Laptop batteries are great… until every now and then one goes bad. And if you want to alienate your local independent Mac retailer, or even Apple itself, then simply tell them that you have a dead battery that’s still under warranty. They will run from you like the plague.
Inside, on some deeper level, I must have known what I was in for. Why else would I have let my deceased PowerBook G4 battery sit there in my office for more than three months without exchanging it for a new one? Finally, a week ago Saturday (Aug. 2), I took the battery with its documentation to the closest independent Apple dealer.
Round One: The Apple Authorized Service Provider
When I handed my battery to the salesperson and explained that it was under warranty, but no longer worked, his expression changed from cheerful to anxious. I might as well have thrust Plutonium toward him. He said nervously, “I’m not authorized to exchange this battery. You will have to come back Monday.”
Unfortunately I had this other little thing to attend to on Monday… called my job. So I telephoned instead. That was a mistake. Not only was my call not answered by a human, I had to endure 8 minutes of auto attendant looping before I could even leave a message, which was never returned.
After much persistence, I was finally able to talk to a live person the following afternoon. The news was bad. “Apple policy says we can’t help you. You have to call AppleCare.” Disgusted, I called AppleCare, and the service rep said that he could help me, but it would be somewhat tedious. The easiest thing to do would be to take my battery and my computer to an Apple Store, which was about an hour away, traffic willing.
I decided to try another local Apple Authorized Service Provider to see what they had to say. When I explained my situation, I swore I could hear his eyes rolling back. At least he explained why he couldn’t help me, which I’ll cover later in this post.
Round Two: The Apple Store
So my last hope was the Apple Store in Emeryville, CA. I went straight to the Genius Bar that was surrounded by laptop-toting Californians. The technician was juggling three customers who were at various stages of reaching their personal solution when he waved me over. I explained my situation and showed him my documentation. He tested the battery. “Let me go grab a new one out of stock he said.” I was home free!
Well, not exactly. The store was out of stock of PB G4 batteries. I had two options: 1) Have him call me when they arrive, and I go pick it up, or 2) He enter a case in the Apple system, then I call AppleCare, provide the case number, and have it sent to my home. I chose door number two.
A couple days later I called AppleCare and gave them my case number. After a little wrangling, they finally agreed to send me a battery, and I agreed to return the dead one. I had to give them a my Visa card number in case I failed to follow through with my end of the bargain. I’m convinced that had it not been for the effort of the technician at the Genius Bar carefully entering the documentation in the Apple system, I never would have won my case on the phone with AppleCare. It was a close call as it was.
Round Three: Here’s How It Works
Along the way, I’ve learned a few things that I’d like to pass along.
Everything is easier with an AppleCare Protection Plan. I know it’s expensive, but it opens many doors and makes repairs and parts replacement much easier. Your one-year complementary computer warranty is good too, but one year goes fast. You can purchase AppleCare anytime during the one-year warranty period, and if you have a laptop, that’s what I recommend you do. Wait until 10 months or so if you need to, but do so before your complementary warranty expires.
With Apple, it’s easier to replace computers than parts. If your problem is associated with a covered computer, even independent authorized dealers can help you. But with parts purchased off the shelf, such as batteries, mice, keyboards and even AirPort Base Stations, the situation gets a bit more dicey. Computer serial numbers are stored in the Apple database and are easily verified. Battery serial numbers are not. Most independent dealers are not willing to hassle with Apple over a part that they may ultimately get stuck with if they can’t prove that it’s covered. So that one year warranty written on a piece of paper that comes with a battery you buy off the shelf might be technically valid, but in the real world it isn’t worth much… with one exception: if you have an Apple Store nearby.
Apple Stores are far and away the most helpful, and powerful ally you can have to help you maintain your Mac. AppleCare on the phone is tedious at best. And the people on the other end of the line seem to have a hard time remembering correct Apple policy. Authorized Service Providers don’t have as much leverage with Apple as the Apple Stores do, and whenever possible, they will put the problem back in your lap instead of on theirs. Plus, Apple Stores seem to hire bright people who know what they are doing. And more importantly, they have the authority to make decisions. I’ve been in four different Apple retail outlets so far, and I’ve had good experiences. I’ve been in three independent stores in the last year, and left frustrated each time.
My bottom line is that Apple Stores are vital for maintaining customer satisfaction. Not only are they a great place to buy equipment; they are a good resource to help you maintain it. I think independent authorized dealers will continue to survive in areas not serviced by official Apple Stores (or in the same area if they provide equal customer service).
But in my experience, Apple Stores are different, and better, than nearly any other brick and mortar option available. I hope they continue to flourish (possibly one north of the Golden Gate Bridge?).