Ask LH: Can Apple Refuse To Deal With A Customer Complaint Without An Appointment?

Ask LH: Can Apple Refuse To Deal With A Customer Complaint Without An Appointment?

Dear Lifehacker, Recently, my Apple headphones have stopped working after only give months. I took the headphones, and the original receipt to the Rundle Mall Apple Store to get them swapped, and I was told that there was no-one who could assist me, despite there being several staff free.

I went back the following day, and again, they said that there wasn’t anyone to see me and that I’d have to make an appointment.

When I asked whether it’s possible to have my issue seen to without making an appointment (I’m unsure when my lunch break is from day-to-day). The staff flat-out stated that it was NOT possible to have my issue addressed without an appointment.

Can Apple do this? What are the laws around putting up “hurdles” preventing consumers from having faulty products replaced? I’m pretty sure that people wouldn’t accept being told to book an appointment going to any other retailer. Thanks, Sour Apples


Dear SA,

Apple customer service is strangely schizophrenic. It can be exceptionally friendly and helpful, with staff going out of their way to solve problems. On the other hand, Apple has a track record of ignoring Australian consumer law entirely and making claims that contradict that law — and insisting that an appointment at a time of its choosing is the only way to fix defective goods is one of them.

For a complex problem with software, an appointment with an in-store “genius” might indeed be a requirement. However, headphones aren’t that complex — if you plug them in and they don’t work and there’s no clear evidence of wilful damage, they should be replaced, no questions asked. Australian consumer law makes this point quite clearly — you have the right to a repair in a “reasonable time”, and that isn’t up to the store to determine.

So what should you do? In these circumstances, I’d go still halfway — make an appointment, and then show up at the closest time possible that day. If staff refuse to see you, insist (politely) on staying and having the problem resolved. Don’t be rude, but don’t be swayed.

If that request is still refused, ask to see the store manager, and explain that you will be referring the issue to South Australia’s Consumer and Business Services department. That usually does the trick. If you can’t score a resolution, follow up with CBS. Apple (and other companies) need to work within the framework of Australian law, not in spite of how it operates. Good luck!

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • At a guess, Apple have a policy that only trained staff can assess any Apple item. To give you an example, I’ve had 2 friends who were confident their headphones were broken. I took a tissue and wiped the metal connector off – and voilais! Headphones were magically fixed.

    The point is that Apple may have a good reason for directing you to the right staff. Even things like headphones may not be as obvious as they seem (despite re-assurances from the author).

    From my own experience … I recently dealt with Apple at the same store because my iPhone was playing up. They suspected my problem in phone lockups was with my telco. I let them know that I had my doubts given the problem was getting progressively worse and that it had only started about a month ago. Apple replaced my iPhone anyway … and I’m happy to say that my new iPhone is not locking up. I’ve consistently had good service with Apple.

    • From what I understand in this situation, the store in question was being blatantly belligerent. It’s a set of headphones for Pete’s sake, how hard would it be to test them, no matter what your expertise, and you’d think if they were hired to work in a technology store they’d know at least the basics. I really don’t understand this attitude, from Apple, Adobe and others, that Australians are somehow second class citizens and deserve to be treated like crap. Unfortunately, Adobe may be entrenched enough in the art sector to be able to get away with it, but Apple..? Buy a different brand, and force them to wake up…!

  • My local Apple Res seller were such a pain when I went to get headphones replaced. They have a whole separate Apple service section. Didn’t have to wait for floor staff.

    The problem was one ear bud intermittently cutting out and getting static. Obviously a lose connection. It was very frequently but not a 100% of the time problem. I wanted it replaced before it broke. I explained this, handed it over.

    Then I got the whole, ‘we find no problem.’ I explained again that it’s a frequent problem.’ They then started examining the ear phones, literally pointing at every scratch and marking as if it’d invalidate my claim. The guy would be like, ‘there might be a problem as this little rubber thingy near the plug has been removed.’ ‘If there was meant to be a rubber sleeve on the end, then it fell off all on it’s own. Plus the fault is where the cable connects to the left ear bud.’ The guy then goes off looking, comes back pointing at a scratch on the plastic of the plug.’

    I really don’t know if he was trying to waste my time so I leave, or make me think I wouldn’t get one and leave or if it was some test where i’d break down and say that I had wrecklesses damaged the headphones.’ After enough repeating, ‘I have done nothing to them, just used them day to day as one normally would, any marks or wear is from that.’ Finally the guy took my request and a few days later I was called and could pick up new ones.

    Pretty poor experience to be honest. Clearly didn’t want to give a replacement.

    • Yep… they are clearly going broke as a company and need to scrimp and save every penny… :0
      Seriously though…. they’re making money, hand over fist, I really don’t understand why they need to take this tack, unless they’re forcing the store personnel to pay for every return…? 🙂

  • This is pretty much why I think all those agencies that say Apple have excellent customer service are wrong. I should have to book an appointment and then go to a specific location to have a faulty product replaced. Its even worse than software. Many brands offer on site servicing!

    • I can understand the need to book an appointment in certain regards, I mean some of those stores are chock full of people (who don’t know how to use their products) so they may get bogged down. However in this regard, it seems that it would be pretty easy to determine if headphones are working or not and resolve.

