My tale of laptop woe grows

When last I blogged, I shared that my iBook had suffered a sudden demise, and that I was girding my loins to deal with the “Certified Applecare Repair Center” near my home.

What followed was both comedic gold and entirely classic Singaporean “Customer Service.”  The short version?  I’m going to take my laptop to a REAL Apple Store in the US.

I enter the repair center, get my queue ticket, and wait to be called.

Repair Dude (henceforth known as RD)-What’s the problem?

ME-My laptop was fully charged.  I started watching video on iTunes and it died.  I tried charging it, waiting, and turning it back on, but it won’t turn on.

RD presses power button.  Nothing happens.  He frowns.  He presses it again.  Nothing happens.

RD asks another RD for a power cord.  He plugs it into my laptop and presses the power button.  Nothing happens.  RD frowns.  He presses the power button again.  Nothing happens.

I begin to wonder if he is missing the part where I said it didn’t turn on.

RD goes and gets another power cord.  He plugs it into my laptop and presses the power button.  Nothing happens.  This seems shocking to him.  He confers with first one, then two additional RD guys.  Another power cord is brought out and they take turns pushing my power button.

I am feeling a distinct lack of faith that this is going to end well.

RD to me--It doesn’t turn on.

Me-I know, I told you that when you asked me why I brought it into you.

RD-Can not run test to find out what’s wrong if it won’t turn on.

I consider the relative merits of banging my head on the desk.

RD begins to examine my laptop in great detail.  He points to a very minor dent on a corner of the laptop that has been there for months if not over a year at this point–Dent is why no can work?

ME-No, that’s been there forever.  The dent isn’t going to affect what is clearly an electrical problem.  It’s under applecare for another year, so…

RD begins to examine the laptop in greater detail, asks me to sit down.  He is very clearly distressed that he can not follow what I’m guessing is the procedure his manual has outlined which I’m just going to go out on a limb and say is that when a customer brings in a broken laptop, you turn it on and run a certain diagnostic test.  That he can’t do this is clearly distressing for him, as is the fact that I’m saying such technical things as “can you please note down that if there is a hard drive issue, that I want the hard drive back, regardless of condition” (which would be a fairly standard thing to say at a genius bar at this juncture…it would be a note left for the tech people as part of the work order).

I watch as he begins to fill out paperwork, noting every scratch, sign of wear and contemplate such niceties as genius bar employees who seem to actually know and use Apple products on a regular basis compared with what is currently passing for customer service.  I consider the value of empowering your employees to step outside the box and view a problem from various angles and figure out the approach that might work best in a given situation.

Eventually RD gives me a slip and tells me it’s going to be sent to the service center and that they’ll call me.


My Phone Rings

It’s a Service Center Dude (SCD) who wants to tell me what’s wrong–There are two problems-the keyboard and the main part of the computer.

Me-What do you mean the main part of the computer?  Motherboard, hard drive, what?

SCD is confused–The main part

I close my eyes and pray for strength.  Elanor chooses this moment to start begging for attention, causing me to have a “Calgon take me away” moment.

Me-There’s no such thing as a “main part”–can you please be specific

SCD-It’s the blahblah

Me-What’s a blahblah

SCD-It’s the blahblah

I’ll spare you the back and forth for several minutes as I try to force him to explain what on earth a blahblah is only to finally discover that it’s the motherboard, which Apple calls some cutesy Apple-specific name.  Had I had this conversation with a genius bar employee they say something like “It’s the motherboard….we call it a blahblah”

Me-Okay, so how long to fix it?

SCD-It’s not covered

Me-...Um, it’s under applecare

SCD–blah blah negligence blah blah not covered

Me-fine, whatever, I’ll pick it up and take it to Apple in the US

end scene


It’s not that I don’t believe that there may be damage that isn’t covered by my applecare warranty, and we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.  It’s that (A) Genius bars in the US have a fairly flexible notion of what “covered” means as opposed to the more rigid definition held in Singapore (B) if something is broken and it’s going to be expensive, if I’m in the Apple Store, they’ll give me the option to fix it, purchase a refurbed laptop for a discount or a decent discount overall on a new product.  In Singapore I’m just told it’s broken, it’s not covered, sucks to be me.

The experience was in many ways a stereotypical “customer service” exchange  in Singapore.  The rules are the rules and the procedures are the procedures.  There is no flexibility, no individual agency on the part of the customer service rep, and the very idea that you might want to step outside the lines or want more information than “how much” is met with confusion and disapproval.  With some exceptions, you too can experience this by asking to substitute a side dish at a restaurant.  I can’t tell you the number of “but that’s not what comes with it” that I’ve gotten for wanting fries instead of mashed potatoes or whatever (Western restaurants, although not Hard Rock are among the exceptions).  When we wanted to buy a printer, Ravi asked the employee about something relating to a technical spec.  The rep couldn’t answer the question, but just continued his high pressure “buy it” sales technique.

