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A smartphone screen shattered, customer service mastered

-February 06, 2013

I thought I'd devote my second post this week to a follow-up on my previous one, in which I dropped my iPhone 4, breaking its LCD, and in the process of replacing it stumbled across Verizon's devilishly clever scheme for forcing long-time subscribers off their "grandfathered" unlimited data plans. At the conclusion of that earlier writeup, after realizing that I was stuck either migrating to a metered data cellular subscription or sticking with a "3G"-only (EV-DO-only) handset, I took two simultaneous steps:
  1. I contacted my buddies at iFixit, who sent me a replacement display and tool suite, and
  2. I bought a replacement used iPhone 4 on eBay (which just arrived) that is in pristine cosmetic and functional condition and has a valid MEID and two months left on its AppleCare extended warranty.
Speaking of AppleCare, however, it's the key reason why I've decided to go down neither of these two possible problem-resolution paths, at least for now (I've of late proven myself to be a fumble-fingers, after all). Admittedly, iFixit's display replacement online guide was intimidating. When I see something labeled "difficult" I take it seriously. And after reviewing the instructions, I can't disagree with iFixit's rating. Plus, even though I ordered both the replacement parts and handset two Sundays ago, the same day I dropped the original iPhone 4, I wasn't sure when either would arrive. The Verizon iPhone 4 is my primary work phone, so I didn't want to keep it out of circulation too long. And my broken-screen unit still had two weeks left on its AppleCare warranty.

So the next afternoon, I made a Genius Bar reservation for later that same evening. From Internet research, I'd thought that a replacement screen would cost $200 (once the warranty is expired, by the way, Apple will no longer fix the screen for any price; your only option is a complete handset replacement). I arrived 45 minutes early, and was being helped within five minutes' time (the heavy snowstorm outside, which probably compelled appointments ahead of me to stay home, didn't hurt). And I quickly realized that my decision to go to Apple for screen resurrection had been a good one for even more reasons than I'd originally thought.

For one thing, the repair only cost $149 (plus tax), not $200 as I'd thought. It wasn't a repair per se...I got a replacement handset. And, just as when I busted my iPad's screen in late December, it wasn't even a refurb...I got a brand new Verizon iPhone 4, with a brand new embedded battery. Plus, Apple even extended my warranty by an extra 90 days, to mid-May. I migrated my Verizon account to the replacement handset right in the store. And I was back out the door in less than 15 minutes, with a fully restored user configuration thanks to a preparatory iCloud backup.

I've admittedly given Apple no shortage of editorial grief over the years; for its walled-garden ecosystem, for extracting excessive purchase percentages from developer and media content "partners," for designing with forced obsolescence in mind (the aforementioned embedded batteries, for example), for repeatedly over-hyping and under-delivering from a product standpoint, etc. To that point, although Apple hardware and software are more cost-effective than they used to be, you still tend to pay a premium for them versus competitors' offerings...or said another way, get less for your dollar than if you'd taken it elsewhere (Apple was notably late to the LTE game, for example).

And cynics might point out that I paid extra for my extended AppleCare warranty coverage, beyond the base product price. But time and time again, I've bought AppleCare...for desktops, laptops, and handhelds alike. That's because time and time again, I've had opportunity to take advantage of it, whether due to inevitable occasional hardware failure or owner mis-handling. And time and time again, Apple has over-delivered from a customer service standpoint.

Great hardware isn't, technology history has shown time and time again, enough to ensure market success, especially product generation after product generation and year after year. Great hardware combined with great software still isn't enough. Great service and support is the key piece of the puzzle that Apple gets, and so many companies miss. Does your company get it?

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