy a one pound piece of cool technology was their fault. NONE OF IT.
This is what I think it's about.
It's all about a sales strategy that pretends to be as cool as a 70s night club. They deny access. They abuse their customers because they are laboring under the delusion that the customers want to be treated like crap. It doesn't matter if you have the money to spend, you have to wait in line. You can spend half a day and a tank of gas to spend your money there and they don't care. They have actually convinced a whole lot of people that this is cool! It's working for them.
Sadly, when someone like, say The Boy, just wants to buy and go home to play with his purchase, he's not allowed do it. He's like an increasing number of their customers. He has money and he wants to spend it with the minimum of hassle. He doesn't give a rat's behind if he's supposed to think waiting around for a commodity product to be handed to him is "cool". He's past all that crap.
Like he says, after all the years he's spent working, "I AM The Man."
Is this all an elaborate upsell? I ended up spending a hundred bucks more than I planned just to avoid going through this process again. Think about it. I'll grant you that I could have got stubborn and decided to wait. I'm generally pretty tight-fisted when it comes to overspending. This was too much for me, though. I paid a hundred bucks to escape. I wonder how many other people do the same?
It's too bad, really. I LIKE Apple products. We both have IPods. We like them. I'm writing this on my MacBook. I like it a lot. I've got a couple of IPhones on order (and do NOT get me going on how "cooperative" AT&T is, please), and they're going to be fun. I know that.
I can't help feeling as if we've been taken, though. I wonder if Mr. Jobs, safe from the scrutiny of actual people in his sterile lair, understands exactly how pissed off people are getting? I wonder if he understands how unfair he's being to his sales staff, because they're the ones who have to deal with customers...like me. Frustrated people. Unhappy people.
Do you think he's paying them enough to deal with that?