Before I get into the reason I am bringing this subject up, I want to say that not all of my interactions with Apple Support have been bad. In fact, almost all of them have been quite positive. Any time I have called about a device, I’ve gotten the help I needed. When I recently contacted Apple about Apple Care+ charges from a device that had been returned, they refunded the money even faster than the timeframe they quoted. Even when Apple botched my recent Apple Watch order, the people I talked to in support really tried to help and gave me a free Sport Loop band for the trouble.
So why am I bringing up how poor some areas of Apple’s support and customer service are? Because I finally found one such area a couple of weeks ago, and it was so bad I can’t ignore it. It all started when this site’s access to the News Publisher web interface for Apple News suddenly went down on Sunday, October 4th.
Tech Support and service are part of my job, so I knew what to do. I cleared the browser cache. No dice. I tried four different browsers to see if there was any difference between them. Nothing. I tried using different accounts. No change. I even tried editing the HTML path to our News Publisher account, which briefly looked like it might work, but ultimately failed. This was a real outage, at least for our site. Thankfully the channel itself was still up, but I couldn’t add anything until News Publisher was back online.
I reached out to Apple News Support to try and find out what was happening to cause the error message we were seeing. Unfortunately, it’s two weeks later and I still have no idea why it happened. It’s clear in hindsight that no one in Apple News support does, either. You see, I wouldn’t know because I got nothing but run around in circles by three or four different people at Apple. I am 45 years old and I have never received support this poor from any company for anything, ever.
My first interactions centered on giving Apple support the correct contact information for our News account and channel. This was difficult since all of the site’s accounts were locked out of News Publisher. However, I naturally assumed that it was the master account that our Apple Developer Account is tied to. However, I was told on a couple of occasions that it was not the correct account and that because of that, they couldn’t help me.
I tried to ask for other methods of verification so they could be certain that I was a proper representative for the site. I asked one person to look at the posted articles on our channel and take note of the fact that EVERY article there was posted by me using my iCloud account. I was emailing from that account, so I hoped that would help.
I still got nowhere. In fact, most of the emails I received looked like either canned responses or variations on them. I even got the same or close to the same email responses from different people in News Support. It really got ridiculous after ten days, especially since that meant that we missed the biggest Apple news day of the year in the iPhone announcement.
I finally got fed up last Saturday and resorted to making threats. I emailed the latest person that I was handed off to and said that if I didn’t at least get a response with some information about what was going on, that I would be going public looking for attention to force their hand. While I am an Apple fan and have written articles in support of some of their positions as they face a major lawsuit and anti-trust and developer relation scrutiny, I made it clear that I would attempt to leverage that public angst to put whatever heat I could on them so they would get off their collective asses and do something.
I didn’t want to resort to this, but I really didn’t have any other options. Hits on our Apple News channel, which typically meet or exceed our traffic on our website, had dwindled to almost nothing. We had already missed the iPhone announcement and there was no end in sight.
Before I go on, I understand waiting a few days. That didn’t bother me. A week wouldn’t have killed us. We would have been back online and ready for the iPhone event if they had gotten us back up within a week. Trust me when I say that I understand where our site stands in the pecking order of tech sites and Apple blogs. I know we aren’t a high priority and I wasn’t asking for miracles. All I wanted was competent support from someone who understood that our channel being offline costs us real money. I never got it. Being down for two weeks without any help whatsoever is just completely unacceptable.
Every couple of days over the last two weeks, I’ve tried logging into News Publisher to see if we got lucky and it came back online. Sunday morning it finally came back up and has been up since. The first thing I did was check to see what email addresses were set up as the business and content contacts for our account and channel. Guess what? It was the one I gave support on day one that two different people told me was incorrect. All I could do was shake my head.
I think this disappointed me more than anything up to this point. It just showed that no one I interacted with gave a damn. It’s really disappointing for a company that used to have exceptional customer service and support across the board to deliver an experience like this for a service that we make revenue off of. Anyway, after checking this information, I went ahead and plugged in my iCloud email address as the official contact going forward, since the owners of this site are hands off and I take care of pretty much everything.
As a parting gift to remind me of poor a job they were still doing, I got an email from Apple News Support Sunday afternoon from someone asking me to email them back from our primary contact account. First of all, this person obviously had no clue that our access to News Publisher was back online. Second, they didn’t check our official contact either, because this email came to me via the iCloud account that I had changed to that role earlier in the day.
My response wasn’t angry, but it wasn’t nice, either. I let whoever I was talking to know how ridiculous my experience had been and that there just wasn’t any excuse for how poorly this whole thing had been handled. I then let them know that I knew they weren’t doing their homework because I WAS emailing them from our official contact email address.
Just to put a bow on it, a new person responded by telling me that News Publisher was up and that they couldn’t recreate any of the issues that I described. They basically made it sound like I was complaining about nothing. Gee, thanks for pointing out the incredibly obvious now that it’s all over.
As I said at the outset, this experience has been an outlier for me. The vast majority of my support experiences with Apple have been positive. Even when I wasn’t happy or didn’t get the exact resolution I was looking for, it was rarely the person in support’s fault. Most of them went out of their way to help me if they could.
But this experience wasn’t just an outlier, which is the reason I’m writing about this. What our site got from Apple’s News Support is unacceptably bad. It was either lazy, incompetent or more likely a bad mix of both. It was downright insulting. It makes me wonder if I got treated this way because I work for a small to mid-size site, or if all Apple News support is this shoddy. Either way, this is a problem that Apple absolutely needs to recognize, own and FIX.
While I haven’t been shouting down developers and calling them whiners and babies over their complaints with treatment by Apple’s App Store Support, I did take a lot of the stories that have gone public in recent months with a grain of salt. However, while I think the problems with News and the App Store are different, my experience over the last two weeks did wake me up to the fact that Apple has some legitimate issues that need to be addressed when it comes to customer service and support. And yes, that includes developer service and support, as well. The problems are real.
The experience can be extremely inconsistent depending on what you are looking for help with. I’ve texted and talked with people in Apple Support who will bend over backwards to do whatever they can to help you. Even when they couldn’t, I never felt like I was being ignored or that they didn’t care. And then I got the worst support in my life over the last two weeks. It doesn’t add up and Apple needs to figure out where the weak spots are and fix them.
I’m sure that Apple’s size and scale work against them when it comes to keeping an eye on customer support across such an expanse of products and services. But that’s the deal when you are one of the biggest and richest companies in the world. Even more so when your company has based a part of its identity on excellent customer service and experience. The bigger Apple gets, the more they seem to be developing blind spots and missing details when it comes to this critical part of their business.
Come on, Tim Cook. It’s time to put some of that money to good use and work on fixing the loose ends. It’s time for Apple to get back to its identity and roots when it comes to delivering excellent customer service and support. Find the weak spots, starting with Apple News, and tighten them up accordingly. No customer or company, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, deserves to be treated how this site was over the last two weeks. I’m not going to stop being a fan of Apple and their products over it, but I’m not going to keep my mouth shut about it, either.