Apple's Joint Venture Service for SMBs: A Lose-Lose PropositionBy Pedro Pereira | Print
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It doesn't take a Genius to realize that Apple's new Joint Venture service for small businesses could take a bite out of the bottom line of existing Apple Consultants Network solution providers. But this venture doesn't look like a very good deal for anyone, really.
Over the years, Apple Computer has hardly ever missed a chance to antagonize its channel partners. So it comes as no surprise that partners aren’t exactly rolling out the red carpet for Apple’s new small business initiative, which the vendor evidently dug deep into its creative capacities to christen "Joint Venture."
Joint Venture works like this: for $499 a year, small businesses get a service package that among other things, moves you to the front of the line at the Apple Store’s Genius Bar and gets you a loaner should a system repair take longer than 24 hours. Joint Venture customers also get phone support from "dedicated" staff at Apple.
Apple Consultant Network (ACN) members now face the prospect of kissing goodbye the revenue they generate from servicing Apple products. That is, if Joint Venture works — and that’s a big if.
I know Apple likes to do things differently. Its success over the past decade selling and marketing some of the best technology in the market has given Apple no incentive to change its ways. But this new program raises some important questions:
- What about Apple’s ACN partners?
- Do Genius Bar staffers have enough experience to handle business issues?
- Why would businesses that already get on-site repair for business-grade machines buy Joint Venture?
- What happens if your business is nowhere near an Apple store?
- Will Joint Venture push other customers to the back of the Genius Bar line?
Let’s first deal with the easiest question, No. 3: They wouldn’t because they have absolutely no reason to.
As to the first question, partners are bound to suffer because budget-conscious small business owners may decide that paying $499 yearly for service is not much. Owners, of course, may change their minds later when they realize the service they get at the Genius Bar doesn’t exactly match the quality delivered by a service provider familiar with their businesses.
That’s not a shot at the Genius Bar kids. They’ve helped me out of a jam once or twice and generally they have it together. However, I seriously doubt they have the experience to deal with the pressures a business owner will be under when he or she brings a broken Mac to them. It’s not exactly the same as dealing with a teenager who dropped his iPod Touch in the toilet.
Besides, if you’re one of those small businesses with only one or two employees, do you really want to take the time out of your day to run to the nearest Apple Store to have your computer fixed, at the risk of being told you won’t have your machine back for up to 24 hours? At least if it takes longer than that, you’ll get a loaner. But, again, you’d be better served by having a contract with your local ACN member. If something goes wrong, call the service provider up. Better yet, if the service provider is monitoring your network, chances are they’ll call you first.
On the proximity question, what if there’s no Apple Store within, say, a 100 miles? Presumably small business owners will be aware of a store’s proximity so they wouldn’t buy the Business Venture plan, anyway. Still, that surely puts them at a disadvantage, doesn’t it? Only if you believe Joint Venture is the way to go. I maintain you’ll be better off dealing with your local ACN member.
One thing Apple gets right with Joint Venture is to provide a loaner for repairs lasting longer than 24 hours. I once was without my Mac for two weeks. That’s right, two weeks! At the time, if I’d had an opportunity to buy a Joint Venture plan, I might have, though the $499 price tag would have given me pause. While that may be OK for a business, it’s on the high side for an individual.
And that brings me to the question I have yet to address: So if I’m just a regular Joe, who already has to schedule Genius Bar appointments one day in advance in most cases, am I going to have to wait even longer to be seen as Join Venture customers are ushered to the front of the line? It’s one thing to push teenagers with broken iPods to the back of the line, but customers who rely on their computers won’t take too kindly to it.
Which means that with Joint Venture, Apple not only manages to alienate partners, but also possibly Joint Venture customers who require more than a "Genius" to handle their problems, and every other customer who may have to wait longer to get service. It may well turn out that Apple’s Joint Venture is too disjointed after all.
Pedro Pereira is a columnist for Channel Insider and a freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.