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I Quit: What really goes on at Apple (roadlesstravelled.me)
1215 points by andrew_gs on Apr 8, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 544 comments



But... the author worked in customer support, managing agents. Customer support in any company is like this: it's full of bobblehead managers who make work to justify their own jobs. It's a cost center, and cost centers are where you put executives who are capable, but not exceptional. This is why OP has stories about how firing people was considered heroic -- when you work in a cost center, the only thing the business cares about is getting the same results for less money.

Cost centers also tend to have very toxic work environments as a result: people are constantly reminded that the business can and will go on without them. Hence the epidemic of throwing people under the bus, trying to "catch" coworkers in a screw-up, etc. You don't have to be the fastest zebra, just faster than the slowest one.


You are painting with an overly broad brush.

Where I work, our Support Heroes (yes, we call them Heroes because the lengths they go to for our customers are heroic) are one of the main reasons so many of our customers love us and stick with us so long.

You've probably heard that it can cost ~5x more to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one. An exceptional Customer Support team is your front line in fighting churn, and are an invaluable asset, not a liability. They can also be critical to making sure your product and engineering teams are up-to-date on everything they need to grow a successful product that your customers want to pay for.

Unfortunately, many companies simply don't realize this or don't care because they have a captive market (for now). I would encourage you to research more about how customer support can be done "right" vs. "wrong." If customer support is a "cost center" for you, you're doing it wrong.


I disagree. You are using your company as a counter example to all other companies, and you admit that in your last sentence. I am glad your company treats your people right, and it bodes well for your EVERYTHING.

I have worked at a dozen or so support jobs, and no matter how much the customers stayed because of the support team or how much we drove the value our clients got out of the product, we always were a cost center and treated as such.

That always meant they we got the second best of everything, were always last on the list for raises, promotions, new hardware, proper chairs, whatever. We were left out of planning, and whenever another department decided at the last minute it wasnt their job now became ours to complete forever.

The second I switched over to being a consultant and making money for people instead of helping to avoid lost revenue, their attitude changed towards me and became much more positive and friendly instead of unreasonable and demanding (both on management and customer side).

I dont even know if this is a conscious or unconscious decision, but support/helpdesk job position is reviled for a reason, and the reason is that it is an unforgiving job with little acknowledgement, pay, or chance for promotion.

It gets even worse if you are doing stuff like Apple support (I trained iphone/ipod then ios/cpu at a vendor site) and almost everything he said rang true about them specifically (and the call center management world in general.)

Apple's training team was pretty cool and one of the few saving graces, I am glad I got to hang with them in Austin, they definitely were trying to build a robust system to train people with reproducible results. It was the best training I had gotten from any corporation before or since, it was what got me into training in the first place.


OP said:

>"customer support in any company is like this."

My post was specifically in response to that, because it was an inaccurate statement.

I'm really sorry to hear you've had such poor experiences in support. That sucks, and I realize how hard/impossible that can be to turn around from a business and culture standpoint.

Sounds like you have found a path that works better for you, so congrats!


When someone says "any company", it's easy to interpret that as meaning "any company without exception". This is a very logical interpretation, but it is not necessarily reasonable to interpret it that way.

My experience is that (1) most companies do a lot of things wrong (2) the respect which support receives varies from company to company as well as industry to industry, with business support taken more seriously than consumer support. I'd be curious to know what industry you happen to work in.


>When someone says "any company", it's easy to interpret that as meaning "any company without exception". This is a very logical interpretation, but it is not necessarily reasonable to interpret it that way.

Well, it's not logical at all in the common sense of the word logical. It's like you're talking to a compiler...

In casual conversation everybody understands that it doesn't mean "absolutely every company".


> In casual conversation everybody understands that it doesn't mean "absolutely every company".

That's not true at all! There are lots of people (myself included) who tend to interpret things very literally, and would not recognize this subtlety. So not EVERY person understands that...

... oh. Never mind.


Yes, actually it is logical in any conversation.


I was aware of how logically I was interpreting the statement.

That said, there are many companies out there that differentiate on support, so I still feel OPs statement painted with an overly broad brush. The example I gave from where I work was simply an anecdote.

No company is perfect and there will always be conflicting priorities when resources are finite (so, always). I didn't intend to plug, but since someone else in this thread accurately guessed...I work at SmugMug. We are a SaaS business, so keeping customers happy such that they never feel a need to leave aligns our business priorities very nicely with those of our customers. However it is also very much in our company's DNA.

I'm still not convinced though that a crappy customer experience is ever better than a happy one when it comes to growing a successful business that's in it for the long haul.


Here's my view, based on 10 odd years in various CS roles.

I think there's confusion about good/bad customer experience and what that means. Great staff doing great interactions is important, but if you focus just on that you're missing out on two important earlier layers.

No-one really wants to talk to customer support. Ever. So trying to be good at talking to people is nice, and you better be good at it when you need to or you will lose some customers (whether that be through lack of acquisition from bad stories or people actually quitting), but it's like the third level of defense, and it is arguably less important than the first two levels.

The first level is "Make sure your stuff just works". Actively work towards eliminating defects. The best product is the one that just works. People hate on Ryanair in Europe - I think it is vastly exaggerated. They get the point that having things just work is huge. They "just work" better than any other airline. They suck completely at the third level, and are only ok at the second level, but they are good at the first level. And sometimes good at first level, and good prices, is all you need.

Second level is - if things for some reason dont work, make it easy for me to fix it myself. Again - I dont want to think about your thing, I just want it to work, but if you're making me think about it by having it break, at least make sure I can do all my thinking and solving in one go - best way to do that is to let me fix it on my own. Sky broadband does a decent job of this. Their routers come with built in self-service menus rather than random error screens. Along the lines of "Something is wrong - lets start by plugging and unplugging the wires. Here's what a micro-filter is and looks like, check if you have one of those in place. Ok, lets power-cycle the router, you do that by just unplugging this wire..." 100% better than having a generic error screen or referring to online help.

Third level is - If you failed at the first two levels, make it easy and nice to talk to you. Important, not least for PR reasons, since people who failed the first two levels and also fail on the third will be really pissed off with you, but arguably less important than the first two layers, if they are done right. The other reason it is hugely important is that your improvement points on level 1 and 2 will come from 3. If your team isnt set up to continuously feed back what they are hearing from 3 and use that to improve 1 and 2, you're not going to get better.

The fourth bonus level is "f you failed the first three, at least have a decent social media setup to manage your awfulness".

A good CS organisation recognises all three levels at least, and spends time on all of them. You continually work on moving things from the third level up to the first, or at least the second, and doing that proactive work is part of what makes a good CS team.


support/helpdesk job position is reviled for a reason, and the reason is that it is an unforgiving job with little acknowledgement, pay, or chance for promotion

It's not just the helldesk. Even an experienced, senior level sysadmin, if they are doing their jobs well, even if what they do is absolutely critical to the company, upper management won't even be aware of their existence.


Well put, I totally agree with you. I've worked in support team at two MNCs, and now being a developer now I can guarantee that there exists an really thick border between the two sects..

The differentiation is so deep, even the frequency of outings and the places they take you vary. The work timing differs, shift timing differs, perks differs. After all, the people who make things are revenue generators for the co, and we were nothing but easily replaceable pieces.


> Where I work, our Support Heroes

Smugmug?

Smugmug's support staff is great. There is a huge difference when dealing with regular customer support, and customer support that goes above and beyond to provide exceptional service.

Smugmug Crutchfield Dreamhost Nordstrom All provide great, consistent support.


Yep, SmugMug :)

Thanks for the kind words! I'm not a Support Hero, but have to say that everyone who works here from the top down has nothing but utter respect for our amazing Heroes. It is an exceptionally challenging job and thus warrants exceptionally talented individuals--I sure as heck know that I couldn't do what they do.

I wish all companies had our level of customer support, but I know that isn't realistic. Fortunately for us, that creates a great opportunity to win customers for life.


Woah, really impressive that he was able to guess the company. That seems super crazy to me. I guess I'd better check out SmugMug if it's that above and beyond!


I immediately guessed Smugmug as well. I've been a customer for ~4 years now, and the few times I've needed their help, it's been nothing short of phenomenal. Support tickets answered in minutes by people clearly knowledgeable (if not experts) on the platform. Smugmug is a wonderful service, and would be fully worth the price even without such high levels of CS, so I wonder what motivates them to excel in that area?


If we could answer in seconds we would.

What motivates us to excel in that area? If I had to take a stab at it, I'd say there are two main reasons...

First, we view our support and our product as two sides of the same coin. We are immensely proud of what we've accomplished at SmugMug, and it simply would not enter the thoughts of the caliber of people who work here to have an awesome product and mediocre support.

Second, and more to the point, photos and photography are intensely personal pursuits and businesses warranting equally personal service. Whether we are protecting customers' memories and art or enabling them to live the dream as a pro photographer, they need to know they can rely on us no matter what when things hit the fan (as they unfortunately do on occasion).

That trust is a non-negotiable part of our relationship with our customers, and our Heroes are amazing at earning it through every ticket they help with, large or small.


As someone who works at Crutchfield, I really appreciate the props. Customer support during the entire shopping experience is a huge priority for everyone here. Bill Crutchfield's relentless focus on the customer experience is legendary.


>>You've probably heard that it can cost ~5x more to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one.

Not only that, but support tickets are also an excellent opportunity to turn unhappy customers into evangelists.


