Why Does It Have to Be So Hard?

March 8, 2015 ·

Kevin Raber

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The Drop

It all started with a sad phone call from my wife Debra. “I dropped my phone and the screen shattered”.  It was the end of the world.  Unlike me, Debra had her phone in some super armored case with big rubber corners adding twice the thickness to the phone.  She did this because she knew she was a dropper.  I see droppers all the time.  You run into them on planes, in stores and on the street.  They are people that just can’t hold onto something.  If it’s not their phone they’re dropping, it’s their kids (just kidding on that one), but they drop and spill everything. She dropped her phone on the carpet from her chair at work and is now upset that after such a short fall her phone now has a shattered screen.

“No worries, just come home, and we’ll go to the AT&T store and get a new one.  Maybe you are ready for an upgrade.” I said.  Her phone was an iPhone 5 in a cute pink case and very near and dear to her.

The Past

My experience with AT&T is not a good one.  When the new iPhone 6 plus was announced and ready for pre-order I stayed up late so I could order one of the first ones.  At 2 AM the phones showed up on the AT&T website.  I quickly placed my order. I submitted it and was told I didn’t qualify for the upgrade and the system rejected my order.  I tried again, as accepting my upgrade was part of the early questions asked in the beginning of the order process.  I went through the whole thing again and it once again rejected me.  So, I gave up, went to the Apple website and in ten minutes placed my order quickly and without the hundred questions and plan offerings and I didn’t get kicked out regarding my upgrades.  I would have my phone in 14 days.

This was all good except little did I know AT&T had actually accepted my orders and the next morning when I looked at my charge card online I saw I now had 2 phones on order with AT&T.  I immediately called AT&T but was put on hold for 45 minutes before anyone came on the phone.  When I got someone who I could explain my case to they said “Yes, Mr. Raber we see you ordered two iPhones”.  Well I explained please cancel them, and told her my story and experience.  So, she proceeded to try and cancel them only to find out that while it showed I had two iPhones on order in reality I didn’t and she didn’t know what to do.  I said, “Just credit my charge card back then.”  She couldn’t because technically now I had two cancelled orders and my card shouldn’t have been charged. I said my card was charged.  After numerous people and hours this got me nowhere.

So, I went into the AT&T store and of course the place was jammed with people trying to buy iPhones.  After waiting patiently (nearly an hour) I finally spoke to someone, hoping a human being could have some mercy on me and help me out.  They said you bought the phone online you have to talk to the customer service folks at the 800#.  I explained I tried.  Sorry, we can’t help you and they sent me on my way.  I tried once more with the customer service people and they didn’t help again.

Next I did what anyone would do; I called my bank and complained.  They sent me some forms to fill out regarding a charge dispute and in a week I heard back from them that they ruled in favor of my case and returned my money and subsequently charged AT&T.

Well AT&T didn’t like this and sent me a notice saying my service was going to be turned off if I didn’t pay the balance for the two phones, which mind you were canceled but still somehow stuck in the AT&T computers software mind as not being paid for.  I was traveling at the time and yes, AT&T certainly did turn my cell phone off. This was a ‘first-ever’ for me to be turned off because of non-payment of a bill I didn’t even owe.

Eventually I got it resolved but then found out my credit was ruined with AT&T and to pay my future bills I had to go into an AT&T store and pay with cash or a debit card on one of their stupid automated tellers.

I can’t switch carriers as I am on a contract and up until now all was well. If I didn’t have to deal with anyone I would be happy.  For the most part my phone works anywhere in the world I travel.

Well, things are somewhat better now as I can at least pay my bill online again, but I now have a sour taste about AT&T.

The Present

Now back to my wife’s phone.  Before leaving the house we both had half a glass of wine and said jokingly how hard could this be to get a replacement or upgrade for a phone with a shattered screen.  It pained me to even have to walk back into this store but I saw little choice.

