One of the most frustrating things about owning a Nokia phone, in their Symbian OS era, was having to experience Nokia Care, their customer service centre. I almost practically relived that experience, not with a Nokia device, but taking my Retina MacBook Pro to A.Lab, one of Apple’s authorised service provider.
My previous experience with A.Lab, also at their same outlet at Plaza Singapura, was quite alright. I had an issue with dead pixels on my Retina MacBook Pro, and the matter was handled professionally and expediently.
I can’t say the same for my experience last week. This time, the problem was with a bloated battery. This is covered under warranty, no questions asked, regardless of how OS X reports the battery condition.
Let’s not talk about the actual interaction with the service representative just yet. The queue, it was just horrendous. It reminded me of Nokia Care. There were so many people. To send my notebook in was an exercise that took close to two hours. It is just completely ridiculous. To think that Apple being a premium brand and with their focus on customer satisfaction, you’d expect not to spend two hours to drop off a defective device. I could have gone to a Sim Lim Square shop and have the battery changed in half that time.
I waited patiently, or perhaps quite impatiently, although I didn’t let my impatience show. I was only the sixth in the queue for Mac servicing. A.Lab somehow thought it cute to have separate queue numbers depending on what kind of device you’re bring in. There’s a queue for iPhones, for example. From observation, it looks like many people are there for iPhone issues. Nice that the Mac has a different queue, I thought, so perhaps I don’t have to wait with iPhones.
But no, the iPhones queue numbers kept getting called. There’s also an “others” queue, which covers iPads. All sort of queue numbers were being called, but hardly ever the Mac ones. At the start, the estimated queue time for being sixth in the queue was 60 minutes. I waited no less than 90 minutes before getting served. Mind you, I was just number 6 in the queue. There were many dozens of other customers around, but I was just number 6 in the Mac queue.
It’s quite obvious that A.Lab was putting in more resources to serve iPhone users, and perhaps also the “others” category of users. That could be the fair thing to do, I suppose. Then, perhaps, they should just have one number sequence, instead of giving false hope to customers like me, thinking in my case that there are only just 5 others before me.
Small matter there. It was really annoying to see other queue numbers keep getting called, and mine just not moving.
Then, it was my turn. That’s where things started get much worse. I explained that my battery was bloated, and that it probably will need replacement. The customer representative told me that for changing batteries, there would be a charge of some S$100+, and that I have to go over to their payment counter to make payment first.
I could not believe what I heard. I glared at that customer representative for a few seconds, before telling him it’s not that I came in wanting to change my batteries for the fun of it, but that the batteries are defective and he should take care of it, covered under AppleCare.
At that point, he hadn’t yet run my serial number to check, so he didn’t yet know my warranty coverage details. Upon hearing about AppleCare, he said the charges might be different, and promptly went into the back office to get details. I thought this was just ridiculous that he didn’t know that it ought to be free, let alone having to go check the details.
He returned, and announced that because I have AppleCare Protection Plan, the battery replacement will be free-of-charge. I looked at him, and told him that it’s not about AppleCare Protection Plan (this is the extended coverage), but as long as the hardware is under warranty, the battery replacement is free-of-charge. I didn’t get any response from him. I suppose he didn’t know how to answer me, and just pretended he didn’t hear me.
He went on to do what he had to do, one step at a time. I was getting to be in a rush, and asked if he could parallelise his work. At that point, he was just sitting there waiting for the hardware diagnostic to run. Surely, he could do something else instead of just staring at the screen? Like go do the service form and other paper work? Perhaps a big reason why the queue moves so slow is that A.Lab folks are just not optimising their workflow.
So he obliged and went on to do other things while the diagnostics ran. He asked a couple of mandatory questions like backups, data may get lost, etc. Yes, I know. Then he asked to confirm my email address is correct. It was important, because that’s where they’ll send a quotation for the repair.
Eh… quotation? But this is covered under warranty right? Yes, it is, but he explained that if it turns out that some other hardware is damaged, I’ll have to pay.
Oh, wait a moment, if any hardware is damaged, then it got damaged by the bloated battery, obviously it must be covered under warranty too. Why would I have to pay? My Retina MacBook Pro may be old, but it’s physically still in mint condition. Functionally, everything is working fine, as he can see from the diagnostics test. It’s just the battery that’s bloated.
Perhaps it was just a standard script to talk about quotation. He could have put it in a nicer way. This customer, me, has become really annoyed at having been asked to pay right from the start. Can he just stop talking about paying? What is the use of warranty if one still has to pay for repairs under warranty?
I couldn’t wait to get out of A.Lab.
For the simple battery replacement job, it wasn’t until the end of three whole working days, not including the day I sent in, that A.Lab finally notified me that my notebook was ready for collection.
Back again at A.Lab for collection, this time I was the first in the collection queue. First. There was no one before me. I should be done quite fast right? It still took all of 25 minutes before I got out of A.Lab. I’m just glad that the collection queue was much shorter (or, technically, there was no queue) than for send-ins. The service centre was packed with as many depressed people milling around as there were when I sent my notebook in,
While I was patiently waiting my turn, with no one else before me, I chanced upon the iMac setup on a counter for customers to use, and saw what someone was trying to do.
It looks like someone was also upset with the experience at A.Lab to want to search for “apple complaint department” while waiting for their turn.
The wait, and perhaps the service and overall experience, is just not up to expectations. I don’t know if it’s that Apple products have gotten so lousy that that many of them are needing servicing, or their service centres are simply not scaling up fast enough to match their device sales. Either way, Apple should take note to remedy the ridiculous service experience.
Now, I’m beginning to wonder how the situation is like at QCD, Apple’s other authorised service provider in Singapore.