Apple has successfully angered its service staff. It is forcing its certified consultants to join a new oversight organization, OnForce, which has strict new rules. Those who don't comply won't get referrals at the Genius Bar.  (Source: Cracked)
Upset about lack of control, Apple is making significant alterations to how its services its computers

Apple computers, just like any personal computer, can break.  Likewise OS X and its software, like any operating system and its software, can experience bugs, crashes, and other issues.  When that happens users have two choices – perform repairs/diagnostics on their own (often exploring online resources) or take it to a qualified repairperson.

In the Apple world, the first line of repair support has been the Genius Bar that is located at every Apple store.  But sometimes problems are too confusing or severe for the Genius Bar specialists, so they get referred to a network of certified technicians.  Previously this network operated largely independently, but Apple is reportedly making sweeping changes to drastically cut the independence of these technicians and increase oversight.

The change applies to the Apple Consulting Network (ACN) technicians.  ACN members must go through certification courses and testing.  They must also pay annual fees to keep their status.  Local ACN members give their business cards to the Genius Bar who then passes those cards along to customers having tough issues.

But Apple -- a company obsessed with control, quality, and oversight -- took notice of the tech's autonomy and it "rubbed Apple Retail the wrong way."

According to a report by TUAW writer Steven Sande, Apple began to quietly prepare a replacement system in 2009 in LA and Boston.  Writes Mr. Sande, "Apple began testing a new support structure that used an existing organization, OnForce, to distribute support calls to ACN members who wanted to sign up as part of the program."

In 2010 the system was rolled out to Denver/Boulder and Detroit.  Now Apple is extending it to its entire retail network.  If ACN members do not comply with Apple's edict and join OnForce, they will no longer get service referrals from Apple retail.

The good news for customers is that they can expect lower prices and perhaps more service accountability.

But there's plenty of bad news about the change, with much of it on the consultants' end.  OnForce implements very strict policies.  Consultants can no longer represent themselves or their businesses when on call (making it impossible to get long-term customers).  They also are upset about the amount of paperwork OnForce requires.  And OnForce's rates are much lower than what Apple consultants typically charge.

Also of concern to both customers and techs alike are claims that OnForce is recruiting uncertified technicians with little to no iOS or Mac OS X experience.

The ACN members and some Apple fans don't mince words about their frustrations at the company.  Writes "Jimmy01" on the Apple Insider forums:

Is it just me or Apple really starting to turn into this disgusting company? Left and right, they are alienating everything and everyone that made them into what they are today and they are doing this because of the hordes of cash they now have without any consideration to the consequences. What they don't realize is that no matter how big you become, if people turn against you, you will fall. And this time around, no one will give a damn.

The on-board program is a BAD BAD idea and will lose a boat load of really good ACNs that will go rogue on their own. The ACN will become no different from the monkeys at Geek Squad or other crap like that.

"79 Apple //e", another user and self-reported ACN member offers a longer, more thoughtful complaint, writing:

OnForce is getting a piece of the action from the consultant. Apple is probably getting some kind of participation fee from OnForce. Ultimately, it's the Apple Consultant who gets screwed. And I say Apple Consultant because the most important thing you have to understand is that OnForce consultants don't have to be Apple Certified. It could be a High School student who is looking to make some money on the side. Of course they can underbid an experienced consultant! Also, if you've ever done consulting, it can be very difficult to "estimate" your time for a job. OnForce determines what "should" be the time to complete a job. Well, with IT, it's never quite that easy. There can be so many unforeseen circumstances that can complicate a job. Let's say you're getting a job to do a quick and easy setup which includes installing MSFT Office, getting on the Internet and setting up printer on a brand new iMac you just purchased from the Apple Store. Sounds like a job that should take about an hour or two? Generally yes. But any good consultant who is worth his salt will also run Software Update. As of today, a brand new iMac sold at the Apple Store needs about 1.5GB of downloads, including Flash(which is no longer included). Well, if you have a fast 5mb/s internet connection, that should take about 40 minutes. If you have a slower connection, it could take much more!

Outraged ACN members are discussing ceasing to pay their ACN dues and starting their own independent certification and consultation program, which will preserve the independent spirit of the ACN.  We're guessing Apple won't take kindly to that rebellion.

From a business standpoint, it is hard to argue against Apple.  The company has managed to double retail sales at its stores from $1.9B USD in fiscal Q1 2010 to $3.8B USD in fiscal Q1 2011.  Of the record 851,000 Mac computers sold last quarter, approximately half of them were to customers who had never bought a Mac before.  Apple is aggressively expanding its retail network and is preparing to open new stores (according to reports) in Shanghai, Palo Alto, and New York's Grand Central Terminal.

But for all that success, one has to wonder what will become of Apple if it alienates the very employees and customers that built that success in the first place.

“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls

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