We arrived at the store, which conveniently is only a block away from our home.  There was a greeter at the door with an iPad who grilled us on the way in.  “What do we need and what is our phone number?” and other information was asked for.  The store had two other people ahead of us.  Within fifteen minutes they were ready to take care of us and this young guy with jeans and sneakers came up with an iPad strapped to his wrist and asked how he could help us.  He wasn’t very pleasant and I took an immediate defensive posture with him. “We want a new iPhone 6 Plus 64gig in gold.  We want to upgrade from this old broken iPhone 5 and we have a family plan.” we said.

Then it began.  You can’t upgrade this line and you are not eligible for an upgrade.  We can get you into this other phone.  No, we want an iPhone.  Well if you want the iPhone it will be this much and you’ll have to have it for 2 years but it will take 30 months to pay off (even if you pay so much a month for 24months) as we put it on the easy plan or some BS like that.  So I ask “What happens if we just buy the phone and don’t finance it?”  Well then it cost this much but adds this much to your plan.  Our heads were spinning.  We had two sheets of papers with numbers plans and fine print.  Wow, what a fiasco.  We finally looked at him and said no thanks and were walking out the door when the closer swept in.

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Yes, a closer, just like in a car dealer. I crossed my arms and leaned against the iPhone display in my defensive posture only to set the alarms off on the display.  Guess I rocked it too hard.  Now sirens are going off and everyone is running around looking for the key to turn the alarm off and no one could find it.   I kept wondering if I just had this dark cloud over my head or what when it came to AT&T.  At this point even the closer didn’t want to talk to us so we left.

At home we just shook our heads and went to the computer to try our luck online.  At least we weren’t dealing with a complete inept sales staff at the AT&T store.  In half an hour we had placed an order with expedited service and thought we would see the phone in a day or so.  A half hour later we got notification the phone wouldn’t even ship for ten days (and that was expedited)?

The next day Debra went to the APPLE store, which is within ten minutes of our home to buy a case for her new phone, that might show up before the next moon cycle.  She met a really cool APPLE guy there and told him the experience we just had.  He said that we could have bought the phone there and left with it.  So, Debra called me and I suggested that she call AT&T and cancel her order and I promised I’d take her to the APPLE store for a Friday night date, all the while wondering if AT&T actually has figured out how to cancel orders in their system

keystone_hero

We arrived at The Keystone Fashion Mall in Indianapolis and as we were headed to the APPLE store we passed the Microsoft Store a few stores down.  The store was pretty much empty and the employees seemed to be glued to playing a game on an X-Box.  Slow night for Microsoft employees.  The APPLE store was a whole other story.

That store was jammed.  People were either at tables trying out iPads, or playing with computers, or seated at the Genius Bar getting help. Several Blue Shirted friendly APPLE folks were all over the place working with customers.  Debra was hoping the fellow who helped her the day before was there. She found him, Stephen M., and said “remember me?”  He turned and said “Oh yeah, so you want to do that upgrade?” Maybe Debra is just memorable but it was a good start.

He asked a few simple questions and put the answers into an iPhone-like device.  He saw that we had a couple of phones on our plan and said one was eligible for an upgrade and said we could upgrade to the 6 Plus using that line. It was $235.00 less than AT&T and the monthly plan cost would not be any different from what we were paying now.  It was that simple.  He punched her phone number in, made her sign a few things on the screen, took our credit card and while we were doing all of this, some guy magically showed up and handed him a box.  It was her new iPhone.

They really have the whole experience thing figured out. He took us over to a table, gave her the box and had her open it.  These APPLE guys know all about the ‘out of box (OBE)’ experience. Debra loved it.  She peeled away the static plastic wrap and then he guided her on how to start the restore.  While we were waiting, he never abandoned us. We learned he had just moved from Seattle, had a little girl and had been working for APPLE for a few years but only a few months at this store.  We talked photography and had a nice conversation with a real human.

While we were doing this we watched other folks having similar experiences.  People were buying laptops, phones, iPads and all sorts of accessories.  Folks were at almost every demo station trying a computer out.  Everyone was friendly and seemed pleased.  Half an hour later we were out of there and we had a new phone.  An hour after getting home her phone was restored from the iCloud back up and Debra was happy.  And when Debra is happy I am happy.