THIS so many times over this.

These days when I phone or email a company and get someone capable who can actually help me I go around the next few weeks recommending the company to everyone who will listen.

In some ways could a few small glitches and fast useful responses could actually be better than it just works?


> If customer support is a "cost center" for you, you're doing it wrong.

I think this can even be rephrased to "your engineering-team is doing something wrong".

Where I work we had a product which represented without any doubt the majority of our customer-service's tickets. Almost all of the tickets were related to deployment-issues.

This got communicated back to engineering. We fixed deployment, and now it's hardly in the support-stats any more.

If the organization just ignores feedback like this, customer support being costly should come as no surprise.


Another way to combat churn is platform lock-in, which I think is more Apple's strategy. Also the Genius bar, no other consumer tech company gives you in-person access to support employees.


There are many ways to combat churn. My point was that doing what is right to make the customer happy can be an awesomely powerful and more importantly POSITIVE weapon in the battle against churn.

Platform lock-in is a negative, customer-hostile approach. The positive alternate version of "lock-in" is "stickiness." Ie. the concept that your product/service/experience is so amazingly awesome that your customers have many reasons to keep coming back and using you.

Platform lock-in has always come across to me as a crutch for some flaw in a product/service/pricing model. I understand businesses need to manage risk and their investment in customer acquisition, but focusing on customer-positive ways to do so seems better aligned with all parties interests, no?


This: "Platform lock-in is a negative, customer-hostile approach."

Absolutely.

At my office, it was amusing when others would adopt the latest iPhone, but the charger was different... yet again! People would scurry about looking for a compatible charger, while the few of us with android phones would look at each other and mouth the words, "micro usb". Simple.

Good products can still be good while conforming to industry-wide standards -- something I seem to find less prevalent in my years of experience working with Apple products. (Design agency)


>If customer support is a "cost center" for you, you're doing it wrong.

But Google showed us that you can build a billion-dollar multinational with abysmal customer support.

Valve Software performs similarly well, and is renowned for having awful customer support.


One of the few reasons why I prefer GOG.com over Steam.


Customer support absolutely is a cost center. The approach you're speaking of doesn't scale, which is why Apple went a different route.

Apple's approach to "customer experience" is many-fold: I would argue that the first line of customer support for Apple is actually the Apple Store. Here, they spend money to make it a good experience because it's a revenue driver. They can provide personalized assistance, but the techs can also build a relationship they can use to sell more stuff. Apple also spends a lot of time making their products intuitive (or at least "fail safe") so many customers don't need support in the first place.

Phone support? Not so much. It's 100% a cost center because they would prefer their customers use other methods of support that involve them walking into a store and getting the full Apple experience.

Your comments are probably true for a small or medium sized company, but not for a global behemoth like Apple. Everything is so siloed (out of necessity due to the size) that any customer feedback likely wouldn't make it up the 15 layers of middle management back to the product teams anyway. You can't have 10,000 support agents feeding things back to a team of 100-200 product developers; there's just too much noise. The product teams make enough revenue anyway that they can afford in-depth market research on a scale that small companies can only dream of.


Your support will put there life on the line for a customer? Wow! That's incredible!


Our company treats support with great respect as well. They're essential to the running of our business.


Is this supposed to be ironic?? Given, you know, the original poster's grievances.... Support Heroes?.. No?


Not at all ironic. OP was posting about how customer support is a cost center, amongst other claims. He stated that it is like this in any company. I completely disagree and have experienced the proof of that first hand.

I'm a little unclear from how you worded things--was the question around the notion of firing people as heroic juxtaposed against what we call our support team (ie. Heroes)?


What your example demonstrates though is how much of a difference happens when a company thinks of CS as a profit center rather than a cost center. That's great for you guys but there's lots of industries where CS genuinely is just a cost center and should rationally be treated that way, with all the attendant pathologies that go along with that.


I've heard this argument before and with all respect, I don't buy it.

Can you provide any examples of industries where there is no opportunity to turn CS into a profit center vs. a cost center? Sure it might be very difficult to model and prove out the exact impact it has on the bottom line, but I'm not convinced there are any scenarios where pissing off your customers with a poor experience is better for business than making them feel loved and, well, supported. :)


Sure. The airline industry, for example, has been notoriously unfriendly towards most attempts at differentiation based on quality. Margins are razor thin (http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/03/travel/how-airlines-make-less-...) and customers are incredibly price sensitive. While many consumer's stated preferences are for things like more legroom and less delays, their revealed preference is they'd rather save $5 on a $300 ticket and suffer the indignities.

I would argue you're seeing the same narratives play out in the ride sharing space right now. Lyft tried to compete with Uber with their friendlier drivers vs we'll get you there faster and cheaper messaging and we'll see how long that differentiation lasts since Lyft seems to be rapidly backing away from their branding and into competing on purely on price.

Markets which are natural monopolies like Comcast also don't profit from extra CS. When your choice is shitty broadband vs no broadband, there's little CS, good or bad can do to sway your decision.

Markets where the purchaser is not the end user like enterprise sales also benefits from investing more money in sales than support. Every doctor I've ever been to has bitched at length about basic usability issues with the software they're forced to deal with but they have no real power so the software stays uniformly bad.

Markets where purchases happen infrequently. I recently had to buy a spare part for my refrigerator. Amazon didn't carry it, and the sites that did seemed uniformly low rent and amateur. I ordered from 1 site that said it was in stock and chose reasonably fast shipping. After not hearing from them for 2 days, I sent an email and they got back to me saying that due to a clerical error, it was actually out of stock and wouldn't be shipping out for another 4 days. Meanwhile, the website still listed the part as in stock. They didn't care, what's the worst I could punish this retailer for? Denying them all of my future spare fridge part purchases?

Sure, there's always exceptions to be found in all of these areas but by being the exception, you relegate yourself to a niche of the market and it becomes hard to expand outside of that niche.


> their revealed preference is they'd rather save $5 on a $300 ticket and suffer the indignities.

It's hard to believe this is true. I'd gladly pay $20 extra for a trans-Atlantic seat with more legroom and my experience shows that I'm not alone--all those "improved economy" seats are usually sold out well in advance (and they cost a lot more than $20 on a 1k extra).


$20 a seat will buy you legroom on a 2-hour flight (and $30 will buy you extra legroom in the front of the plane with better recline). Extra trans-atlantic legroom costs more like $200 a seat, though.


In the Bay Area Megapath competes with Comcast by offering the same exact connection but much better service with value added options like proactive monitoring. The same physical line in the ground will get you internet access. They will almost always cost more than Comcast, but it is worth it to many people to not have to deal with automated phone systems that waste your time and ineffectual support.


Right, so what you see is in areas where people have a choice, Comcast rationally decreases prices and increases service levels. That's the entire logic behind Google Fibre. But for most of the country, there's literally no choice of broadband and there's no incentive for Comcast to improve.


I had a feeling you might cite some of these examples :)

Admittedly the Lyft example was unknown to me--I'll have to dig in, sounds interesting.

Specifically to airlines, I'd direct you to some interesting info on Southwest[1]. While TBH the case study doesn't really prove to me the causation of success by being customer-centric, it does show that they can compete in that industry with that approach and be successful.

For the cable industry I'd argue that Sonic.net has carved our a nice business for themselves in part because of their amazing service. That doesn't really disprove your statement that it relegates a business to a niche of the market and makes it hard to expand outside the niche, but I again think back to the question of correlation vs. causation. Comcast, TWC, etc. were all well entrenched before Sonic.net even existed. So it is hard to say how much of a factor that played in their limited ability to compete vs. the fact that they focus on customer service.

Respectfully, what I still remain unconvinced of with your examples is what exactly Comcast and others like them are leaving on the table by not having awesome customer support experiences. You don't necessarily need to break the bank to have one, but you do need strong direction and culture, and that comes from the top down.

I go back to the notion of customer acquisition costing potentially 5x as much vs. retention costs (all hypothetical averages of course). If an industry has razor-thin margins and cost-focused customers, wouldn't you think it would make them a lot of money to maximize the LTV of said customers?

[1] http://digitalstrategies.tuck.dartmouth.edu/cds-uploads/case...


so everyone loves to talk about Southwest but I'd say the far more representative example is Virgin America. Despite being the mesia darlings and winning all sorts of awards, it's hemorrhaged money for 6 straight years before posting a meagre profit (http://articles.latimes.com/2014/mar/26/business/la-fi-mo-vi...).

As you mentioned, it's always hard to separate out cause and effect but I'd argue Southwest's unique fleet and labor arrangements gave it a temporary structural advantage. Now that those advantages are disappearing, it seems to be reverting towards the mean (http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB100014240527023039497045794596...).


When there are other big differentiators, and the CS issue in question is not serious, then yes, the non-CS factors are likely to dominate decisions.

But often this is not the case. I find that while good CS can make customers happy in normal circumstances, CS really makes or breaks a customer relationship when something goes wrong. Good CS and you have a brand advocate. Bad CS and you may have a nemesis that will go to irrational lengths to tarnish your brand out of pure spite.

I left my old cable operator for two reasons: 1) they were unable to fix my cable internet for two weeks, 2) their customer service kept giving me the wrong information.

Of those two, the latter was by far the most important factor. The former was just the trigger that put me at the mercy of their abysmal CS processes. Before that, if you'd asked me, I'd have recommended the company, and been totally neutral about their customer service, as I'd not had to deal with them for anything of substance.

