Apple and/or Verizon: How Should Partners Provide Customer Support?

What Each Did Right and What Needs Improvement When Helping Shared Customers in Need

February 14, 2013

Providers who work together on offerings that satisfy customer scenarios are part of a customer ecosystem. Ideally, all ecosystem partners should work as a single entity to make the customer experience seamless and satisfying. Too, often, however, there are missteps and a lack of communication, as shown in this story about how Apple and Verizon couldn't work together when the voice mail on an iPhone ran amuck.


In a typical break/fix customer scenario involving mobile communications, Apple and Verizon both played a part in attempting to solve the problem of misbehaving voice mail messages on an iPhone. In the course of addressing the problem, a number of different customer experience lessons emerged. Although the customer ended up with a working Apple iPhone and Verizon voice mail, some very poor practices also were demonstrated, most significantly:

  • A lack of communication between the partners (Apple didn’t know about a reported problem that Verizon had heard about and documented).
  • No process for seamlessly transferring the customer from one partner to another.
  • No really successful resolution, nor any promise to try to reach one.

This article presents best (and worst) practices in customer support across a customer ecosystem.

Sylvia Asbury in Egypt (before her iPhone/voice mail fiasco).

1. Sylvia Asbury in Egypt, before her iPhone/voice mail fiasco. (Photo courtesy of Sylvia Asbury)


Anytime there are multiple suppliers involved in delivering products and services to specific customers, these suppliers become part of an ecosystem. From the customer’s point of view, there’s something they need to get done. From the suppliers’ point of view, they have many customers (sometimes millions) who receive services from competing or complementary suppliers. Customers really don’t want to be told, “that’s not my problem; you need to call someone else.” They’d prefer it if suppliers would a) know whom they should contact, b) facilitate that contact, and c) be prepared to help customers solve their problems or meet their needs.

In an earlier article, I wrote about my experience with NStar and National Grid, both part of the utility ecosystem that ensured my home was running smoothly and efficiently. Even though they were not partners (in fact, they are competitors), NStar facilitated a smooth transfer to National Grid customer service to address the problem.

In this best practices example of a customer with a broken smartphone that manifested by voice mail run amuck, there was no similar smooth transition nor was there communication between Apple and Verizon, who are actual partners in the mobile communications customer ecosystem!


Last year, Sylvia Asbury, a friend of Patty Seybold’s in Boothbay, Maine, bought an iPhone—her first Apple product ever! And, after using it just a short while, she wondered why she didn’t get the iPhone sooner. “Up until I got the phone, I ignored all my friends who told me to switch from my Dell PC to a Mac. As a long time Windows user, I was comfortable and couldn’t see the appeal of switching. But then, since I fell in love with my iPhone, I started to think about moving to Apple everything.”

Then, last December, just before Christmas, Sylvia noticed something bizarre. A saved voice mail message on her iPhone had duplicated itself four times!

“I had just gotten back from a trip to Egypt, and I was scrambling to deal with Christmas. I was too crazed to listen to the messages, so I thought the person had just kept calling me back. Then, a few weeks later, I realized that the voice mail I saved had not only duplicated 20 to 25 times, it had also drained my phone batteries! But after I deleted all the copies again, the problem wasn’t solved. I could actually see the battery draining in front of my eyes as the message kept duplicating!”


Calling Apple

Because Sylvia lives in Boothbay, ME, and the nearest Apple Store (with its Genius Bar), is an hour and a half drive away in Portland, this proud iPhone owner has dealt with all her questions by phone. And, up until this incident, she has been very happy with Apple’s support line.

However, as Sylvia says, her customer service experience “wasn’t pretty,” and her recently won love affair with Apple has soured.

The dilemma was that Sylvia noticed the voice mail/battery draining problem on a Friday. And she was leaving very early Monday morning for Houston and really needed her phone. So, as always, she called Apple, as she had been used to doing. Because she was busily trying to get ready for her trip, she didn’t have time to spend hours on the phone or to take the long trip to Portland. She expected, and needed, a speedy resolution from the Apple call center.


“I was very discouraged when all of the Apple telephone support people I talked to—and there was a total of four before I was done—said that they had never heard of that happening, implying that it couldn’t possibly be happening as I described it. They made me feel that I didn’t know what I was talking about. After the second person said the same thing, I told him that this ‘wasn’t creating a lot of comfort here. I hope this won’t be a major problem.’ But I was assured that I was still on warranty and it won’t be a problem—they would replace my phone if it turns out to be a major problem.”

But, after the second CSR spent a bit of time looking through the Apple support files for a similar problem, and couldn’t find anything, Sylvia felt that they were questioning her description of the problem and, therefore, kind of dismissing her as a kook or an idiot. Not a great customer experience!

BACKING UP THE PHONE. The first question from the initial customer support rep was…


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