So, what is this Rant really about?

As the title says, “Why Does It Have To Be So Hard?”

AT&T just doesn’t get it and neither do a number of other companies.  APPLE gets it.  I am all about going to the store still.  As much as I am high tech, I still love working with people.  APPLE has figured out the retail experience.

I’ll digress a minute and turn this toward our passion for photography.  I live in Indianapolis. I feel fortunate that we have one of the better camera stores in the country here in town–Roberts Imaging.  As much as we all love the big 800 pound Gorilla, B&H Photo and all they offer,  for most of the world the closest you get to the product you want to purchase is a webpage.  There isn’t one interaction with a human. I love working and shopping locally if I can.  Yes, I order things from B&H but when I do I feel guilty.

I am sure there are a number of camera stores like Robert’s around the country.  Roberts is like the old local hardware store where you could go on a Saturday morning, have a cup of coffee and talk screws and bolts with someone.  Roberts has two locations in Indy and recently moved to a huge location and revamped their whole store.

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Yes, you heard that right.  While many camera stores are going out of business Robert’s is growing and expanding.  Why?  Because like APPLE they have figured it out.  People want to talk to people.  They want to talk to someone about the product that actually knows the product.  They want to tell their own stories. They want someone that listens to them.  The guys at Robert’s have been there forever.  They know you by name and in my experience, when you can’t find it anywhere else, Robert’s can find it and get it.   I can go into Robert’s and talk lenses, cameras, filters, ink, printers, papers and anything and the staff knows everything.  They have a used camera department that is astonishingly large.

Like Roberts and APPLE all this customer Service and Sales Experience starts at the top.  At Roberts it is Bruce Pallman.  He’s the son of the founder of Robert’s and one of those kind of guys you just love the first time you meet him.  He has an infectious smile and you’ll often find him at the cash register or counter helping people.  He always has time for his customers and the whole industry knows him and he knows everyone too.  Just like when he worked there for his parents, his kids are there now too—a real family operation.

As much as I can, whether it is for flowers, cameras, clothing or books, I buy local.  I can touch the product and talk about it.  And, for the most part, the prices I receive are pretty good and darn close to the big mail order guys. When you need service there is a no questions asked policy.

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Maybe at my age I want things simple.  Buying a camera is an expensive proposition for most people and you want to make sure you are choosing wisely; an experienced sales person is the best way to do that.  Buying any electronic device should be the same way.  AT&T has a lot to learn.  APPLE has figured it out.  Loyalty still is important.  Knowing where you are treated fairly and with respect has long term payoffs for companies.  We learned some valuable lessons from this experience and had a good discussion about it that evening.

The Lessons Learned

It’s easy to be nice

Treat people like people

Ask questions, be interested

Have a can-do attitude

Don’t treat anyone as if they are not intelligent. (Bad AT&T)

Volunteer your name and be personable  (Good APPLE)

Make things easy

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes

APPLE now has me as a loyal customer.  I can hardly wait to stand in line for the new iWatch.  The experience alone will be part of the purchase.  Roberts has me as a loyal customer.  They have it figured out too.  There’s not much I can’t find at Roberts.  And, when there is a new lens or camera that is coming out, I know I can ask to be put on the list and they will somehow manage to get it.  It’s all about the experience! Let’s remember that when we have to deal with people in our businesses.

I was very happy the next day to see that AT&T was booted off the DOW and replaced by APPLE.


 

Publishers note:  We are so impressed with Roberts that we recently did an interview with Bruce Pallman about how his Camera Store has weathered the storm while so many others are disappearing.  Look for it soon in our new video section.  We will also be working with Roberts on some interesting fun projects as the year progresses.  Stay tuned.

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Kevin Raber

Photography is my passion and has been for 45 plus years. My career in photography has allowed me to travel the world, meet some of the most interesting people on the planet and see things I could never have dreamed of. My goal is to share the passion of pictures taking through photographs and teaching with as many people as I can hoping it brings them as much joy and happiness as it has me. I do this through Rockhopper Workshops and other projects as well as teaching at my Gallery in Indianapolis.

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