Leaving did not get me internet back faster. It did not get me better service - just different. But it gave me the satisfaction of telling them to f-off, very publicly, after I'd suffered through multiple days of regular calls to their customer service team.

The downtime made me annoyed to start with, but their CS team who could have defused the situation just with some basic courtesy - others have - massively escalated things by being unsympathetic, not passing on the right information, not calling back when there were changes to the situation, and the final straw: after I'd decided to cancel, and had waited in line 45 minutes, I was told the computer systems were down and when I asked if they could take my details and arrange it later, they said no - ok, but could they call me back? No. I was expected to call back, wait in the same queue again for who knows how long, without knowing if they'd manage to cancel for me then.

So just by attitude and a few process issues that would not have made a material difference to their cost, first they lost me as a customer, then they pushed me into publishing a scathing complaint on my blog and tweet about it. I "only" have a direct reach of a few hundred people, but apparently that worried them enough that I had a call from someone claiming to be an assistant to the CEO the following (Saturday) morning, asking how he could help.

While that calmed me somewhat, had they just had better processes in place, they'd have had several thousands pounds in additional revenue from me by now, and not wasted a dozen or so CS reps time with all the repeated calls that arose from their poor internal communications.

That's why good CS matters.

It's those cases where long term previously satisfied customers decides to blacklist you for life and starts to badmouth you to every friend, co-worker and relative just because your CS processes made them angry by unnecessarily escalating some minor problem.


the original assertion that customer service is somehow a cost center is prima facie false, since there are such things as services/consulting companies, and they are some of the largest.


I think by OP he confusingly meant the person in the article, not the post at the top of the thread. Support hero's would be an ironic concept in relation to that.


Ah, that makes more sense. I admittedly read and responded to his initial comment before RTFA. I can see where that might be considered slightly ironic (while simultaneously terrifying that anyone would ever describe mass firings as "heroic").


In large companies, customer support is a cost center. This can invert in SMB scenarios.


Disney would like to disagree.[1]

[1] http://www.helpscout.net/blog/disney-customer-experience/


In the place I worked we had this old ho who could take 3 in the ass, 3 in the vag and 2 in the mouth. Simultaneously. We called her a hero.

That stupid stretched-out bitch made us a pile of money. Of course we never called her a "stupid bitch" to her face, that would be tactless. We called her a "hero".

I think she died of kidney failure or something.


Oh my gosh. I don't know if this was supposed to be a joke, but it is not funny at all.


some might call it tragic


I think people need to remember that Apple is a tiny, tiny innovative core surrounded by a huge bog-standard "big-corp" full of the same chimps from the Career Builder commercials that all big-corps have. If you're not part of that tiny core, you just work at Office Space.


Exactly this. I worked in Apple's EMEIA HQ for about 11-12 months. Actually I started about a week before Steve Jobs died, and honestly, nobody on the floor seemed to care that much.

As for my own experience, I moved from a comfortable telecommute job with an amazing team, naively expecting that Apple would be a huge leap in my career experience.

Instead I found a huge factory sized cube farm (office space!) and a beleaguered internal dev team, whose job was to maintain a giant mountain of bockety legacy ball of tcsh/php/mysql. Project management and infrastructure were pretty much nil. Training and documentation didn't exist, it was sink or swim.

There was a bit of a siege mentality in the team because a lot of what they maintained was critical to a lot of people onsite, and these people frequently beat a path to your desk to berate you because 'the site was down'. Which site? There were countless report sites and webpages scattered around the place. There wasn't much time to go back and fix old code because the work pipeline was always gushing forth new work.

One feature of the job was endless, pointless meetings - these happened a lot, and it gave an glimpse into how some management types played the ladder-climbing game. I definitely came across some predatory/aggressive types. This seemed to be a good strategy because it equalled "visibility", which was often lauded as a career-making goal to aim for in the team and the company. A lot of things seemed to be done with the hope that it would "create visibility".

To be fair, I gather that things in that team are a bit better now - there were some bright, really hard guys there, working against ridiculous odds. But I cannot say I found the experience enriching - I found that I was using less of my skill-set, I hated the cube-farm corporate environment, so I took another opportunity as soon as it came along.


This seems to be true. And also, while internet is full of stories of "what it's like to work at Google/Facebook/etc", you will have hard time finding a similar one about Apple.

My explanation for that is that the "tiny innovative core" is way too overworked to write about themselves and everyone else is just irrelevant.


I'm sure apple's "tiny innovative core" is very good at what they do, and works very hard, but I suspect the reason you don't hear as much about the work environment there is that they are subject to much stricter policies concerning what they write about their employer than are employees at many other places including google and facebook.

Add to that a culture that values protecting secrets versus some notion of 'openness', and an incentive to hold onto that job if you really like it and the valuable stock options that may have come with it, and I'm not terribly surprised that you see relatively few insider stories.


This. Someone close to me worked there for 7 years. The level of secrecy is crazy. Like, dysfunctional-hard-to-do-your-work and stay-up-all-night-working-before-a-launch-because-you-are-only-finding-out-about-it-then crazy. Talking in public about your job would not end well.


Therefore I'm surprised about the OP. Sure they have a specific employment contract in place with a batallion of lawyers drooling on their preys, so what does the OP risk?


Business Insider did a few stories last year, and I seem to have lost a pretty long blog post by three or four former executives that illustrated the Apple life.

http://www.businessinsider.com/apple-employees-confess-all-t...

As a person with direct experience of being affected, these stories ring true to me.


My understanding here is that Apple has pretty draconian policies about writing about it. A friend once told me they had to retract an offer from a candidate because the person tweeted they just got a job at Apple.


Apple has a horrible reputation as a work place that seems to span all layers. Look up online employer reviews. I have a friend who was employed there doing iphone interface design (as I understand it) and he only lasted a year. He said the place was full of insufferable egomaniacs.


Full of insufferable egomaniacs? I believe it. Especially in design, where your work is judged subjectively.

Full of wannabe Mr Jobs.


Nope.


You know what else is a cost center? Engineering. It's perceived as a massive step up from Call Center or Customer Support or QA but it's just marginally closer to revenue generation than the sales reps and can suffer many the same issues.

At a previous company I managed to end up doing my software development work under a Sales title, so I could get the quota and commissions that would come with it. All of a sudden I was earning a percentage of revenue every time a customer bought the software I wrote, winning recognition from the CEO, going to Presidents Club, etc. and total comp basically doubled. Doing exactly the same job under Engineering in previous years won me maybe a few thousand dollar bonus, or one year a gift card for dinner.

Somehow companies don't realize that you need everyone working as team to hit that revenue number at the end of the year, and every member of that team is doing essential work. You can have Customer Support rockstars, just like you can have Engineering and Sales rockstars. It's just that the Sales rockstars are trivially easy to measure (bookings) and so much easier to reward. I have yet to read about a compelling solution to this, because a low-base / high-commission model is proven to attract and incentivize talented reps and drive out the low performers, and there just isn't an equivalent process you can apply in the cost centers.

Not every employee wants or needs to be on variable comp, but the way we manage and reward employees is often very much dependent on how closely they are to driving revenue. I would be interested in case studies on companies that have managed to Think Differently on this, and I don't just mean a "profit sharing" plan.


The very notion of "cost centres" vs "profit centres" is incoherent. If a function is necessary for the longevity of the business, it is a profit centre. If it is not, it shouldn't be part of the business.

Treating business units that book revenue as "profit centres" only makes sense if the revenue they book is entirely due to goods and services supplied by magic elves. Otherwise, <em>the work done to enable that revenue to be booked is part of the profit-generating business</em>. Letting internal cost accounting say otherwise is a recipe for bad business.

So the first part of the solution is to drop the cost/profit dichotomy, and actually have CEOs focus on understanding their business. This is an unrealistic suggestion, I know, but I can dream.


>The very notion of "cost centres" vs "profit centres" is incoherent. If a function is necessary for the longevity of the business, it is a profit centre. If it is not, it shouldn't be part of the business.

Wow, that hits close to home. I think I'll be using that line in the future, thanks!


Most corporate accounting and MBA-think is incoherent.

Companies full of ego maniacs eat themselves alive from the inside out. It takes a while for small problems to become big problems, but I think the Apple of 2025 is going to look more like today's Hp or Yahoo than the Apple of 2015.


> a low-base / high-commission model is proven to attract and incentivize talented reps and drive out the low performers

I'm interested in hearing how this is proven. I've seen incentivized sales reps close deals that damaged the company, just like I've seen "successful" marketing campaigns that eventually killed their products.

If you use bookings as your metric for bonuses and then turn around and use bookings to measure whether the incentives are working on a per-worker basis, you'll miss a lot of negative effects. If sales starts overpromising the product, sabotaging each others' deals, or even chasing after bigger but short-term customers, you could see the metrics improve as the company falls apart. And then there's the fact that, even within a department, you'll hopefully have a group of people with diverse motivations.

That's why I'm curious about how this model has been "proven".


Which is why you have sales guys close the deals, and have a sales executive who is compensated based on the performance of the company to approve them and set the comp model for the sales team.

Your variable comp model can't be just a straight % commission, or else your sales reps will go chase enormous contracts that may be bad for your company. If you want to target smaller deals, weight their comp more on number of deals closed. There are hundreds of metrics you can use to judge your sales staff, and getting it right is hard. Your sales strategy needs to be driven by your business strategy, which should decided upon at the highest levels of the organization.

