We had the first broken iPad 2 in the Covent Garden Apple store, but what we found there left us worried we were in an Inception-style dream.
We were among the first to get an iPad 2 in the UK, which led tragically but inevitably to being the first to return a broken iPad 2 to the Apple store. Amazingly, that led to a fantastic experience with Apple's customer-service peeps, leaving us clutching a brand-new iPad 2, rather than the headache we expected.
Read Ian's experience with Vodafone for an example of customer-support purgatory. Read our trip to the Apple store, below, for the heavenly alternative. With such varying experiences, it led us to wonder -- which gadget shop delivers the best service in the whole wide world? We want you to give us your opinion on our Facebook poll, but first we'll get the ball rolling with ours.
The front home button on our iPad 2 started acting as sticky as a toddler's finger about four days after we got it. Thus we entered that special level of hell known as "customer service", in which you trade your dignity for the chance to beg a call-centre employee for a replacement. Or worse, a trip for your gadget to a repair centre that replaces the wrong bit, and returns it six weeks later after using your bikini-clad holiday photos as their fun-time screen saver.
We girded our loins by drinking 10 cans of Red Bull and screaming "tonight, we celebrate our Independence Day" into the mirror a few times. Then it was time to make the call.
But wait -- this was too easy. We handed over the iPad 2's serial number, and because it was registered to our iTunes account, Apple already had our name, address and other details, including our Trainyard high score and that photo we tweeted when we were drunk that one time. Creepy, sure, but in a world when the bank makes us read out our card number straight after typing it into the phone 10 times, it was our kind of creepy. Like getting a nice cuddle from Big Brother.
Apple also confirmed we could take our iPad 2 back in the UK, even though we bought it from the US. Before we knew it, we were booked in with an appointment with that team of Nobel-prize winners, chess grand masters and idiots savant known as the Apple genius bar.
We chose the Covent Garden Apple store because it has not one, but two glass staircases, and we like to live on the edge. Once we arrived, everything continued to be something we'd never thought we'd associate with customer service -- good. Despite the fact that we had no receipt or box, our iPad 2 had a 4mm dent on the top, and they only had a few to sell that day, they handed over a new tablet as eagerly as sharing a Tic-Tac.
The whole transaction was insanely friendly and helpful -- they even offered to throw in some headphones, which aren't included in the iPad 2's box, and a UK plug to replace our US one. Before it was over, we could feel ourselves being lulled into the warm, comforting euphoria that indicates either entry into the cult of Mac, peeing in your wetsuit, or dying of hypothermia.
In our case, we're pretty sure it was a case of Apple love. But after a morning spent deprogramming ourselves by installing freeware on our Windows PC, we wondered if this was a magical one-off event caused by the fact that we're having a fantastic hair day.
We didn't reveal to Apple on the phone, or in person, that we worked for CNET UK as elite gadget-reviewing ninjas. We only 'fessed up once we had the new iPad 2 in our hands, so it wasn't a case of coddling the press. There is also no way Apple could have known the iPad 2 belonged to a CNET UK employee from its registration data. (And it's not like we've ever been in Apple's good books anyway.)
So, is it possible that customer service could actually be good, or are we going to wake up in the Covent Garden Apple store in a minute, waiting in a queue all along?
We want to know about your customer-service stories. Who do you think gives the best service online and in the real world? Let us know in the comments and also vote in our Facebook survey to find the best servicers in Britain. You can add your own options if you don't like the ones we've started with. At the time of writing, Amazon UK is on top, with Apple in second place.
We want to hear about the failures as well, so use this as an opportunity to sound off about the worst service you've ever gotten from a gadget shop, too. Get it off your chest in the comments. Ooh, we feel just like Anne Robinson in Watchdog.