I’ve operated much of my life assuming that consumers are driven – ultimately – by their own selfish interests. The simplistic part of me equates self-interest with monetary interests. I think a lot of people and businesses, as well as general consumer behavior models make the same assumptions. But I had an interesting experience this past Friday where in a very personal way, I acted not out of “rational” self-interest, at least if you equate logic with personal self-interest in the financial sense. But DAMN I feel good about it!
The super basic facts that everyone would agree on:
- When we moved back to Seattle from London, we bought 2 new iPhone 4 devices in May 2011
- We signed a 2-year contract with AT&T Wireless for services (which included a 18-month upgrade clause to new hardware if we wanted it)
- Our household has embraced Apple devices and everything ranging from the control of our thermostat to our ability to play music at dinnertime revolves around Apple devices. Apple TV (okay from London, but we still loved it), iPhones, iPad, iMac, iTunes, etc. You get the picture.
- We’ve spent lots of money both on Apple hardware as well as lots of money on iTunes
- We’ve LOVED the experience and the seamless integration across the devices is great. I even love that I can run “Friend Finder” and see where Troy is on a map. Or at least where his phone is.
- The iPhones we purchased had a one-year warranty and we declined to pay extra for an extended warranty (through AT&T)
Last week my phone simply stopped being reliable. It would fully charge, work for a couple of hours then completely power off – and remain dead and unresponsive (I couldn’t power it on or hard reset it). The only way I could get it to work again would be to plug it into a power outlet for a few moments and the device would power back on, be at something like 80% charged and then it would work again for a while.
Rinse and repeat. Again and again. You can see how this gets annoying.
So on Friday I had enough and I walked over to the AT&T Wireless store and they told me that for Apple phones, Apple insists that I had to go to the Apple store for help. So I went to the Apple store. And like normal, had a pretty good experience at the beginning. They took my phone, inspected it and make sure the battery voltage was fine, and luckily the phone did freeze once on them, so they could verify that it truly was in a fairly dead state. They weren’t positive if it was a hardware or software problem, so they asked to flash the device back to its original factory state and then if I could use it for the weekend. If it still froze, they would know it was a hardware problem. I agreed and we restored the device to its original state. Before the tech was able to even give the phone back to me, it froze again. Success!! And I felt validated!
He confirmed that it was definitely a hardware problem and also confirmed that there wasn’t anything I did wrong, just bad luck. Lots of apologies and wishing that this doesn’t sour my experience with Apple. What they could offer me is to purchase for $149 a brand new same-model iPhone 4. I wasn’t thrilled but did know that I had bought the phone and knew it only had a one-year warranty. So I said sure, and we started to process the transaction. But then it quickly fell apart when I saw the terms and conditions, which gave me only a 3-month warranty on the new phone (instead of at least a year’s like the original phone).
I sat there and really struggled what to do. On one hand, I could drop $149 and walk away with a new phone and get on with my life. But I kept getting stuck at the reality that my original phone shouldn’t have died after only a year and that somehow Apple made a crappy unit and wanted me to pay for a replacement one. And then wouldn’t even guarantee the new one would work even until Christmas time. I explained this and they talked about overall statistics and how rare it was for any unit to go bad, let alone two different units to go bad for the same customer, blah blah blah. But that they couldn’t do anything about the policy.
You know, the logical part of me completely gets this. I bought a phone with a one-year warranty. After this year, something went wrong. And the company was even willing to “help me” instead of just saying I was on my own from scratch. But the emotional and “fair” part of me just didn’t care about the logic. I am a loyal customer! I’ve bought tons of Apple products over my life! THEIR device broke and they already told me it wasn’t my fault! And they’re asking me to pay for a new device but then also telling me they weren’t confident enough about the new device to even guarantee it beyond a measly three months. Given that my first phone broke in briefly over a year, a three-month promise wasn’t too reassuring for me.
The salesman and I went back and forth a few times and finally I said that I wasn’t able to wrap my head around this, so I was going to go elsewhere and probably switch my allegiance to a completely different brand. He asked if I would talk to the store manager, so the manager came over and we had the same conversation. He wasn’t willing to extend the warranty on the new device past 3 months, nor was he willing to offer the replacement phone less expensively to me. So at that impasse, I left.
I didn’t just leave the store. I left Apple. The righteous part of me refused to compromise my own principles of what fairness was in this particular circumstance. It wasn’t rationally logical. There was no possibility I was going to get a new phone up and running for less than $149 anywhere. And yet I somehow was willing to walk away from Apple overall and just decide that if they weren’t going to treat me in a manner I perceived as fair, then I would simply cease to be a customer. I would buy a different phone. I would find different ways to play music at home. And I would sacrifice my own ease and comfort (at least in the short term) just to make a point that I refuse to play by unfair rules.
But they weren’t “unfair” in the logical sense. Apple actually played completely by the rules that I had known about and implicitly agreed to. And yet, somehow in the overall experience my expectations of what it means to buy an Apple device and how I should be treated meant that I ceased to care what the technical rules were.
That’s only the first half of the story, though. I left the Apple store, determined to give someone else my business going forward. I returned to the AT&T Wireless store, ready for a round of argument and pleading. Instead I got the most amazing experience and moved from a neutral perception of AT&T to a very strong advocate. I explained honestly to the salesman my Apple experience and he quickly grasped that I was ready for almost anything as long as it didn’t involve Apple. Now mind you, I knew quite clearly where I was on my AT&T contract and knew that I was barely over a year into my 2-year contract, that I had declined to purchase insurance through AT&T (which would have let me simply swap my phone), and that their early upgrade offer wouldn’t be available until December.
After asking me a few questions about what I cared about and what I didn’t, he suggested that I browse the store and look at various mobile phones to get a sense of what they had. He was going to talk with the store manager and come back with some ideas and options for me. So I played around with a few different devices and eventually decided I didn’t know a lot about Android, so it presented a good opportunity to buy an Android phone and get intimately familiar with it. He returned to me and said that manager would waive the remaining period left of my upgrade and that I could pay the upgrade price on any device I wanted other than Apple devices, and they would let me do that on the spot. Not only that, but they would re-purchase my broken iPhone 4 from me and give me a credit towards whatever the upgrade cost of the new phone is.
So I picked out an HTC One X device and was fully prepared to pay nearly the full $199 upgrade price on it, expecting the iPhone repurchase amount would be minimal. But they offered me nearly $150 to repurchase the phone!
The entire AT&T experience was so amazing, especially when contrasted to the Apple experience. In both cases, the companies would have been perfectly within their rights to stand by the explicit terms of the contract I entered into. Absolutely they have that right and I knew what I was getting into.
Apple chose that route – letter of the law. AT&T decided to waive a portion of their contract to help out a customer who clearly was – through no obvious fault of his own – struggling trying to simply get a working phone.
AT&T won a lot of loyalty from me. You know what? When my wireless contract comes up for renewal, do you even think I’m going to risk looking at another carrier? No way. Android won potentially a new lifelong fan. Apple lost.
So this entire experience was super interesting for me from an intellectual perspective. It financially didn’t make sense, especially what I knew at the time, to walk away from Apple. It did turn out that with the credit and AT&T’s willingness to make a customer happy, that my immediate financial hit was negligible. But I didn’t know that at the time. I’ll also have personal inconveniences as I slowly need to figure out how to adapt things in my house to work with Android. And I’ll no longer in a fun manner get to see where Troy is (or he see where I am). But the righteous sense of fairness was restored. And I’ve gained a lot of respect for AT&T. Great job and keep it up! And Apple, I don’t know what you were thinking, but good riddance.