There is an art to creating variable comp models. You need your metrics to line up with your strategy. A star will deliver the numbers no matter what they are; while a low performer won't. The model is proven, but the details are up to every company.


I completely agree there are negative externalities to focusing purely on next-quarter's bookings. But specifically around attracting and retaining salespeople who deliver bookings, if you pay basically nothing before they hit quota, and then piles of hard cash as they rack up the numbers, you tend to starve out the under-performers.

It's not 'proof' by any stretch, but I was recalling this article while typing the original comment: http://www.saastr.com/a-framework-and-some-ideas-for-your-fi...


I feel like sales commission plans can take a surprising amount of time to really damage a company. Yes, you want to weed out the weak performers. But in SaaS, it's too easy to reward sales when they're actually disrupting product strategies and making everyone else's work harder.

I don't entirely recommend this book, because I feel that its arguments are not as well supported as they should be, but it is at least an interesting scan: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/541132.Punished_by_Reward...


Here's an anecdote: at my company, sales reps start with an average base for their first year, then move to a low base (like 30-40k + commission + kickers) afterward. In an average year, our top sales folks have the highest comp of all but the very top (CxO and a couple EVPs) executives, usually in the 600-700k USD range. The Eastern US VP of Sales works out of the same office I do and has a $2m home.

Just to give you an idea of why this model is attractive ... and also why there is such huge churn in Sales. If you don't succeed pretty quickly, you're going to be broke.


It does seem like a common metric for small to midsize companies, that your #1 salesperson should earn as much if not more than the CEO. It's funny because CEOs will say, without a second thought, those are the dollars they are happiest to spend.

What makes the rockstar saleperson's commission so much happier spending compared to the rockstar engineer's salary? I think simply the ability to measure the ROI on those dollars. The day anyone figures out how to directly measure ROI of engineering dollars with the same "obviousness" as sales quotas / commissions, it would completely change how we hire and retain engineers.


I once lost a battle over whether a particular feature would go into a piece of software because while everyone agreed it would drive sales, another group within the company would have gotten the credit for them.


An adept representation of a limited sample of the issues surrounding customer support and similar departments.

The problem is that it doesn't have to be like this. There are exceptional cases where customer support is not like this. Many of them have gained considerable benefit from investing in their customer support. One source of difficulty is that evaluation of those benefits requires very complicated (for an average middle manager) mathematics and causal modeling. There's no simple metric that measures the real benefits of good customer support, even tangentially.


Do you, by chance, have a list of those exceptional cases? I'd love to learn more!

edit: thanks everyone for these replies they're great, keep them coming!


Apple is actually probably the best example of a company taking a cost center (in this case, manufacturing and logistics) and turning it into a strategic advantage. Apple wields its supply chain like a weapon. It's very difficult to compete with Apple because the world has a limited supply of high-quality parts (flash memory, LCD screens, etc.), and Apple can just outbid everyone else for the entire market supply for 6 months at a time and still make a profit thanks to their fat margins and high volumes. They've done the same thing with advanced manufacturing robots, and likely again with the metallurgy and large-scale 6-axis CNC manufacturing tools. The manufacturers of these devices can only make so many of them per year, and Apple just buys all of them. By the time the market catches up, Apple has moved on to monopolizing another factor of production for some new manufacturing process.

This is why Tim Cook is CEO: he was the architect of their supply chain strategy which basically ensured nobody could build a phone at the same level as Apple. But he took what was once a pure cost center for Apple and turned it into the engine of their dominance.

I can't say I've seen the same for customer support though. It's just not a strategic advantage in most industries because only a small percentage of your customers ever call in to support in the first place.


I remember reading an article about eMachines' turnaround. It said they put their customer support and product development teams together and tried to take every customer problem and turn it, wherever possible, into a product improvement to eliminate the given problem.

They gave this concept a lot of credit for turning themselves around from being a bottom of the barrel PC vendor to becoming a retail powerhouse in the early 2000s, before they were acquired by Gateway.

This isn't what I originally read, but there's an interesting publication here on the subject: http://www.pcic.merage.uci.edu/papers/2004/eMachines.pdf


Isn't Samsung the main supplier for many of the parts used in the iPhone? And that's the reason why a.) they're in the phone business and b.) they can dominate the Android market? They took the other side of those transactions so they could learn exactly what it took to build a mobile phone, and then once they had phone-building expertise, they just need to ramp up their own production and divert some to internal use to fuel their own smartphones.


Yeah, but the interesting part is that for a while, Samsung was the only manufacturer capable of producing LCD screens that met Apple's specs. Apple outbid Samsung's mobile division on those parts, so that resulted in a situation where the iPhone had better screens than the Galaxy, even though the iPhone's screen was manufactured by Samsung. AFAIK Samsung still manufactures Apple's mobile CPUs (likely under heavy NDA; like when accounting firms audit each other).

But you're right, being such a critical component of Apple's supply chain has likely given Samsung inside knowledge of Apple's platforms. As a result, Apple has been diversifying their supply chain to avoid Samsung.

I don't know that plays into their dominance of the Android market though. Samsung was already the top consumer electronics brand in the world prior to the release of the iPhone, so it's not surprising that would carry over into mobile phones. It was certainly a factor, though probably not a large one.


And yet they had to go back to Samsung for screens because no one else could really provide the quality & quantity that Samsung could.


Yeah; it's been a problem for them. Apple has been making strategic investments in these areas trying to create a healthier marketplace so they don't have to go to their biggest competitor to buy critical components. Fortunately, Samsung loves money more than it hates Apple.


LCD? Samsung used OLED for its top Galaxy devices since the day one. That was and is the main differentiator.


He probably means PLS. Apple used (uses?) Samsung displays for the iPad. Their phones have always used Sharp or LG displays, I believe.


Samsung made phones long before the iPhone existed.


[flagged]


I didn't downvote either of you, but I didn't respond to either of your comments because they miss the point of mine. Yes, Samsung's been making phones forever. They have not been making smartphones forever. The iPhone was a fundamentally different product category from what phone manufacturers were doing before, requiring that competitors scrap a lot of what they were doing before [1]. And Samsung had a big leg-up in entering that product category by virtue of making many of the screens and chips used in the iPhone.

[1] http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2014/06/building-android-a-40...


http://www.cnet.com/products/samsung-sch-i730-verizon-wirele...

2005, 2 years before the iphone. And even called a smartphone in the review.

Touch screen keyboardless iphone clone, no. But smartphone, yes. Apple didn't invent this category, they just changed it.


And it must have sucked or else people would have bought it in iPhone-like numbers. Apple changed the category by figuring it out.


I appreciate it's not a good way to start a conversation, but do you mind my asking how old you are?

When the iPhone launched, people like me [0] couldn't really understand it. I was a top five percentile earner in the UK, but still new to that bracket having only recently left uni. I was used to mobile phones being expensive at £400 commitment, £1800 (Uk price with minimum O2 exclusive contract) was unbelievable to me.

I made the mistake of looking at the original iPhone, and seeing something that was slow (no 3G), didn't have GPS (recently moved to London, I needed my GPS-maps!) and didn't support any third party applications. It was a joke. It sold buckets loads.

The problem was before that mobile apps were a limited affair. We had things like google maps on smartphones, but not much effort went in. We had a few games, but no one was really pushing serious money in that direction.

The iPhone became a fashion hit. It was the must have for the 20-something plus who could afford it, it was a status symbol because of price. Everything about it was worse than phones on the market, it took ages to make a call, writing a text took considerably longer. It simply didn't make sense as a phone.

However it became a platform. Companies from all walks of life, some who hadn't really bothered to have a website suddenly needed an 'App' for their marketing team to be happy. This created such gravity, people thought that Android would never be able to compete.

The internals of it were not really special at all, it was quite slow, the screen resolution awfully poor. It wasn't until the 4 addressed that last major concern I bought one.

[0] - http://forums.hexus.net/iphone-ios/110525-iphone-demo.html#p...


I think one of the things that made it different, and successful, was that it aimed for a compromise between a smartphone and a regular phone. (Although obviously not in terms of price!)

Compared to a regular non-smart phone it had enormous amounts of RAM and a hugely more powerful CPU, which enabled it to run a real web browser (as opposed to Opera Mini). It also allowed fancier apps in general, once they allowed them at all, but I think the browser was pretty much the killer app.

Compared to smartphones it got rid of the stylus. This made it less capable but a lot more convenient. Having to fiddle with the stylus every time you pull the phone out of your pocket was probably, I believe, one of the things that made most people reluctant to switch to smartphones.

Also, as far as I can tell, most phones in the US were pure garbage compared to what we had elsewhere, before the iPhone upset the control of the carriers and encouraged people to pay more. If the US market had looked more like Europe, perhaps the iPhone wouldn't have been seen as such a revolution.


That's what "changing a category" looks like. You build something that's worse on dimensions that existing customers care about, but better in areas that new, non-consumers care about. Because it's worse on all the existing metrics of performance, existing incumbents don't believe it's a threat until it's too late to compete.

The iPhone wasn't a platform until it had significant consumer adoption anyway...the App Store didn't open until nearly a year after launch. It turns out that being a hot fashion accessory and status symbol is actually more important for consumer adoption than speed of calling or texting.


