Is Apple Customer Service Good? 2018 Rating
Apple is the king of consumer laptop tech support, and the company added to its repertoire in the past year. In addition to answering questions via social media, live online chats, its support app and phone calls, the company began posting tutorials to a YouTube channel in November 2017. These options flank the company's existing Genius Bar, which still stands out as one of the few ways users can get in-person support directly from a laptop-maker.
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This year, we reached out to Apple tech-support reps to see if they understood how to keep laptops safe from the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities, which have been grabbing headlines for months. On top of that, did they know how to change Siri's voice? And could they tell us how to adjust Safari's new setting for automatically playing videos?
Despite some hiccups, Apple continued to offer the best and most comprehensive support of all the laptop-makers we reviewed in this Tech Support Showdown.
Web Support, App and Live Chat
Apple's official support page was an easy way to find answers to each of my questions, though the documentation could be more direct. On the main page, you simply type your question or search terms into a field and click Return.
After searching "change siri voice," I clicked on the second item, "Change Siri voice or language," which provided the correct instructions. The page listed steps for both Macs and iOS devices, so you can learn how to do it on your other devices (if you have them).
I again found what I was looking for after typing "spectre and meltdown" into the search field. In the description under the second result, "About speculative execution vulnerabilities in ARM-based and Intel CPUs," I noticed text that suggested it had the correct information — to keep my system updated — which was indeed found on that page.
I found the same information in the Apple Support app by signing in with my Apple ID, tapping the MacBook Air I was using and typing in "Meltdown spectre." Similarly, typing "siri voice" into that field also produced the same information.
My answer for reversing Safari's new rule for blocking autoplaying came to me in a slightly roundabout way. After searching for "videos in safari aren't autoplaying," I only got results about disabling videos from autoplaying. But clicking on the "Stop autoplay videos" result brought me to a page where I saw a link that said "Customize browsing settings per website," which revealed how to change the autoplay settings for specific websites.
To test Apple's live-chat support, I submitted a question about modifying Siri's voice. I received a wait-time estimate of 5 minutes, and after 7 minutes, I was speaking with a rep named Zann. First, Zann walked me through the steps of checking my system version and confirming my device, and then gave me the correct set of steps to find Siri's preferences.
Social Media: Still Just Twitter
When it comes to our digital lives, many of us still spend our days primarily on social media. Therefore, it makes sense that Apple decided (in 2016, years after competitors did) to make a Twitter account — @AppleSupport — to take tech-support questions. Though many computer-makers also have Facebook-based operations, Apple has opted not to.
When I tweeted — from my secret social-media account used to hide my identity as a reporter — for help about Spectre and Meltdown, Apple responded a short 10 minutes later. The company also included the correct information (update macOS on your Mac, and you're OK), along with a link to documentation on Apple's site that explained the situation in greater detail.
Apple's phone-based tech support provided accurate answers in a speedy process, though I encountered an odd bug during my testing. Apple's phone support number (1-800-275-2273) isn't highly visible on the company's site, so most people will find themselves navigating to http://support.apple.com, and then clicking through a short series of prompts and filling in contact information to arrange a phone call.
Unfortunately, on my first day of testing, I ran into a bug that nearly prevented me from arranging calls. At first, it just seemed like a mistake; on the page where you enter your name, email address and phone number, the last field didn't have the words "phone number," though all the others were properly labeled. Ignoring this, I filled in my information. But then, I got an error reading, "We're unable to schedule your call. Please try again or choose a different solution."
Starting over again, multiple times, I kept getting the same result, until (without any real indicator of why) everything worked properly. The words "phone number" finally appeared above that field, and the form also automatically formatted my number in the (123) 456-7890 style and allowed me to receive the calls. This error came up during my first two calls, but not my third.
The first time I used the Apple site to schedule a call, 4 minutes passed between the call beginning and an adviser joining me on the line. In that time, I tapped "1" to opt for pop music; the Apple support line is like its own iPod, where you get to pick your waiting music of choice (or opt to wait in silence).
At 12:57 p.m., when Natasha in Georgia (the U.S. state, not the country) picked up, I asked her how to protect my MacBook Air against those Spectre and Meltdown dangers I've heard so much about on the news.
Natasha quickly walked me through the steps for checking my operating-system version and looking for system updates, which she said proved that my system was safe against Spectre and Meltdown. She then explained that applying updates from Apple was how to keep my system safe. I was off the line by 1:02 p.m., for a total call time of 9 minutes.
For my second call, I asked about Siri. I opted for waiting music of my choice at 3:03 p.m. and was on the phone with John in New Mexico at 3:05. John, a friendly and to-the-point representative, pulled up the relevant article and walked me through the steps by 3:07 p.m.. He even emailed me a link to the related support page so I could have those steps handy in the future.
The only time Apple Support didn't have the answer at the ready was when I called to ask about autoplaying video. The call was set up at 9:28 a.m., and I was on the line immediately with Tonya in Idaho. After we joked over our equally poor weather, she attempted to connect to my system remotely but could not do so (likely because of our office firewall).
Then, Tonya asked me if she could place me on hold while she went to look for an answer to my question. At 9:46 a.m., 18 minutes after the call started, Tonya returned to the line with the answer and walked me through the process. The call concluded at 9:47 a.m.
On average, Apple's calls took 10 minutes and 40 seconds from start to finish, which is 4.6 minutes longer than the company's average call time last year but still rather brisk.
Apple offers 90 days of complimentary telephone technical support. If you need more than that, you can pay for three years of hardware service and telephone support coverage via AppleCare+ (formerly the AppleCare Protection Plan), which costs more than it used to.
AppleCare+ still costs $249 (a one-time purchase) for the MacBook and MacBook Air, but you now have to spend $269 (formerly $249) to protect the 13-inch MacBook Pro and $379 (up from $349) for the 15-inch MacBook Pro.
Don't be afraid to contact Apple if your 90-day window has closed, though, as my MacBook Air was purchased much more than 90 days before I made these calls. However, I was never asked to pay. But don't take my good fortune as a reason to skip the purchase of AppleCare, which is valuable in case of needed repairs.
Although Apple's calls took a little longer to complete this year — because of one answer that took a while to find — the company still batted a thousand, with correct answers for every question. Further, its technicians continued a long-standing tradition from Apple, marrying that accuracy with the power of positivity.
We don't know why the support.apple.com site glitched out on multiple occasions, but we were happy to see the issue disappear by our third call. If Apple wants an even better score next year, we'd suggest its agents find footing on Facebook, and make sure its employees know all the ins and outs of its latest features so that callers aren't put on hold while techs investigate.
Still, though, Apple's support division paints the picture-perfect image of customer service, giving its competition something to aspire to.