Apple vs. Microsoft: My Experience with Customer Service from Opposite Extremes
Let me start by saying, I grew up on Microsoft. My first home computer was a large desktop PC running on Microsoft DOS. Yes, that tells you how old I am. After that I transitioned to Microsoft Windows starting with version 3.1, followed by Windows 95, 98, ME (yes that horrible version), NT, 2000, XP, Vista (yes that other horrible version), and 7. I’ve worked on my own machines, added memory, changed out hard drives, and installed and managed all manner of software on Windows. While I’ve had no formal training in either hardware or software I feel extremely comfortable working on, troubleshooting, and operating PCs. I never jumped on the Bill-Gates-is-Satan bandwagon, and in fact I admired him for growing such a large company and for his philanthropy later in life.
For all my life I have been a PC nut and thought that Apple was nothing more than a creative marketing company with simple toys for non-techy types and kooky artists. I had played around on a couple of Macs, and one former company I worked for had a few, so I knew the basics, but I wasn’t interested. I was a hardcore PC guy. That’s not to say my experience with Microsoft Windows machines was all rainbows and unicorns. I can’t even count the number of times I was ready to chuck my computer out the nearest window, or ready to smash my screen in when the bright glow of the “blue screen of death” appeared in the middle of an important document that I hadn’t saved recently, but I assumed that was just the normal tradeoff you had to accept for something as complex as these magic little boxes of circuitry and microchips.
After lugging around huge Dell laptops for years at work that felt like a cross between a boat anchor and a set of dumbbells, I was intrigued by the sleek, lightweight, aluminum-body MacBooks I started to see all around me in airports and at meetings with clients. So in early 2009 I bought my first MacBook, a late 2008 13″ model, for my wife and I to use at home, and quickly began to see what I had been missing all these years. Then along came my first iPhone, the 3GS, later to be followed by an iPhone 5. In between I bought an iPad 2, and got my own MacBook Pro at work. The combination of my great experiences using these amazing devices pushed me closer and closer to Apple fanboy status, but what really sealed the deal was a recent call to the “Help Lines” for both Apple and Microsoft. To say that the differences between the two were night and day is too small of a distinction to make. Let me elaborate.
When I bought my wife our first MacBook we also purchased iWork (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote). For a while that was fine, but eventually we decided to purchase a 3-license copy of Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 so that we could more easily share files with everyone else using Office, and figuring that we’d be buying other Apple computers in the future. Not long after that purchase we moved to another state. Zoom forward in time a few years later and our almost 6-year-old MacBook had a full hard drive, and was starting to feel sluggish, so we got another MacBook Pro and decided to upgrade our old MacBook to OS X Mavericks, wipe it clean, and let our kids have it.
Our first issue was to somehow get all of our “stuff” from our old MacBook to our new MacBook Pro. Having not done this before with a Mac I thought I’d try a call to Apple’s help line. After a brief wait on hold I spoke to “Jason” who was extremely helpful, spoke perfectly intelligible English, and went above and beyond the call of duty at every step. It was immediately apparent that he wasn’t a computer illiterate simply reading from a step-by-step “Idiot’s Guide” of help questions to try to troubleshoot my problems. No, I could tell he was actually a computer expert and knew what I needed without having to ask me a long list of inane and useless questions such as, “First, are you sure your computer is plugged in and turned on?”
Since I had previously purchased an OS X upgrade in the last year and never used my free 30 days of support he said he would enact it for my OS X Mavericks upgrade and it wouldn’t cost me anything for his help. Score a big plus for Apple! He told me how to use the “migration” function built into OS X and how to download OS X Mavericks. He created a case number for me and told me to call back once OS X Mavericks finished downloading and was ready to install.
Several hours later I called Apple back and talked to “Julie” who pulled up my case number, knew everything I needed without me having to repeat anything, and walked me through the rest of the installation and migration process. After a few simple steps and a couple of hours time everything (programs, data, pictures, music…everything!) was transferred to the new machine and I was fully up and running on OS X Mavericks on both machines. Score another big plus for Apple!
So, what’s the problem and where does Microsoft come in? I’m glad you asked. When I launched Microsoft Word on my MacBook I was told I needed to enter my “Product Key” again in order for it to work. Somewhere in our house, maybe in a box in the attic, a closet, or drawer is the software case that contains a slip of paper with the Microsoft Office for Mac “Product Key” on it, where it has been packed away since our move to our new state several years go. Without that “Project Key” we couldn’t use Microsoft Office on either of our MacBooks.
After turning the house upside down looking for the software box and then searching the internet for any way to find out what my “Product Key” was, I ran across some links saying you could call Microsoft’s Help Line and buy a new “Product Key” for $40. While I thought it really stunk to have to buy another “Product Key” for something I had already paid for once, it was cheaper than buying a whole new copy and we really needed the program to actually work. So I called Microsoft’s Help Line and spoke to someone whose name I couldn’t catch because I couldn’t understand their broken English. Obviously this was an overseas call center, and while I’m sure they all meant well and were just doing their job, it was abundantly clear that these “helpers” were reading from scripts and likely didn’t know much more about my issue than if I asked a random person on the street. One thing they were all really good at was continually apologizing for the problem…obviously they had loads of experience in apologizing for not actually being helpful at solving problems.
This whole experience might have seemed comical if it hadn’t been so mind-numbingly frustrating. First I spent about an hour getting transferred from person to person and department to department having to repeat the exact same information over and over to every new person I talked to, occasionally getting lost in “hold oblivion” or getting disconnected and having to dial in and start all over. Nobody could seem to set up a “case number” so that the next time I got disconnected I could call back and not have to repeat myself for the five hundredth time. My wife then thought she would give it a try, and that was just fine with me. It took her another 3 hours on the phone going through the same run-around, pass-the-buck, transfer-you-back-to-this-department-that-just-transferred-you-to-them-five-minutes-before, to finally be able to purchase a new Product Key. Score a minus one million for Microsoft!
If you were to ask me which company I think is going to grow and thrive and which one is going to spiral toward oblivion, I’d simply point you to my experience dealing with their “Help Lines”. Apple far exceeded my expectations, which were already high, while Microsoft fell so far below my expectations that I can’t adequately describe it, and my expectations were extremely low to begin with. I believe it is customer service that will play a large role in whether these companies succeed or fail in the long run and my money, and my future purchases, are going to be heading to Apple…as long as they remember that.
Have you had any excellent or excruciating customer service experiences like this? I know I can’t be the only one. Let me know about it by leaving a comment.