I had a Palm Treo many moons before I got a smartphone. It was a good phone, and the 'apps' such as they were on it were "good enough." I never really got the fuss about the iPhone. And I kind of still don't, even though right now that's what I'm doing for work (writing an Objective-C iPhone App)


There were so many smartphones before the iPhone, the main thing that Apple added was touch, which allowed them to have full screens. Not like it wasn't going that way anyway, LG prototyped a phone like that a year before the iphone came out.


Not even that. Sony Ericsson P800 had a touch screen, apps, multitasking (with automatic termination of background tasks, just like Android and iOS) - in 2002! This was using Symbian and their UIQ interface (now dead).

Apple did introduce capacitive touch screens though, as far as I know, getting rid of the stylus. And they had a very attractive UI at launch. But not much was really new.


LG didn't just prototype a phone. They released the LG Prada.


Except, you know, they've been building phones for far longer than Apple.


That's what Apple pixie dust does to people. I had people seriously arguing that Apple invented portable mp3 player with iPad too.


There is some more subtlety to this too. Apple's products (like most tech companies) are made by contract manufacturers, primarily Foxconn (Hon Hai Precision Industry). What Apple does different is to buy the equipment Foxconn needs to make the products. This means there is no financial risk in that equipment to Foxconn, and that Foxconn's other customers don't get to take advantage of the equipment.

I highly recommend following http://www.asymco.com/ where Horace Deidu does lots of analysis on the industry, with focus on Apple. Heck he can fairly accurately predict future Apple sales because of the capital expenditures mentioned in the previous paragraph http://www.asymco.com/2015/02/10/how-many-ios-devices-didwil...


> Apple wields its supply chain like a weapon...This is why Tim Cook is CEO: he was the architect of their supply chain strategy...

Really? "From 2016, {Samsung] the company will supply 80 percent of APs used in Apple devices"

http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/tech/2014/11/133_168259...

Let's call Tim Cook out for what he is. A former Dell middle manager who happened to be working the supply chain when China opened up to the world. Otherwise there must be a million supply chain geniuses out there who have also figured out how to place orders using cheap labor...


AND may I add that Mr Cook caught Mr Steve's attention when Mr Cook arranged a deal with Samsung to ensure steady flow of RAM. This was when RAM shortage was causing severe issues for tech companies.


"nobody could build a phone at the same level as Apple." People have to put their iphones in bulky cases because the screens break so easily. I have dropped my Samsung Note4 so many times, and it is fine (also, the charge lasts three days. Did I mention it is really fast too?).


I think that by Apple's "level", the above comment was referring less to design elements and more to manufacturing processes that would not be feasible for a company operating at smaller scale. An article a while ago [1] had a list of examples, such as CNC milling at scale and laser drilled holes.

[1]: https://medium.com/@BoltVC/no-you-cant-manufacture-that-like...


i haven't had a case on my iPhone in 6 years. the screens do not in fact break easily. some people are more clumsy than others. some just prefer to have a case for whatever reason. the same is true for android phones.


My S4 fell less than 20 cm on the wooden floor and the screen cracked. I saw many Samsung made in Vietnam devices with horrible quality.


Sonic.net, in the ISP market. They spend quite a bit on customer support, and use it, where they can (locally, mostly) as a feature.

Back in the day when they were reselling AT&T DSL (which they are doing again, I hear), it was a big bonus to get AT&T DSL at the same price, but not have to deal with AT&T almost ever. Let a third party deal with that and provide better service for the same cost. Win.

Full Disclosure: I've worked at Sonic.net multiple times in the past, ranging from customer support when in college, to their operations and system administration department more recently. I have fond memories of it, and count it as one of the best places I've worked, but I'm not employed by them currently.


I've never worked at Sonic, but I'll give you a hearty amen as a customer for several years. When I try to get friends to switch from Comcast, all I hear is, "But it costs more!" To which I say, "However, it actually works. And when it doesn't, you can talk to somebody smart." Not having to fuck around is worth cash money to me.

Customer service isn't a cost center. It's a value creator.


I realize it's a little bit comical to consider customer service so highly, but I have had __consistently__ excellent support from Sonic.net, and have been a very happy customer ever since literally the first day it was installed.

I have similar probably-irrationally-high opinions of In-N-Out Burger's operations.

I've had such excellent service for so many years that even when I have an objectively __terrible__ experience [0], I end up writing it completely off as a fluke, or an inexperienced or frazzled employee. I actually reflected on this the last time it happened, and even recognizing this I still think highly of their service.

They get customer service so right in so many directions that I almost feel bad exposing the rare instances that my visit hasn't been flawless.

0: Last week, in the same visit to the drive-through: "No, I didn't order those [3] shakes. I actually ordered two fries." They eventually got me the right things, and my burgers were right, but I've had that wrong too before. Almost never.


Chick-fil-a is known for this. One of my family members called the store to let them know they left out one sandwich on their order. The store manger drove immediately to them with 2 free sandwiches and some coupons. That's just insanely good service for fast food.


I've always been super-impressed with Chick-Fil-A's service even though their food is sometimes sub-par. That's why I continue to return. I know I'm going to get a decent, if not great, meal, and the service will be fantastic.

The yardstick for measuring the potency of a corporate culture is consistency over time.


Zappos built their brand on high quality customer service: http://www.businessinsider.com/zappos-customer-service-crm-2...


Given that THREE of the responses to this question are Zappos, I'm going to venture that it's probably incredibly rare. Especially since, in Zappos case, they are essentially selling commodity products (branded clothes that you can buy from any retailer), so their only opportunity for differentiation is price or service.


Zappos has given me one of my best customer service experiences ever. $135 sandals, pit-lab puppy chewed one of them (only a chunk, still wearable). I emailed them asking if I could buy one sandal... they actually sent me a new pair, told me to keep the old ones, and even upgraded me to their premium class where it's free one-day shipping. I never hesitate to recommend them to everyone.


Zappos Anecdote: I reported a bug with handling of email addresses with a '+' in them (ended up in a URL in the email still as a plus instead of URL encoded). I gave a technical description of the issue. I got a prompt response, a notification that it was fixed, and my account was bumped up to some sort of 'premium' status (which I can't use because I'm no longer living in the US, but that's not their fault).


GitHub: I've emailed their support desk a half dozen times over the years, and each time received a response from an engineer within minutes containing an accurate and precise answer to my question.


No kidding, I had a similar experience with them, although I only had to contact them once. It was, however, in the middle of the night because it was a school break and I was up. I was surprised to get a reply from them past midnight (and at least very late in PT).

Another issue about customer support is that it isn't glamorous and usually not encountered by the typical customer since they usually handle issues and exceptions rather than the visible product. When someone mentions a company, pictures of their product, their service, etc come to mind before a customer service experience, unless it is a negative one. Had a good experience? It's usually an, "Oh yeah..." moment, at the back of your head. Psychologically, customers don't use these positive experiences to judge a company. If they have a negative experience, then that company is the worst in the world...


Zappos may be a candidate for that type of case; their entire value proposition is exceptional customer support. There is no other reason to buy from them -- they aren't the cheapest or the sleekest, but they have the reputation of going above and beyond for their customers. Their motto is "powered by service". This may be more of a marketing lesson than a customer service one, though.


I'm not the person your replying to but....

Generally in B2B where the accounts your call center are responsible for "keeping happy" are worth 5 or 6 figures in revenue...tends to lead to a very different environment. Of course, at that point you aren't really paying $10/hr but are hiring "support engineers" with real salaries.

The only B2C one I can think of is Zappos.


I called Apple customer support last night for the first time ever. Called to get confirmation of AppleCare support for an iPad -- I didn't buy support :(

My experience with them was the best customer support experience I have ever had. They were great. They were prompt, knowledgeable, and compassionate.


Ditto. I've had so many positive Apple experiences, even recently.

A while ago, I could walk in the store and get replacement parts on the spot. They've replaced my sister's broken computer when she was out of warranty without giving her a hard time.

Most recently I had a really esoteric thing where my Apple Developer account had my mom's name on it because it was linked to the phone I got from her... I dunno, anyways, I managed to get someone who manages developer accounts on the phone, even though I don't pay for the developer account, and they updated it for me and got it sorted out, with minimal friction, and only a small amount of time on the phone.


Like in call centers, the toxic people aren't the CS reps that answer your queries, but psychologically troubled managers and paper pushers.


311 in San Francisco. Ok it's not a company, but damn for city government 311 has impressed me every time I call. People are knowledgable, available at odd hours, and if they can't help you the follow throughs have actually come through!


Liquidweb keeps me coming back because of their "heroic support". When I call, a sysadmin answers from Michigan. When I IM them, they answer.


Amazon.com

At one point, they decided to just give he customer whatever they wanted, except in cases of fraud or abuse, and they are fantastic now.


Zappos is one that comes to mind.


Apple is an example. Not current Apple, by the late 2000's Apple that saw exceptional growth. Apple was famous for being easy to replace broken products, get refounds, getting somebody smart to sell you stuff.


I walked into my local Apple store in November with an iPhone that wouldn't wake from a screen-touch, 15 minutes later I walked out with brand new handset.

Apple's still like that, its why I buy their hardware.


Wasn't Zappos one?


amazon


I'd argue that this mentality is a byproduct of the concept of a "cost center" which is itself an arbitrary and toxic concept.