      I’d be interested in how much training the employees receive, mainly because compared to lets say the Vodafone or Virgin Mobile Shops, Apple Stores don’t have much in product diversity. I have been astounded at times with the level of expertise of some people in mobile stores, especially when their line of phones and accessories available change quite a bit.

    • Maybe customer service is generally a bit crap everywhere and Apple just tends to be the best off the bunch?
      I don’t think you can really fault them based on isolated anecdotes. The other factor is that they’re the only ones who really offer that level of service so there are bound to be more dodgy instances like this, even if there a also a lot of examples of good customer service that outweigh the bad. – I wouldn’t even know where to take my Samsung and HTC devices!

      Generally you’re going to have good and bad experiences depending on the people behind the counter, because they’re just human beings after all. The good thing is that the Apple corporation has policies in place to try and facilitate good customer service- but policies don’t always work on the ground.

      • Its not the anecdote I’m referring to (though I have a few Apple anecdotes myself): its the process itself. Having to ‘book’ in to return a product is a load of crap. When I’ve had MS product break down the past, they’ve sent me express post packages. I didn’t even have top leave my house! I’ve had similar experiences with Toshiba and Samsung.

        • Do you have easily accessible Samsung, Toshiba , and Microsoft shopfronts that you can walk up to and drop off your devices?
          Or are you talking about giving them to Dick Smiths or JB HiFi or something and having them give the device to the service centre?

          If so I don’t really see that they’re handling things better… It’s just a different way of handling things with the same net effect of having a delay before you get your item repaired or replaced. And still having to deal with sometimes inexperienced people at the front counter of those shops…

          • Both. Seriously, these shopfronts are not that easily accessible. Competitors I can just a) take to the place of purchase; or b) call them directly and they’ll arrange. I don’t have to work to their schedule. I don’t have to lug in my desktop. That’s why I think the Apple approach is terrible.

  • One of the many reasons I was more than happy to get rid of my iPhone this time last year. I had a similar experience with one of my old iPhones where it wouldn’t charge. I drove out to Doncaster to get it looked at (20-odd minute drive) during my lunch break and even though nobody was being served at the “Genius” counter I was told to make an appointment. I said screw that and did it online. Never thought to come at them with the illegality of their actions though.

  • bejeesus…
    it’s pretty straightforward and simple!
    1. make an appointment (this can be done online, very convenient and you can choose somewhere close)
    2. go in at your allotted time (saves waiting around)
    3. talk nice to the friendly apple genius (they are people too)
    4. have your faulty product/s replaced (apple do and have replaced many of my faulty products under Aust law)

    think for a minute! every time i’ve ever visited an apple store it is ram jamming with people, customers, people learning in their training, repairs and so on… it is usually they ask you make an appointment is because there are others who have done so and are either on their way so they have no time/room to slot you in…

    additionally, they (apple) are well aware of Aust consumer law…

    ps. the dude at the chadstone store was awesome in solving my issue last week. walked in on my allotted time, saw him immediately, he was friendly and i walked out happy! on a previous visit 4 months back, again, walked in on my allotted time, saw a genius (friendly too) and he replaced my iPhone on the spot… took about 15mins out of my lunchtime! pretty good if you ask me!

    • The story specifically states that there were staff members unoccupied and they staff outnumbered customers. Typically you don’t need and a appointment in those situations in the real world.
      This sounds like an instance were the shop staff were simply being dicks. It’s not Apple’s fault, it doesn’t apply to their retail experience generally, it might not even always be that way at this particular Apple shop, it’s just that sometimes people are dicks.

      • Yeah because since when do barely above minimum wage employee’s who were probably sales staff NOT going to go out of their way to provide something they aren’t allowed as policy to attend?

        I remember when I was 17 working as a kitchen hand and someone came in saying they had been waiting a while for a table, so I just got them a table and cooked all their food as their personal chef. Seems legit.

        • Are they allowed that as policy in this instance though? We have no information on that. We don’t know how much leeway they have and we also don’t know exactly how much they earn.
          On balance, I feel that your interpretation of the facts requires more assumptions, my “dicks” hypothesis is simpler. 🙂
          I’m not trying to give Apple a free pass, just trying to be fair.

          • I’d like to think that it is more likely that a large corporation would have a large range of policies regarding stuff behaviour and what services they are allowed to perform than someone would just decide to screw with a customer at their work place. Perhaps I have to much faith in humanity.

    • I’m sure Apple are delighted that you do just as you are told, like a good little boy.

      However, it’s just as easy for them to comply with consumer law when it is something as simple as replacing headphones, and not everyone has the freedom to turn at an allotted time – that’s why you are in the store in the first place .

    • -4 downvotes for basically saying that if you follow their process, you wont have problems – also as their staff suggest. God lifehacker is a good community. /sarcasm

      I’m sure if everyone here ran a business they would just throw all process out the door and do absolutely anything seemingly at random. Because apple clearly have no idea what they’re doing, right?

  • While typing up a reply to this story, making a joke about how Tim Cook will be the next Mike Jeffries (Abercrombie & Fitch), in that he’ll only want beautiful people using his products, I discovered something wonderfully hilarious:

    If you go to Google and do a search for Mike Jeffries (I actually got it by searching for ‘head of abercrombie & fitch’), you get this image:

  • Wow… I remember when I went to the sydney apple store a month after I got my iphone because 2 power adaptors I got with it had died, the first person I talked personally got them replaced :S

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