On the day Apple made its iPhoto book printing service available in Australia, I placed an order. In fact, I placed an order before Apple had actually announced that it had brought the service to Australia. It was a bit of a coincidence, really. I’d been planning to order another book via a USA mail-forwarding service, when I noticed that there was pricing available in Australian dollars. I whipped up a quick photo book with pics of my adorable three-year-old daughter, entitled it "Test Book — just to see what happens — and clicked on the order button.
Then Apple announced that indeed the service was real and happening in Australia and I would in fact be getting a book out of it. Hurrah!
Apple was a little vague about the time frame for delivery. "Shipped from abroad within 3-4 days" is a bit non-specific about where they’re coming from, and does "shipped" mean the date it’s sent or the date I’ll receive it? A little bit of clarification came in the order confirmation, which said it would be "delivered from abroad in 10-14 business days". So I set me to waiting.
That was on Wednesday the 6th of February. By my calculations 14 business days post that was Tuesday, the 26th of February. I received notice on Friday the 8th of February that it had shipped. You can imagine how eagerly I waited — I quite enjoy pictures of my daughter.
The 26th came and went without a book arriving in the post. Thinking that perhaps the "10-14 days" might, in fact, begin from the day it is shipped rather than the day it was ordered, I reset my expectations by two days — to Thursday the 28th of February — and set to more waiting. I am nothing if not patient.
The 28th came and went, again without a book arriving in the post. This time, I reasoned, perhaps I had miscounted the days. Perhaps the time difference between Sydney and "abroad" meant that my counting was out by a day or two. I resolved to wait for the weekend.
Monday the 3rd of March, no book. Concerned that I might forget what my daughter looked like if I didn’t get this book soon, I went and looked at her, breathing a sigh of relief. This activity took most of the day, so I didn’t get around to complaining to Apple about my missing book.
On Tuesday the 4th of March, when my book had definitely not arrived, I opened up the e-mail saying it had shipped, to find out what Apple reckoned I should do if it hadn’t arrived in time.
"If you have not received your order after 10 business days," it read, "please contact us." Unfortunately it did not provide a telephone number or e-mail address by which to do so — very frustrating. One of my pet peeves with e-commerce, even the really big guns like Amazon, is the reluctance of the vendors to speak to their customers. Apple is certainly not alone in providing a somewhat less than perfect customer-service experience, but somehow I hope for better.
I don’t like filling in online forms for support. I don’t feel like I’m sending an e-mail to a person, I feel like I’m throwing my wishes into the ocean on a bit of paper, hoping they might find a friendly shore. I know I am not alone in that feeling. Anyone who has ever tried to get support from the laughable online system at Google Apps surely shares my frustration.
So before I clicked the link in the e-mail that would take me to the online support site, I did what any Australian Apple customer would do — I phoned 133 622 and pushed the appropriate numbers for support. "Oh no", said the bod on the other end of the line, "we don’t do support for iPhoto books here. I’ll escalate your call to someone who can help". Now, I have to admit that I found this less than 100 percent satisfactory and, in truth, I probably vented a bit at the poor fellow unfortunate enough to have taken my call. It wasn’t his fault he hadn’t been empowered to deal with my call.
Except, I realised later, he was. You see, if you do follow the link to the support site (which, it must be said, is a vast improvement over the support site for the iTunes Store) what happens is you enter your query into the system along with your order number, and a day or so later you get an acknowledgement of the problem and a promise that your order will be reprocessed. This is precisely what the fellow on the phone did for me — entered my order number in the system with a note that I hadn’t received the book, and a day or so later I got an acknowledgement of the problem and a promose it would be fixed.
I’d like to make a couple of suggestions to Apple. First, on the e-mail acknowledging the order and the one saying it’s shipped, don’t say "contact us" if, in fact, you don’t want people contacting you. If you want people to go to the support site and fill in an online form, say that instead. Even better, link directly to the online form.
Second, in the event that people do decide to call your support number, get the support people to say "Sure, I’ll just enter your order number into the system and get that taken care of for you" rather than "I can’t help you, so I’ll put your order number into the system and get someone else to take care of it for you". The result is identical, but you can see how the subtly different wording makes it feel somehow better.
On Thursday the 6th of March I received an e-mail with the subject header "I Haven’t Received My Order Yet 44148109; Follow-up: 43641973" from Apple requesting confirmation that I’d put the correct address on my order. A few hours later, having confirmed that, I got another e-mail headed "Re: I Haven’t Received My Order Yet 44148109; Follow-up: 43641973" from "Patrick" who, I assume, is a person, though I didn’t get any direct contact details for him so whether I could ever find him again is anyone’s guess.
"Patrick" told me that "We are reprocessing order 44171425 free of charge and will send it to you as quickly as possible" which is reassuring except that my order was 44148109 and I have no idea what this 44171425 business is. Rather than ask "Patrick" I elected to wait a little longer.
On Monday the 10th of March, I received my book by Federal Express. It had been shipped on Friday the 7th and, for all I know, may even have arrived more quickly if it hadn’t been for the weekend in between. It is indeed the correct book , featuring photos of my darling little one. And it is still indicated on the box as being order 44148109 — so I still don’t know what that other number is.
My third bit of advice for Apple: stop throwing random numbers at your customers.
And my fourth bit of advice: make FedEx shipping an option your customers can choose, not just your support staff. Not everyone’s going to take it up, especially from "abroad," but for those who don’t mind paying a few extra bucks for quick delivery and a tracking number, it might be a popular option.
Anyway, the book is here at last and I love it, even with the silly filler text — adds to its charm, I suppose. It is a bit different to the book I ordered a few years ago. Nicer binding, and a proper dustcover rather than a photo printed directly on the front of the book. I think I’d have liked my choice of bindings in that respect, but it’s hard to fault most of the decisions Apple’s made.
I’ll be ordering another one very soon. Wish me luck.