The concept isn't normative and it definitely is meaningful. Another way to describe cost centers is that their benefit is very hard to measure but their cost easy to measure. People know that in the limit of non-existence, the company can't survive without it, so customer support has to exist. But as long as money is used to support them with no easily measurable benefit, it will always experience strong downward pressure on operating expenses.


All of western accounting, including the cost-reduction mindset, is artificial. It just happens to be the dominant paradigm, so many people mistake it for some sort of universal truth.

If you look at the Lean Manufacturing folks, they have their own notions of accounting. They think the mantra of, "increase revenues, reduce costs" is stupid. For them, it's "increase value, reduce waste".

A simple example: you make hamburgers. You find a cheaper supplier of meat. It's not quite as good, but the number of complaints is manageable. In the western perspective, that's a win: revenues are stable (in the short term, anyhow) and costs are decreased. But in the Lean perspective, you've probably fucked up: value is down and you haven't reduced systemic waste.

As an example of what customer service looks like from that perspective, consider this example: http://kevinmeyer.com/blog/2008/10/jke-day-2-saishunken-cosm...


Another topic in this vein is Throughput Accounting

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Throughput_accounting


That was a great read, thank you.


Another way to describe cost centers is that their benefit is very hard to measure but their cost easy to measure

By that metric, marketing and advertising must be cost centers! But they somehow always manage to take credit for revenue.

Honestly I think that "cost centers" are a combination of politics and managerial laziness. If you only place value on the "easily measurable" benefits, then the beneficial but more difficult-to-measure functions will be devalued and cut back.

And maybe a department only gets labeled a "cost center" in the first place if the manager running it is not influential or politically savvy enough to take credit for a piece of the revenue.

If you can form a reasonable argument that your work either earns or saves your company more money than they're paying you, you are not a cost center, and you would be foolish to accept that label.


> By that metric, marketing and advertising must be cost centers! But they somehow always manage to take credit for revenue.

I'm puzzled by this. Compared to customer support, marketing's benefit is _very_ easy to measure. You just correlate a given marketing action or strategy (say, a particular ad) with the lead generation / customer acquisition / "new" customer base metrics over its duration + a certain margin afterwards calculated from your product's delay-to-purchase, comparing with your prior projected growth at the rate it was going before the marketing strategy.

Of course once you throw in larger entities and multiple concurrent strategies and other confounders it takes a bit more math chops to isolate specific edges, but usually it's easier for a manager to find information about measuring marketing output than for typical "cost centers". And when all else fails, that's what the "Where did you hear about us?" box on the questionnaire is there for.

> And maybe a department only gets labeled a "cost center" in the first place if the manager running it is not influential or politically savvy enough to take credit for a piece of the revenue.

But yet, that's the kind of manager who gets put there! You want your best managers in the meaningful places that your company really relies on, and the lesser ones, well, there's an open spot down in Office Health & Safety right?

So it "earns" the label of a cost center because management put its worst person in charge of it. Okay. That's still... bad overall management, not just bad political savvy on the part of one manager.


Definitely, as if good customer support won't help future sales and increase customer retention.

Without support and training software is kind of worthless.


Heck, all you need for proof of that working is to scroll up and look at the people giving Zappos free advertisement on HN.


Yeah, but the return on investment in marketing is likely much, much higher. Or, better yet, invest in making your product better so customers don't need to call support in the first place.

Customer churn is also very, very hard to quantify, and your customers will leave you for a variety of reasons, many of which would not be impacted by better support (i.e. they move, go out of business, get purchased, etc.)


Yes certainly, it is an illusion that marketing, customer support, product development and sales are all discrete things without any overlap.


I've worked in several cost centres, and the idea that they want to fire jobs and are full of stupid managers is simply not true. Mostly, the ones I worked in were scrambling for hires. In the big open-plan customer support job for a telco I worked, it took a month to train up staff, and retention was the biggest issue.

When I worked in a neuro lab, us techs were the primary profit centre, while the neurologists themselves didn't pull in enough money to support their own wages. Yet we were constantly told that we were the ones losing money and had to rally round the flag in various ways - we were also paid 2/3rds market rate (young and dumb).

This idea that cost centres are treated poorly and profit centres are rewarded seems more idealistic than realistic, in my experience. It also seems to me that you're handwaving away the author's issues - everything he said is a problem, regardless of the kind of department he was in.


But... customer support isn't a cost center at Apple. They sell the AppleCare extended warranty, and if you don't purchase that when you buy the product, you have to pay them by the minute for customer support via telephone.


And most customers just go into an Apple Store if they have a problem, which is a profit center.


Yes you can go there and pay to get things fixed but it's not 100% of the time. I just went to apple recently to get my MBP fixed and I saw the bill but apparently was covered by a recall. So, it was free.


Someone dear to me worked in marketing there. Was basically the same drill, though not as directly abusive because she reported to good people.


I think that is a failure of (all the) companies that think that way. In my opinion customer support is a crucial part of any organisation big enough to merit one. Who else talks directly to your customers on a daily basis? Do you mine the data to find out where the biggest issues are and use that to inform your feature roadmap?

I have worked in a call centre. It was an odd job, for a government department, ended up creating a sort of call logging and ticketing system for them - still used today (11 years later - but that's more an artefact of sunkworks dev in a government department than a testament to my coding skillz ;)

Anyway, my point is, those employees were told, and felt, that their service mattered, that the higherups listened to feedback etc. Excellent place to work and a very good atmosphere.


Ahem... not to sound sarcastic but... everything... in a company... is a cost center. A good company knows you need to spend money to make money, in fact a lot of cost is reported ad a % of sales, meaning if you grow your sales you grow your cost. I really don't understand where your views are coming from, but they seem to be very biased. And remember that executives at public companies (like Apple) sell stock, not cost, and stock goes up based on expectations, not only cutting costs, meaning you sometimes are better off spending (like in R&D or in customer service) and give the expectation of a growing and solid company than cutting down all spend and give the idea that the firm has no future because managers only look things short term.


This is the fundamental problem with companies. Far too often we relegate Customer support to this minion role when in reality, they are our eyes and ears into the customer feedback loop. We should stop putting capable people into this role and put our exceptional people. Personally, I plan to put the customer service department under my UX Director's management. If we're to be better companies, we need empathy, and I see no better manager to instill empathy than a UX Manager.


And how does this stop the company from being Apple, "innovative, changing people's lifes, etc...?" Just because it is "just" customer support it does not imply it is not Apple.


Wow. Very, VERY applicable to my last full time position.


software engineers are also a cost centers.


Depends on the role - for a COTS type of software, they are certainly not - they are revenue generating. Consultancy? Same thing. Now for internal tool development or support, sure, but how many businesses can operate without one? How many can 10 years from now? 20?


well considering we still live in the industrial age system of factory owners and factory workers (concept of managers and even lean startup has roots in car factories), I would find it very rare that a non monopoly software business would view their engineering team as profit generators.

software and everyone involved in it's development are becoming commoditized via open source or money being injected by venture capital or a non-monopolized industry over time ends up on certain standards and margin falls for everyone.


One of my friends used to work at Apple. After one particular grueling stint of 14+ hour days, management decided to give them a thank-you. In the form of vouchers. For frozen dinners. Meanwhile, all of his friends worked for Google, we got gourmet food every meal of the week as a standard perk, and we were usually home by 8 or 9 PM rather than midnight. It's sorta like "Your 'thank you' is really more like a giant 'fuck you'".

He works for Google now.

My cousin also works for Apple, and after complaining about crunch time and how he had to check the bug queue when I was visiting him on a Saturday, I asked him "So, how long has crunch time lasted?" He replied, "Oh, about 18 months. Makes it really hard to date when I don't get any weekends." (He's in his 40s now, still no girlfriend.)


With this negative image among developers in the Valley, how is Apple able to attract top quality engineers? They probably are not. Anecdotally, I still haven't met one single engineer who would love to work for Apple though they love using Apple products.

Apple is not even on the list of all top graduating kids who wants a job in top valley firms (Google, FB, Dropbox, Twitter, AirBnB, Uber, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Quora, other promising startups). Any software engineer who is in the valley for a while (and heard the inside horror stories of working for Apple) wouldn't want to work there. There is no way in hell, senior engineers from the new age tech companies (listed above) will go to Apple. Apple will have a hard-time poaching them. Based on this, I have to conclude that most good engineers@Apple are candidates who have a tenure of more than 15 years and are aging. All, relatively new Apple employees are either left-overs in the talent-pool who couldn't make the cut to the above top firms/startups or really B-grade senior engineers. What is Apple's strategy of thriving in a knowledge economy, when the only asset you need are "great people" to succeed in the long term. They probably have great hardware engineers. It is a travesty that though they are the richest company in the world, they still couldn't build a compelling cloud services suite which is better and cheaper than what Dropbox, Google, Box, Microsoft can provide. This comment, will probably ruffle a few feathers. [updated for typos/grammar]


From the outside, it definitely looks like the closer it gets to hardware, the better engineers at Apple get. Metal is awesome, Metal shading language and recent clang progress not bad too, Swift a little bit wonky but interesting — but the quality of their customer-facing software, especially ui stuff (not design, but I engineering) is getting worse and worse. It just doesn't "just work" anymore.


> (Mac OSX UI) doesn't "just work" anymore

Please, if someone can sell a Linux with the same polish as Mac OSX, and as low-administration time, I would agree to pay about $200 per year for it. I've switched away from Ubuntu after being unable to resolve a problem after upgrade two years ago (which cost me 4 days). I spend 2x more on computers for Macbooks, not because of the hardware but because of Mac OSX.

