So speaking of over promising and under delivering: I just returned home from one of the most frustrating customer service experiences I've had, courtesy of the Apple store near my home.

Last year, I bought my wife an iPod for her birthday.  At the time, there were no Windows Media devices that seemed even remotely as functional and fun as the iPod, so that's what I went with.  It's been a great device, and worked well for us for the past 11 months.  Last week, I wanted to buy some new songs from the iTunes music store and synch them to my iPod.  That's when my troubles began.  Long story short, it seemed like my iPod's hard drive was corrupted somehow.

On Saturday morning, I got to the Apple store just as it was opening, and headed over to the Genius Bar.  It wasn't clear to me how their sign up list was supposed to work, but I was the first one there, and the resident Genius typed in my name and asked about my problem.  He started walking me through the basics (do a soft reset, run the Updater, etc), all of which I had tried.  He then suggested that I force the iPod into disk mode (by first doing a soft reset, and then holding down the << and >> buttons,) and then use the Updater app to do a hard restore of the software.  Well, another long story made short, it didn't work.  I got a wide variety of interesting errors and hard hangs of my PC thanks to some apparent conflicts between the latest iTunes and the latest iPod Updater, but no luck upgrading the iPod.

After dinner this evening, I drove back to the Apple store to get the iPod repaired.  The greeter at the door was very nice and said she was sure that if the previous Genius Bar instructions hadn't worked, I could just swap for a new iPod under warranty (which expires next week, by the way ;)  She pointed me to her manager, and I explained the situation.  He noted that the Genius Bar sign up list was full for the night, but suggested I talk to another sales associate who's an iPod guru.  I talked to that guy, and he said "yep, we should just give you a new iPod."

That, for those of you still reading, is the "over-promise" part ;)  What a lovely way to make your customers happy, to say that 1) we acknowledge the problem, 2) we assume it's our fault at this point, and 3) you deserve a new, functioning iPod immediately.

All I have to do in order to make the swap is to check back in with the Genius Bar.  Seems simple, no?  Well, unfortunatley the Genius Bar is booked up for tonight.  Ah, so how about I make an appointment to come back tomorrow instead?  Sure, says the sales rep, just vist the store's home page at 9:30 in the morning, sign up for Genius Bar time, and it will tell you when to come by.  Hmmm...."But," I tell him, "I have to work tomorrow, so if it tells me to come by at 10am, I can't do it."  He assures me that it's really a very nice system and that I'll be helped at precisely the time it assigns to me.  That's not going to help me with the problem of leaving work for an hour to drive to the store and back, though.

So I ask the sales guy whether I can just make an appointment to come back to the Genius Bar tomorrow night.  Nope!  The only way to schedule a Genius Bar timeslot in advance is to pay $99 for a ProCare card.  If you don't have a ProCare card, the Genius Bar schedules you, not the other way around.

I suggested, in as kind and friendly a manner as I could, that we better find a different way for me to get my iPod replaced under warranty.  He agreed, had a chat with his manager, and then interrupted the resident Genius to explain for 5 minutes what my situation was.  Neither one of them actually asked me any questions, but the Genius said "yeah, we should replace it for him.  But the queue is closed for tonight."  Could the sales rep make the swap for me now?  Nope!  Apparently there was some extra step that Genius had to perform that would involve talking with me, and despite the fact that he could spare a few minutes for the sales rep, he couldn't spare the same amount of time for me.

So what does the sales rep suggest I do to get my hands on a working iPod? "You sure you can't just sign up for a time tomorrow morning?"  His other suggestions included an hour long round trip to a different store down by the airport, or coming back tomorrow as soon as I could after work and signing up for the Genius Bar.  "But there's usually a two hour wait by that time of day," he warned me.

What a crazy system!  I wonder how many Apple customers end up paying the $99 for a ProCare card in order to actually reserve a time that works for them, rather than being at the mercy of the Genius Bar's daily schedule?  I guess I'm going to bring my laptop and camp out at the store for a few hours some night this week.  Apple took only 30 minutes today to go from exceeding my expectations to vastly under-delivering.