I remember when I first got a retail job.  I spent a week in a back room watching videos on everything from shoplifting to how to properly fold a towel (I worked at a department store in the bed/bath department).  I also was presented with and trained in customer service protocols.  The customer is valued.  The customer represents money.  The customer should be treated like a welcome visitor.  Get a vibe from them if they’d like some attention or not.  Introduce yourself and make it clear that you’re available to answer questions.  Do whatever you need to to make them happy.  Discount an item if it’s stained.  Triage unhappiness. Develop a relationship with repeat clients.  The customer is king.

An example of how this works is my local Gymboree outlet in Boston.  I shopped there regularly, and the manager learned my name and my daughter’s name.  He’d tell me about an upcoming sale.  He’d take the time to look in the back if I needed a size that wasn’t out himself.  When I moved away and needed to stock up on bigger sizes and summer fabrics, he pulled all the old summer stock out  from the back for me.  When I’ve popped in on return visits, he still knows my name and Ellies and remembers that we moved to Singapore.  He pulls backstock that was going to be remaindered for me, helping me fill in E’s wardrobe, even when what I need isn’t in season.  He’ll call other stores on my behalf to find a specific item in a specific size.  He goes above and beyond, and I reward that by trying to do the majority of my shopping with Gymboree Outlets in his store.

To be fair, it’s not universal.  I’ve gotten some great service here, too.  But it’s far more rare. In Singapore, I tend to frequent a specific spa for leg waxing, prenatal massages, and pedicures.  I’ve been going for a year.  They know my name, I know their names.  They ask how Elanor is doing, and chat with me before and after a treatment.  I recently had a less than perfect experience, but I elected to give them another chance after that because we’d built a relationship and I was able to write it off as an off day on their part.  If we didn’t have that relationship, I would’ve just found a new place to go to.

Don’t get me wrong…there’s plenty of lousy customer service in the US.

But overall, the goal of every store (mid and high range, at least…lower end stores count on low prices to bring you back regardless of how much the service sucks) is to build a relationship with you to keep you coming back, and employees are empowered to do that through a variety of strategies.  In Singapore, there is the checklist and it must not be deviated from.

That lack of flexibility is one of the things that does wear on me.  It’s frustrating to feel like you’re beating your head against a wall, thinking that what you’re asking for is no big deal (because it isn’t in your experiences).  And as an expat, it’s just one of those things that you mostly try to work with…or you beat your head bloody.  And sometimes it means you just take your laptop back to the US for a repair.

This entry was posted in Culture Shock, headdesk moments, Shopping, shopping, Singapore, US. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to My tale of laptop woe grows

  1. kirsten says:

    This need to follow procedure reminds me of this waitress I once came across. Granted, I don’t think it was necessarily because she didn’t know how to think outside the box.

    My mum and I were at this restaurant, somewhat posh, having prime rib. The waitress came up to serve us and this is what happened:

    Waitress: (to my mum) How would you like your prime rib?
    Mum: Medium rare, please.
    Waitress: And would you like your Yorkshire Pudding on the plate or to the side?
    Mum: To the side, please.
    Waitress: Would you like like side dishes to go with your meal?
    Mum: No thanks.

    Waitress serves my mum, then turns to me.

    Me: Oh, I’ll just have mine medium, with the pudding on the side with a serving of creamed spinach.

    Waitress stares at me, flabbergasted. She has the most perplexed look I have ever seen. Then she shakes herself and goes, “How would you like your prime rib?”

    That was when I realised that she, being from China, doesn’t actually speak any English beyond what is in the menu and what the restaurant taught her. By pre-empting her questions I had disrupted the script that she had committed to memory and so I had actually unwittingly thrown a curveball at her that she simply couldn’t deal with. So she had to go through the whole thing again and I had to only answer her accordingly, or she would just get lost.

    • Crystal says:

      Yeah, I can visualize that with absolutely no problem and I was laughing as I read that.

      Agreed the issue was not empowerment, but yeah, that wouldn’t shock me if it happened to me here either.

      • kirsten says:

        In a very sad way it was like talking to those automated phone answering things. She might as well have come out with a number pad and gone “for creamed spinach, please press 1”.

      • Crystal says:

        Don’t say that so loudly. A singaporean restaurant will hear you and go “HEY!!! That’s what we should do!!!”

  2. Dawn says:

    So does that mean you’re coming back to the U.S. sometime soon?

    • Crystal says:

      We’re looking at early september-9/17 so E can get in her last pedi stroke clinic and such before the baby comes. I’m safe to fly until 32 weeks (which is what dictates the 9/17 return).

  3. Kate says:

    This was hilarious to read, although I’m sorry you had to actually live it. Is there any more annoying phrase here than “Cannot”? So far the most ridiculous instance of this for me was when I tried to include only certain ingredients for an “Omelette your way” at Beanstro and the waiter couldn’t handle it. It was the works or nothing.

