A Cautionary Tale On Apple And Warnings On Bad Technical Support

September 28, 2015
By: Rob Enderle

This week I got a troubling email from an Apple (News - Alert) customer who had been wronged by the company.   While this is only a sample of one there have been rumblings that Apple support has been degrading (there is even a site for pissed Apple customers to vent) as the company cuts costs to maintain margins and try to stop the slide in stock price.  It struck me upon listening to the tale that there are some common lessons here that could apply to Windows as well particularly given there is a massive criminal effort by, fortunately largely inept crooks, to call you saying they work for Microsoft (News - Alert) and want to fix your PC when instead they want to do something nefarious. 

Let me tell you the Apple story and then suggest some practices that you should follow regardless of what platform you are on to stay safe. 

Diane Katz PhD. 

Diane Katz is a PhD and a practicing specialist in Team Building.   She is a long time Apple customer and has spent around $25K on Apple products.  (Here is a good opportunity to calculate how much money Apple has made off you) Currently she has lost almost all of her critical business financial files, personal pictures, and videos and believes Apple is at fault.  Let’s see if you agree.

Diane’s Story

A few months back Diane discovered her email wasn’t working.   She had the dreaded spinning ball and it appeared that the application was hung.  She called three Apple support people who gave her different advice.  The first was that her hard drive was failing and that she needed a new SSD drive, which cost around $650 (this speaks to why I don’t use Apple, SSD drives aren’t that expensive). 

Now let’s stop there and point out that there is very little likelihood that the primary reason email wasn’t resolving is a hard drive failure.  Chances are this is some communications setting, driver, or networking element that isn’t working right.  It could even be a router problem (it wasn’t).   After replacing the drive and migrating her stuff the problem remained. 

This was escalated to a senior support engineer who (and this is where the big problem was) advised her to mess with her files and Timeline (News - Alert) deleting or eliminating both with near abandon and promising her that her stuff wouldn’t be compromised.  (She was understandably nervous).  After she was done not only did her email still not work (suggesting it had nothing to do with any files or drive) all of her Quicken files, documents, pictures, and videos were gone. 

Image via Shutterstock

She then took the laptop to an Apple store and they got email working in 30 minutes but were unable to restore her files.   (They likely just reinstalled the email program or reset her account on the laptop which is what most of us have learned to do if email hangs and the fix isn’t obvious). 

As you can imagine she was pissed and escalated to Tim Cook’s office.  An executive worked on her case for some time eventually apologized without admitting fault and gave her a conditional $200 credit she could use for anything they pre-approved.   I’m pretty sure even the folks on the International Space Station would have heard what resulted. 

In her letter to Tim Cook (I was sent a copy) she said: 

“I don’t know which is more insulting – the coldness of the Executive office or the lack of compensation for a monumental loss of data. If I ran my business in this manner I would have no clients. But giant Apple does this and a previously loyal customer is betrayed. Even the techs in the retail store told me they could not understand why I was told to delete my data.” 

Let’s be clear, there is no fundamental reason why anyone should be mucking with their data folders or cloud service to resolve an email operational problem.  This would be like directing you to dismantle and rebuild your car to fix a roof leak.  Even if this was needed you’d have near certainty that the user would make things far worse, and in this case did. 

In the end this was likely a bad combination of incompetence and opportunism.  If this happened to any of us on almost any product we’d likely become practicing member of the “I’ll never buy from Apple” hate club.  But Diane will likely buy a new Mac instead and this is why Apple’s “lock in strategy” is so frightening. 

Lessons Learned

First it sounds like Apple support is being commissioned on hardware they sell.  This is the only thing that makes sense given they advised a new hard drive on a problem like this.  Hard drive failures tend to be far more catastrophic and the fact the problem remained after the new drive was installed confirms that it wasn’t the problem.  So, if you call into support and they recommend expensive new hardware you have to buy, you may want a second opinion.

Second the Apple stores and Apple support don’t talk to each other and if you can take your system into a store there is a higher likelihood they will fix the problem and not make it worse.  This is because there is always a chance you’ll misunderstand the directions, someone remote will misunderstand the problem, and the folks in the store do this for a living and you don’t.  

Third Apple knows you are locked in and this is what often results in this kind of behavior out of an executive office.  In fact I asked Diane if she was going to move and she didn’t think she could so there really is no motivation to fix this problem (even though, with some effort, they likely could recover her files from Apple’s cloud service-as we just again learned from Hillary Clinton deleted isn’t always deleted).  But why should they if it is simply more likely now that Diane will buy a new laptop? 

Fourth if anyone tells you to install a program, delete a file, or do anything else to your PC that is invasive make sure you have backed up your files locally first and verified that the person you are talking to is legitimate.  There are people calling around representing themselves to be Windows employees trying to fix your PC (and they aren’t) and I expect they have or will have Apple counterparts.  In this instance it was Apple but a local backup would have mitigated significantly the risk. 

Wrapping Up:  Post Jobs Apple

Cook is an operations guy which means he is going to be far more focused on costs than on customer satisfaction particularly if he believes his customers are locked in.  Given iPhones are what is moving his business his interest in Macs will likely be reduced as well.   This is often the problem when a new CEO comes in after a founder, Dell (News - Alert) had a very similar issue that occurred when Michael Dell initially stepped down and it is part of the reason he came back.   Companies that focus excessively on the bottom line just don’t care that much about customer satisfaction particularly if those customers are locked it. 

Finally magnetic hard drives, SSDs, and even cloud services fail.  Make sure you have a way to back up your files that you can personally assure.  Pictures and videos that you didn’t share can be lost forever and rebuilding a business history can take months of labor and might not then survive an audit.  Use this story not just as a cautionary tale on Apple and remote support but on backing up your stuff as well.   




Edited by Maurice Nagle