Do the Right Thing


I had a hardware problem with my MacBook Pro today. Apple delivered a model of stellar customer service. I figured the least I could do in return was write about it.

My three-week-old laptop woke up dead today. I Googled the symptoms on another computer, performed some tests, and convinced myself it was a hardware problem.

(It’s almost never a hardware problem. According to Pournelle’s Law, it’s usually a cable. If it’s not a cable, it’s something you did to the software. Bugs, viruses, and hardware problems are way down on the list of likely culprits.)

A hardware problem meant calling AppleCare, or visiting an Apple Store in person. I don’t think Genius Bars replace logic boards, but I figured it was better to hand my laptop to an Apple employee than to rely on UPS/Airborne/whatever, since our building has had problems with package delivery in the past.

I called the Apple Store at Lenox around 10:30 am. Their first Genius Bar appointment was 7:00 pm tomorrow. When I sounded disappointed, the woman who answered the phone volunteered to check the Perimeter store, and found a 3:45 appointment today. First example of excellent customer service: she didn’t have to do that, but it made my life better.

I got to the Perimeter store a little early. Friendly T-shirted employee greeted me, sent me to the Genius Bar maitre d’, he explained they were running right on time, and asked me to wait until 3:45. At 3:45, he came over and introduced me to Brendan behind the counter.

I had had a few minutes to think over what I’d say to Brendan, so I dove in:

Laptop wouldn’t boot this morning, wouldn’t pass POST, got three long beeps. Googled that, and it means bad RAM. Popped the case, started swapping RAM modules. It runs fine with the bottom slot empty and either module in the top slot. It fails POST with either module in the bottom slot. Sounds like a logic board problem to me. I figure it’s gotta go back?

That took thirty seconds. Brendan’s immediate reaction was: “Hmm. It shouldn’t do that. We can send it back… but is this a custom build-to-order? If not, we can see if we have a laptop like this one in stock.” No dithering, no “let me go check with my manager,” no “expediting fee,” just trying to figure out the best thing to do for me.

Wow. This is really above and beyond the call of duty, and I didn’t expect it.

Turns out they had an identical unit in stock (one argument against buying BTO). He hauled it out, broke the seals, popped out the factory hard disk (which required removing only one screw!), popped in my non-standard Samsung 500 GB, closed it back up, and handed it to me. He spent more time doing the paperwork than the hard disk swap.

I was out the door smiling at 4:06 pm. Elapsed time, 21 minutes.

I don’t think you can do that with a Dell.

Let’s do the math. At 3:47 pm, there were two machines in Apple’s store. One was broken, the other one was going to get sold to someone else for full retail. Apple was obligated to fix my broken one under warranty, but they were perfectly within their rights to ask me to ship it back to a repair depot, leaving me without a laptop over the weekend (at least). And I’d likely have had to drive out to Perimeter again to pick up the repaired unit sometime next week; that’s most of an hour round-trip. But my time and inconvenience are not a tangible cost for them. This approach would leave them with the untouched new machine on the shelf, ready to be sold for $2499.

But Brendan instantly decided to swap machines with me. I walked out with the new one, and Apple gets my old one back. They’ll repair it and sell it as a refurbished unit online for (I suspect) $2299. So, choosing to delight me as a customer incurred a real cost for them of $200.

Is Apple hardware overpriced? What’s your time worth?


  1. Pretty cool story. I’m impressed they gave you a brand new one. They might have tried that with mine when I brought it in, but of course the hard drive isn’t accessible on the Air.