Opinion: Genius Bar leaves me smarting

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[Editor's note: my repair saga has now come to an end—you can read the rest of the story in my follow-up article.]

I’m a very patient man. It takes a lot to tick me off, and my enemies list is very short—a certain ultrasound technician and any D.J. who thinks Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” is an acceptable playlist item are all that really come to mind. But I must say that Apple’s Genius Bar has me at the end of my rope.

After reviewing Apple’s latest 13-inch MacBook Pro models, I was impressed enough to replace my 4-year-old MacBook at the end of April. Although it was a very nice upgrade, I noticed some wonky behavior from the start. That culminated in increasingly dire problems over the past few weeks: kernel panics, freezes, and eventually a complete inability to boot. I ran the Apple Hardware Test that comes with every Mac, and immediately (and repeatedly) got an error message indicating some sort of RAM problem.

My story

Seeing as my MacBook Pro was not even three months old, and covered under Apple’s warranty, I made an appointment at the Genius Bar at the flagship San Francisco Apple Store near Union Square (the first time I’ve needed to bring a Mac in for repair, as a matter of fact). This was a few days before Steve Jobs proclaimed, “We want to make all of our customers happy. And if you don’t know that about Apple, you don’t know Apple,” in response to the iPhone 4 and the issues surrounding its antenna, but I didn’t think it needed to be said by the company’s CEO and was very hopeful for a speedy fix.

The Genius who helped me performed a (more sophisticated and useful) hardware test that confirmed my problem and pinpointed a bad RAM module. The store was out of replacement RAM, so he went in the back, took out the bad DIMM, and sent me home with my laptop now running 2GB of RAM, promising to call when the RAM arrived.

Once I got home, the computer worked briefly, but had lots of problems and soon it refused to boot at all. Two days later I went in to have them install the newly arrived RAM, and was told my MacBook Pro still wasn’t working properly and required further investigation.

Three days passed without a word, so I called to check up on my laptop, and was told it needed a new logic board, which would take 3-5 days to swap. Then, the next morning, the store called to say they had instead replaced both DIMMs and everything was fine. So I went in to pick it up and decided not to take any chances, testing out the MacBook Pro to make sure everything was hunky dory before leaving the store. It wouldn’t even boot. I got the impression that nobody even tested it after putting in the new RAM.

So another Genius checked my computer back in and said this time, for real, they were going to replace the logic board. Although it usually takes 3-5 days, he was going to put me to the top of the queue and try to get it done in 2-3. He was very apologetic and clearly wanted to take care of the problem.

The very next day, I got a message—because they called my home phone rather than the iPhone number I had told them to use and that was printed on all the paperwork—that the logic board replacement was done but Apple’s tests were still showing all sorts of errors, and they needed my approval to send it to an “offsite repair facility” that had all the needed parts rather than waiting for them to come to the store.

I called back and the person I spoke with told me a slightly different story, that the logic board replacement failed and it needed to go out to a better-equipped repair facility. When I asked what my options were, she said I could let them send it out for repair or I could pick up my broken laptop and take it home. I politely explained that I’d been in three times, and they’d tried several different fixes to no avail, and asked if I could get a replacement MacBook Pro instead. The woman’s answer was simple: “No, that’s not a possibility.”

After nearly two weeks of misdiagnosis, incomplete repairs, mixed communications, and no laptop, is it asking too much to expect a more customer-friendly resolution to my problem? I don’t think so.

The takeaway

Now, I’m not saying that one bad experience with the Genius Bar should tarnish its image irreparably. I’ve been to many different Apple Stores on many different occasions, and have always found the staff to be friendly and helpful.

But I am disappointed at a poor level of customer service that, in my mind, isn’t representative of Apple as a whole. Apple seems to hand out replacement iPhones to anyone who complains about a problem these days, but I have a laptop that never seemed to work right—I’ll go so far as to call it a lemon—and it should be dealt with accordingly. Professing love for your customers and demonstrating it are two very different things.

So what about you? What have your experiences been like with repairs at the Genius Bar?

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