EvE and the Apple
A couple of weeks back, my prized iPhone 6s, immaculate and cossetted in its little wallet, lost the will to live. Perhaps getting up in the morning became too much for it, but it just got stuck in an eternal cycle of failed boot-ups, and that was that. It was a mere seven months old.
At moments like this, you realise how dependent you have become on the technology. The iPhone has become a bit like an over-dominating mother when your father has retreated permanently to the shelter and peace of the garden shed: there is no-one else to bully, so it is continually volunteering advice that you never asked for, and after a while you begin to suck it up. As the iPhone began to fail, I started to experience a rising sense of panic: how would I manage? How would I keep in touch? What about all my contacts? How on earth would I monitor my FaceBook feed?
There is a lot to be said for a traditional paper diary or organiser. The worst you can do is spill your coffee on it, and then it provides a valuable source of emergency caffeine once the pages have dried.
Swiftly, I was on the landline to EE, who provided the contract and the 'phone. "Nope" said the girl at the end of the line, "It's not our problem - you've got to deal with Apple". This seemed a rather strange state of affairs - in virtually every other context, one would simply take the faulty product back to the retailer within the first twelve months. But no - I had not accounted for the strange world of EE, Apple and its warranties. EE were quite insistent about the matter.
A trip into town was needed, and I dutifully waited in the AppleStore at the 'Genius' bar, feeling somewhat out of place amongst the hipsters, violently dyed hair and three-year olds demanding new technology in shrill voices. However, ApplePerson was most helpful, took the old 'phone to send it off for diagnosis and repair, and supplied me with a 'loan-phone' to keep me going. Initially, it all looked so promising.
A couple of days later, I received an email from Apple Support, except it wasn't at all supportive. It told me that the phone was beyond economical repair, and the only option was for me to pay £552.03 + tax for a new one (unless I preferred the idea of remaining on contract, but unable to make calls). The diagnosis was "Damage - unauthorised part". After many failed attempts, I spoke on the 'phone to a pleasant Irish chap who told me that the problem was that I had modified the 'phone and therefore invalidated its warranty. "W?" I said. "H?" I spluttered. How would you even go about (internally) modifying something like an iPhone, which is designed to keep ignorant hands at bay? And, more to the point, why would you want to in the first place? I'm not some seventeen year old geek with an overblown sense of his own technical skills. I'm a 50-something year old IFA, and I'm frankly a bit scared of the technology. That's why you buy an iPhone, dammit - because you want something that just works, without having to think about upgrades and the like.
Of course, the whole thing was nonsense. I had received the iPhone originally from EE, boxed and sealed. They hadn't fiddled with it, and - unless I am the proud possessor of psychoses that I have no awareness of - neither had I. And the nonsensical nature of Apple's response was so self-evident, so immediately questionable, that I was left pondering the rationality and effectiveness of customer support systems which 'somehow' arrived so swiftly and confidently at a conclusion which was both tenuous and borderline insane. And then I wondered about other customers who find themselves in this kind of position. Surely this isn't an isolated instance of this kind of lunacy? And what if the customer is not an irritable middle-aged IFA who has been trained into a state of superhuman doggedness by thirty years of experience with insurance company customer services departments? Working within this industry clearly must have some benefits.
The experience has highlighted an interesting, albeit wholly dysfunctional dynamic playing out between two service models. You have the EE "Computer says no" approach, a kind of resolute (and, in my experience, entirely consistent) culture of buck-passing. And then you have Apple's 'Hopeful Helpfulness' which then proceeds along lines so deranged that one almost begins to hunger, wistfully, for EE's flat denial. At least you don't then spend hours, on hold, listening to latin-american music. Either of these models on their own is a recipe for dissatisfaction. Put them together and what you end up with is a trip to the Twilight Zone.
It's not for no reason that we have bleated on at length, over many years, regarding the service models that IFAs adopt. The benefits of independence do not just revolve around our ability to differentiate ourselves within a competitive marketplace but, rather, have a great deal to do with our capacity to step outside the dysfunctional cultures and practices within the industry that lead to so much consumer detriment. We have, within the financial services sector, our own versions of the kinds of approach embodied (in this instance) by EE and Apple and, as IFAs, we are uniquely positioned to make a real difference on our clients' behalf - but only if we take that word 'service' seriously and have a clear focus on the right outcomes for our clients.
P.S. Notwithstanding the above narrative, I have hopes of a solution. It is, however, difficult to be sure of anything. Currently, my ailing iPhone 6s is residing somewhere in the Czech Republic!
Thinking about service?
ValidPath's annual review service guidance might be worth revisiting if you've not looked at it for a while.