I don't know how large is the audience for a paid workproof Linux, but I wish someone would build it.


Yes, that would be very cool. And I say that as a happy OS X user. Competition in that space would be good for the customers. Unfortunately all the workstation companies went down the drain. SGI, Sun, etc. But who knows what the future holds in store?


Dell has done some interesting work with ubuntu on developer edition laptops as far as I understand, focused on support and good drivers etc.

http://www.dell.com/us/business/p/xps-13-linux/pd http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2015/01/dell-updates-linux-po...


Oh, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I just wish OS X moved forward instead of backwards.


>I would agree to pay about $200

You would, everyone else would download the CentOS equivalent, and as consumers we don't need the assurances of first-party enterprise support.


This. Most devs I know have Macs for precisely this reason -- software, not hardware. If anything, many would prefer the hardware (diversity) offered elsewhere.


One commenter - I believe it was here on HN - said something I thought was very insightful. They said it's difficult to see software when you're looking at your computer edge-on - and that's apparently the only way Apple ever looks at their products anymore.


For the first time in the last ten years, I have downgraded my OS to 10.9 after having a disastrous experience with 10.10. I don't plan on upgrading back, at least not on this computer.


It's when your Linux distro on a 5 year old HP laptop seems more polished than your 27" iMac from 2 years ago that you begin to wonder what has gone wrong at Apple.

Two days ago I said aloud to a screen ", OS X is turning into Windows".


And by Windows, you probably mean your memory of when you last used it as a main OS.

I moved to OS X 5 years ago, and recently I realised that a lot of my assumptions about Windows are no longer true. Now, I contemplate moving back.


Well I use Windows daily as a dev at a MS Partnered company but you are still correct in that when I said OSX is turning into Win I was thinking of the XP/Vista era. I am not a huge fan of either 7 or 8 tbh, but that is acknowledged as a personal preference in much the same way as I sold a practical commuter car to buy something "i like driving more".

The problem with OSX now, as I see it, is that as Windows irons out the problems that made *nix users dislike it, OSX seems to be allowing those problems (both engineering and usability) to creep in.


Acqui-hires, amigo... swallow a company, fire the bottom 10%, give the rest offers, see who sticks around after 1-2 years. They're gobbling up companies so fast that they're running out of office space to house them all.


Acqui-hiring cannot be a long term strategy to nurture and build a strong internal talent pool. Google simply has done an outstanding job at this. Most start-up founders/employees share YC startups' cultural ethos, and will get stifled under Apple. Many of them will get demotivated, lose steam and leave as soon as their golden handcuffs expire.


Cash is king. Citizen Kane comes to mind:

    You're right, I did lose a million dollars last year. I expect to lose a million dollars this year. I expect to lose a million dollars next year. You know, Mr. Thatcher, at the rate of a million dollars a year, I'll have to close this place in... 60 years.


There's a difference: Apple is a public company (without an insider-friendly voting structure like Google's), and shareholder activism is a powerful force these days. (I am not an expert.) If the current approach stops delivering big profits I think the management will be hard put to resist the pressure to smash up the piñata and hand the cash to the shareholders. (That pressure already exists: http://www.cnet.com/news/apple-to-shareholders-vote-against-... ) So I think the thing protecting the status quo at Apple these days is really the flow, rather than the stock, of profits. And indeed there doesn't seem to be any sign that the apparent decline in the quality of OS X is actually hurting profits or sales yet: http://appleinsider.com/articles/14/07/29/apples-focus-on-va... .


With something like $150 billion+ in the bank, it might just be a long term viable strategy.


... Until the taxman catches up with them. Then it's game over.


For what, following the law?

Most of the cash from overseas operations is overseas which is legal.


What do you mean? Are Apple not complying with the tax law?


I mean that to continue their strategy they will need to onshore the money, at which point it will be taxed, at which point it looks far less viable in the long term.


and they have plenty of cash to keep at it forever


You only hear the negative stories because of Apple's culture of secrecy. Writing publicly about the company is a big no-no.


It's not that secret though. Sure, you only read first-hand accounts by people who have left, but it's not like Apple employees are out with their friends over beers refusing to talk about how many hours they work. Everyone in the valley probably knows someone who knows someone who works there. At some point, the constant background level of "yeah, it kind of sucks" is pretty convincing.


I think as an engineer the type of things one might get to work on at Apple could be more interesting than the type of things one would get to work on at a bunch of the companies you just listed. At Apple there's everything from OS to compiler to drivers to UI to hardware, etc.

I don't want to work there, as I know people who have and it sucked, but, I can see the appeal for some. Also one person I know who did a stint there got some rather obscenely large amounts of cash.


> With this negative image among developers in the Valley, how is Apple able to attract top quality engineers? They probably are not.

I met several current and former Apple employees. Many of them are extremely talented.

Based on my anecdotal experience, that doesn't show Apple has any problem attracting top quality engineers.


Hardware engineers maybe? Not sure about software engineers.


Not a developer but I would definitely do a 2+ year stint at Apple to get the name on my resume and find out what it's like to work at one of the largest and most profitable tech companies ever. I'm sure there's an incredible amount to learn and the pay is nice as well.


How old are you? 2 years is quite a long time to some folks.


2 years is a long time to teenagers, I can't imagine it's a long time to anyone else.


25 years of age.


I wonder if this explains the general impression that Apple's software quality is slipping over time?


They sound like Amazon up here in Seattle, but at least Amazon has pockets of goodness... This sounds way more widespread.


The same goes for Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle...basically any technology behemoth other than possibly Google.

I know Apple recently poached a bunch of people from one of the above-named companies.


Yes the silver fox is IT's best kept secret.


What's a "Silver Fox" in this context?


I assume that refers to this bit:

  Based on this, I have to conclude that most good 
  engineers@Apple are candidates who have a tenure of 
  more than 15 years and are aging.
With "silver" meaning grey hair and "fox" meaning clever.


Ah. That makes sense.


I think designers and marketers still aspire to work at Apple.


> how is Apple able to attract top quality engineers?

From the rumours I've heard, they pay marginally higher salaries.


>Usually home by 8 or 9pm

I assume they got into work at 8 or 9am? That's terrible. I'm really glad that I work a standard 8 hour day at my small no-name company.


When I worked there, it was 12pm-8pm. My friends who work there now do the same.

We just get to make our own hours and being in my twenties, I like sleeping in.


I have the same schedule now. It's much better since you avoid the crazy traffic of the typical 9-to-5'ers and getting to sleep in is the best thing ever.


I made the mistake of moving 18 miles (San Jose) from where I work (Mountain View). Two years ago traffic wasn't bad but I swear it's getting worse. If I leave the house at 9:00 it takes 45-60 minutes to get to work. If there's a major accident or problem it can take up to 90 (happened once). Now I just don't leave the house before 10:00. My commute is less than 30 minutes and I regain 30-60 minutes every day.

I feel very fortunate to work at a company and with a team that supports my preferred schedule.


I agree it's getting worse over the last year or so. My commute is about 8 miles, from Seaport to 92 on 101, and I never get much above 10 mph. Bumper to bumper the whole way. It didn't used to be like that.


yeah, ive been doing 880 from hayward into Cupertino for 5 years now, and its been getting worse, which i guess is a good thing because people have jobs? or bad because there are too many people here.....


I find this interesting. How do people collaborate? Did most of your team work the same hours? Do you just schedule meetings from noon-4? I would personally hate that schedule as someone with a family.


You can get the same no-rush-hour benefit by going the opposite direction; I show up to the office at 7am, and I'm out the door by 330 at the latest. There's somebody else in my office that I've only ever overlapped with for a couple hours at a time because he basically never shows up before noon. He used to give me a hard time about how early I left every day until I explained that I was showing up to the office an hour or two after he went to sleep each night.

I'm in California and I try to get meetings scheduled for the late morning or early afternoon. 11am meetings are totally reasonable for anybody on the west coast, and it's not too hard to convince people in (for example) New York to not schedule meetings for before 10am their time. On the rare occasion that I need to make a 6am phone call with somebody who's a real go-getter on the east cast, I'll just bite the bullet and show up at 6, and then take off around 2.

On the other hand, I used to work in a bakery, so waking up at 7am is still sort of like sleeping in for me. But there's nothing like finishing your day at 330; I love it.


At my office they seem to be biased against this -- whatever time you get in, if you disappear before 5 there's a sense that you're shirking. And this despite what is, overall, a super healthy culture. There's no stigma at all about showing up at 830 and leaving at 1700, but showing up at 700 doesn't seem to allow you to leave earlier without incurring raised eyebrows. I wonder if this is unusual, since I've not experienced it before.


My team mostly works similar hours to me (1-9, as I said elsewhere) but my previous team was more nine-to-fivey. We just had meetings after lunch, it wasn't a big deal. A couple folks on the team had kids and left every day at 5:00, and I did their code reviews in the evenings (so they were ready waiting when they came in the next day), and they did mine in the mornings, and it worked fine.


I like 11-4 as core hours. Not to early for the folks who like to sleep in, not to late for people who want to get home to their family, and there is still 5 hours of overlap for meeting.


As an engineer at Google a key difference from some other companies is how few meetings I have. I have less then 10 hours of meetings per week, and they are all scheduled between 11am and 4pm. There's also plenty of less-formal meetings when I strike up a conversation with my coworkers, usually closer to 6:00 as we start to focus less and wonder more.