    • Crystal says:

      If I’ve learned anything about expat life, it’s finding the funny. The exchange was just hysterical. Them telling me today that it would cost over 3k for them to fix it, while hysterically funny (on some level) was far less amusing as a new laptop is less/equivalent to that. So it’s off to the Apple store in the US for me and my doa laptop…where at the very least they’ll offer me a discount on a new laptop.

      Cannot is as frustrating to me as when people write “dun” for don’t online…it just makes me see red.

    • kirsten says:

      Clearly not “your way”, then.

  4. brendan says:

    Have you tried making a complaint with Comfort Cab customer service?

    • Crystal says:

      That is a really valid point. When I’ve complained to Comfort/City Cab, they’ve always gotten back to me. I try not to complain, but if a cab never shows, or when a driver was verbally abusive to my helper, they seemed to take the complaint seriously and followed up with what they did.

      But overall, places like them and the spa are super rare exceptions to the norm.

      • brendan says:

        ha ha. actually I was trying to make the point that although they call you back they don’t really do anything and trying to convey what the problem is, they either don’t get it or jump to wacky conclusions when you are still trying to explain. Of course when I ask to speak to the CEO of Comfort Cab directly so that I can suggest systemic changes that will help everything run more efficiently and preserve customer loyalty it just results in confusion.

      • Crystal says:

        I can only imagine their confusion. You’re skipping rungs and flouting the rule book by wanting to talk to a CEO.

        They have seemed surprised when I called to complain that a cab didn’t show up. Dude, it didn’t show up and I need to be somewhere…that’s a problem!

  5. bookjunkie says:

    Gosh that would be funny if it was not so true. Customer service can be horrendous here. Especially when they just don’t budge and offer you alternatives that cost the same. It’s this totally going by the rules that irks me. Don’t they realize they lose customers that way. It doesn’t make business sense in the long run.

    I experienced this at two cafes. There was clearly a whole section open but was told that the particular section was closed and I would have to wait for a table or sit in a crammed corner inside. Of course I walked away. It’s so silly and does management know how they are losing customers? Drives me nuts that they don’t think out of the box. Seems like common sense to me.

  6. bookjunkie says:

    Having vented I must say there are businesses out there who pride themselves on good service. For instance at Haji Lane I was very impressed how the shop owners welcomed us and then left us alone to browse. Totally free to browse without following us around with a “can I help you” “I can get that in your size” etc etc and showing us the face when we didn’t want to buy anything. It was so totally refreshing…. 🙂 Makes me want to revisit again and again.

  7. Laura says:

    This made me chuckle as I can so relate to your post and frustration, and the comment about ‘cannot’ being the most annoying phrase you can hear – true! Customer service in the UK is not always great but compared to some of the examples we’ve experienced here it really does look, at times, first class in comparison.

    • Crystal says:

      I never raved about customer service (barring a few high end places, and exceptions) in the US. But by comparison, it’s stellar.

    • Crystal says:

      So, according to my husband (who is a computer geek and my go-to on all such things) the stores here have (in theory) permission from Apple to sell Apple products. None of them, unlike the store in China actually are mimicing the Apple store or calling themselves an “apple” store. But I still find them deceptive, as they present themselves as if they were. According to Apple Customer Service in the US, there are two authorized places that do repairs…but as we saw from my experience, they suck in comparison.

      Which is why I’m gritting my teeth on a Windows 7 laptop for the next 6ish weeks until my baby can go see the doctors at an apple store in the US. Where, if it’s dead, I’ll at least get a discount on a new laptop and not be expected to pay more than the cost of a new laptop with a newer OS and a larger hard drive to repair my 2 year old laptop.

  8. moonberry says:

    I had the most aggravating experience dealing with customer service at HSBC here over the phone because I couldn’t even get past the automated system! There was no option to press “0” to speak with a human customer service rep (like we do in the US). The automated system kept telling me to press * to return to main menu. I nearly wanted to throw the phone against the wall coz I was so frustrated at being redirected to the main menu over and over. All I wanted was to speak to a live human being whom I believed could answer my question within two seconds but nooooo, I had to waste my time listening to every single irrelevant menu option and it didn’t even give me an option to speak to a live person!!! GGGRRRRR! HSBC is a big international bank and you’re telling me there’s no live staff to answer calls made to their bank’s hotline?

    So I did the next best thing and called directory assistance, requesting for the local phone number of the nearest HSBC branch. Surely there’d be someone working there whom I can speak to, right? It was still during office hours after all. Nooooooooooo….. the ONLY number listed on directory assistance for HSBC is the same bloody friggin’ hotline number which I’ve already dialed. WTF?!?!

    Customer service in SG really pisses me off to no ends sometimes. *shaking fists in the air* }:|

    • Crystal says:

      I read your comment nodding the whole time. I recently had a “no human contact” option on a call recently too and it made me want to bang my head against a wall.

      Ironically, there was a recent article on CNN Go about how the gov’t wants to give small businesses grants to improve customer service. My first thought was “good luck with that.”

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