10 hours... A week?

Is that considered good? I run a small company and - also as a developer - I'd really like to get meetings down to 3 or 4 hours a week.


It depends on your role, PMs and managers would obviously have a lot more. I'm just a lowly engineer and looking at my calendar this week, I've have 2.5 hours of regular meetings, 3 hours of interviews (though that's an outlier, I normally do 1 interview a week, which is 1 hour long), and 2 hours of "tech talks" (which is not really a meeting, it's basically people from other teams talking about what they've been working on).


Including weekly one hour of tech talk I have 2-3 hours of meeting every week and I love it that way. 10 hours a week would be terrible. (Not a Googler btw).


Agreed. 10 hours a week of meetings seems nuts.

I've been trying to get my boss to reduce the 2-3 hours a week of meetings I have to attend.


From working with clients in different timezones (and in a previous life running global projects) this is par for the course.

The fact that you only get 4 hours joint meeting time is just as good as if you were collaborating on east vs. west coast.


I'm EST. When I work with CA companies I tend to end up just taking meetings at 8-9pm. When working with people halfway across the world there have been a few midnight and 1am calls.


Every brilliant Googler not collaborating with other brilliant Googlers is also not collaborating with other brilliant talents at Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, etc...


More like 10 or 11. Most of my friends are late-risers (perhaps because I'm a late-riser), and Google doesn't have set hours. People have been known to roll into work around 2:30 PM as long as they get their work done.


... Not to mention that you can easily spend 2-3 or more hours of your day eating lunch/dinner/pingpong/making coffee/dance classes/gym/etc.


That's pretty cool. I hope to work there some day. My hours now are flexible; I come in and leave an hour early to avoid traffic.


Nice that you live somewhere that an hour makes a difference.

I work 6am to 3pm, and I still get stuck in traffic pretty regularly.


I normally work 1:00 to 9:00, at Google NYC.


Amen.


Crunch time is fine when its uncommon and unforseen. Otherwise it is a manag3ment failure. Perhaps its deliberate failure to respect peoples personal life, but that's still a failure. I've worked plenty of places where crunch time is uncommon or nonexistent. It doesn't have to be that way.


There are quite a lot of studies that examine the difference between 'crunch mode' and 40hr type weeks. I've read that crunch beyond about 3 weeks results in less work being done per week than a 40hr week, and two months of crunch mode results in being behind where two months of 5day/40hr weeks would have got you. It also increases the risk of product failure.

Basically, if you believe that hitting a deadline is worth having overall less productivity for, you can reasonably crunch for 2 weeks, and have the third week as an acknowledged low productivity week, and it might be worth it. Anything much beyond that is counter-productive on pretty much all axes and a strong sign that management is incompetent.


If staff are consistently having to work overtime to hit targets then there's either:

- A problem with the staff - there's either not enough of them or they haven't the skills to do what is required

or

- A problem with the management.

I've never worked in a role where incompetent people were hired and couldn't get what needed to be done done, but I've worked under plenty of incompetent management.


Even the first option is a problem with management. They either need to hire more people, fire people, or train people.


True, fair point.


Alternative 3: a problem with the law. I know 'Murica loves it's free market, dog eat dog, each man for himself ideal. But to us Europeans it looks like many US companies are no better than slave drivers. No regulation, no life for employees. On the other hand, US corps can compete with the Chinese and Koreans, there are no tech giants in well regulated European countries (are there?) because after 3 or 4 in the afternoon we all go home to our children.


Not really true, Ireland has a large concentration of 'tech giants'. They may be setting up because of tax regulations but they pretty much all have sizeable engineering workforces in Ireland. Google Ireland for example employs more than 2,500 people.

If you instead mean homegrown tech giants then you have a definite point. The only European giants I can think of are Telefonica, Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, Nokia and SAP. It would be interesting to see the research on if the reason for that has much to do with the horrible work expectations in the US.


> , there are no tech giants in well regulated European countries (are there?) because after 3 or 4 in the afternoon we all go home to our children.

Well, that's not entirely true. Unfortunately, in Portugal, it's more like 6PM; 7/8PM for tech jobs. And no tech giants here, also. :)


Long crunch times are either a symptom of longterm planning failures (not hired enough people), or it's a deliberate and premeditated attempt to abuse people for cheap labour (why have 10 people do the work when 6 overworked people can do the same job?).


They can't. As the comment before yours pointed out: after about three weeks, those six overworked people are so inefficient that they are getting less done than six people would working regular hours.

Long crunch times (more than two or three weeks) are strong evidence of deliberately abusive management, who are willing to lower productivity below what it would be with a 40-hour work week for the sake of their egos.


>>After one particular grueling stint of 14+ hour days, management decided to give them a thank-you. In the form of vouchers. For frozen dinners.

Eh, it could be worse.

At a previous company I worked for, one of the executives passed away. There was a funeral on a Friday, followed by reception. Guess what the lunch was on Monday at the office? The leftovers from the reception.

A similar thing happened where the CEO had a party at his house for the engineering department. No one else was invited. The following day, company lunch was leftovers from that party.

Looking back, I wish they had simply given us frozen dinner vouchers rather than shitty food.


They've never served lunch here. Maybe we should have more funerals...

>> Well we had it tough. We used to have to get up out of the shoebox at twelve o'clock at night, and LICK the road clean with our tongues. We had half a handful of freezing cold gravel, worked twenty-four hours a day at the mill for fourpence every six years, and when we got home, our Dad would slice us in two with a bread knife. -- Obligatory Four Yorkshiremen[1] Python reference

Not to poke fun at folks suffering, we've all been there and it's not healthy.

The question is, what system could we put in place that would reward a positive work culture and penalize *hattery? I know Glassdoor tries, but is there a way to measure this that won't be gamed out of shape?

1. http://www.davidpbrown.co.uk/jokes/monty-python-four-yorkshi...


Wow, I'm all for not wasting food, but that's really tacky.


What's tacky about offering free food that no one is obligated to eat? GP might have written one of the most entitled things I've seen!


I said this in another response too, but normally we got lunch catered and it was part of the compensation. In the two scenarios I mentioned though, we got served leftovers just so the company could save a few hundred bucks.


Or, you got served leftovers because throwing food away is exremely wasteful. I eat leftovers all the time. What's the big deal?


I didn't say they should have thrown it away. There are many organizations that accept food donations from private events as long as it is still fresh and in good condition.

In the funeral scenario, the problem was that the funeral was on a Friday and the food was stale and gross by the time it was served for lunch on Monday.

In the other scenario, a lot of people were offended that they were being served left-overs from a private party they weren't invited to, despite being a part of the company. The CEO not only gave preferential treatment to engineering but then went one step further and served the leftover food to the rest of the company. To me, that clearly communicates what he thinks of non-engineers.


If part of your compensation comes in the form of food, then it isn't free.

Of course, if it's part of your compensation, it should probably be taxed as such... maybe I should keep my mouth shut.


Food offered for the employer's convenience is non-taxable compensation.


I'm outraged that they didn't throw this food away or at least charge you for the leftovers.


I should have provided context. We normally got lunch catered, but on those particular days though they served leftovers just to save a few hundred bucks.


And really Google's thank you is a fuck you. Try working in Europe or Australia: none of that 9pm nonsense. That is when I go to sleep after spending time with my family.

Edit: OK I see from other comments that those Googlers are doing 12pm to 9pm and it is flexible so doesn't sound so bad.


Engineers at Google don't have mandated hours. Be available for important meetings, and be somewhat consistent with when you're around.


Love the comparison between getting home at 8-9pm rather than 14+ hour days, both look the same to me.


Depends on your start time. 10-11 AM is reasonable in Silicon Valley (rush hour on the highways lasts until about 10:30), 8 PM is 10 hour days, midnight is 14. Figure that 8 PM includes both lunch and dinner at Google and it's like 8.5 hours of actually working, which is a lot, but I don't think it's unreasonable.


> we were usually home by 8 or 9 PM rather than midnight...

Wow, Is it normal? Sounds ridiculous to me, having a family at home, I can't imagine coming home at 9 PM, having a late dinner and going straight to bed to wake up the next day, not seeing my son or wife the whole day, is it like this in every big company?


It's normal when you're not expected to be in the office until 11am or noon.


>we were usually home by 8 or 9 PM rather than midnight

pot calling kettle black much? Getting home at 8 or 9 sounds pretty awful to me. I get that midnight is worse, but I don't think I want to work at either place. They both sound terrible.


Data says differently: On Glassdoor Employee's Choice Awards for 2015 lists Apple as #22 best place to work. It's ahead of others like LinkedIn.


>> a thank-you. In the form of vouchers. For frozen dinners.

That sounds very odd. Was this Omaha Steaks by chance? Perhaps it was meant well.


I don't know; he referred to it as "frozen dinners" and was pretty mad about it. He's the sort of person that would appreciate Omaha Steaks, so I don't think that's it.


That's bizarre. The standard "Thank You" at Apple is a $500 gift card which can be be used at a number of websites, including Amazon.


Sounds just like grad school, except at least he's getting paid.


I know some people who do that by choice, but no one in my branch of software engineering is forced to do it for months or years at a time. I'm senior, work 9 to 5 with limited exceptions, and extremely well-regarded (and well-compensated).


I have friends who work closely with B/C level execs. It is a clusterfuck of dysfunction at those levels.


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