The Apple Store Experience

Photo by Mark Baker

When was the last time you had a positive retail experience and wanted your picture taken with the person who helped you? I’m guessing NEVER would be the answer. Much to the embarrassment of my 18-year-old daughter, I took this picture of my wife and Mike Lane (shout out to @mikelane) at the Apple Store in Portland, Oregon.

Compared to the Microsoft Store ½ block away where there were eight employees and one customer and the AT&T Store with five employees and four customers (but only one customer being helped), the Apple Store experience was MUCH different.

Photo by Mark Baker

First things first. There was a LONG line 20 minutes before the store even opened. No worries, though. The group was orderly and there were at least three Apple Store employees working the line, performing a sort of triage and answering questions. With their mobile devices in hand, they lets us know what they had in stock, put in a reservation for service, told us what time to return and who would help us.

Photo by Mark Baker

Photo by Mark Baker

It turns out that most of the people in line were purchasing unlocked iPhones, which I suspect were quickly resold and sent overseas. The Asian woman with a large suitcase hovering over the large, 100-person group was a tipoff. But here’s the important service lesson: Apple had designed a process that segregated and prioritized those purchasing under a cellular/data plan from those who were not. Instead of having to wait, we were given a reservation and could return after the store was open within a designated time period to complete our transaction.

We went off exploring and then returned. Mike Lane assisted us. He was patient, took as much time as required, was pleasant and most helpful. Hence the photo.

This was no accident, but, rather a service experience that was carefully designed. The result? What started out to be a purchase of an iPhone 6 for my daughter ended up including an iPhone 6 for my wife and my own iPhone 6 Plus (thanks AT&T Next Program).  Happy customers, happy Apple employee and now a blog post to tell the tale. Word-of-mouth marketing = priceless.

Seems like the Microsoft Stores, AT&T Stores and many of the other retailers should take note. Much like my previous posts on IT as a Service (here and here), we need to thoughtfully design the experience we desire. If not, we’re just standing around waiting to frustrate people.

P.S.  It was the Apple employee who sent me to the AT&T store to cancel my AT&T order that had been in the queue for six weeks. It was not a pleasant experience.

From Vertical to Horizontal – What?

This is the second in a three-part series:

The key to shifting to IT as a Service (ITaaS) is to orient your focus on the customer experience. Think of the example of going to a white tablecloth restaurant. What would a memorable dining experience feel like? What goes into providing an exceptional experience?

There are many touchpoints when the restaurant has an opportunity to create a favorable or unfavorable impression. They include the physical environment (parking, waiting area, bar, noise level, seating, lighting, view, etc.), everything related to the food (planning the menu, purchasing ingredients and preparation) and all matters staffing (hiring the right people, training and having the appropriate staffing level). All of the elements affect how you feel about the overall dining experience. Just because the food buyer found great tomatoes this week doesn’t ensure you’ll have a five-star Yelp rating experience.

Think about how this maps to the services provided by an IT function. It’s really not that dissimilar, as I’ll review below. Let’s start by thinking about what we do in three major phases – design, build and run, as illustrated in our Wipfli ITaaS framework.

vertical to horizontal

Designing Business Capabilities – “Design Phase”

Within information technology, there must be considerable work to understand the business plans and needs. Based on discussions with the various Wipfli industry, service line, niche, regional and specialty groups, there is a long list of needs, projects, upgrades and opportunities. This input shapes demand for improvements to current services; changes to existing tools, applications and systems; and completely new capabilities.

Through governance, budgeting, further analysis and some careful behind the scenes arm-twisting, a rolling list of “demand” is developed.

Building Infrastructure and Systems – “Build Phase”

The demand list drives project planning and resource allocation. Effective, agile project execution adds value through the enhancement, maintenance and/or addition of infrastructure and systems. We help provide business value by providing associates new capabilities. We enable the business, we don’t install technology – anyone can do that! A Dilbert comic that illustrates this point has stuck with me over the years.

There can also be “portfolios of projects” which are grouped together. For example, there could be several annual infrastructure upgrades that are group together for implementation. “Office Infrastructure Upgrades” could include switching, storage and server upgrades (the typical way we have approached these projects in the past).

Effective Service Delivery – “Run Phase”

Service delivery is where the customer’s experience is realized. The first and last impressions are created at the point of service delivery. Is it easy? Does it work consistently? When there is a problem is there an effective troubleshooting process?

Effective service delivery doesn’t happen by accident. The problem/incident process, transition from project to operations, change management and related processes need to be designed and constantly improved upon. The focus must be on the customers “moment of truth,” which happens each time they use their technology tools.

Obviously a critical and very visible part of service operations is the service desk or help desk. The problem/incident process is most effective with a quick diagnoses and remediation. With timely root cause analysis and deployment of a fix, there can be fewer incidents for each problem.

The best incidents are the ones that don’t happen.

Problem avoidance is driven through effective transition from project to operations: testing, documentation, training and communication. Change control also helps contribute to this problem avoidance. Effective management of assets, configuration data and service definition can also help avoid problems or make root cause and remediation efficient and effective.

Next time you’re dining out, try applying this design-build-run framework. What did you notice that contributed to an overall positive experience? What went on behind the scenes that contributed to the experience? How does that align with what you do in your daily work?

Learn more: Transformation to innovation. Changing the way IT and business get done.

From Vertical to Horizontal – Why?

This is the first in a three-part series:

The whole process of how to provide IT Services to an organization is going through a transformation. Much like technology cycles of the past (mainframe to distributed, PC revolution, Internet and cloud), IT departments and companies have also had to shift their work models. We’ve had shared services, outsourcing and now, the current shift to IT as a Service (ITaaS). EMC defines ITaaS as a:

…business centric approach which focuses on outcomes, operational efficiency, competitiveness, and rapid response. It optimizes the production and consumption of services consistent with business requirements.

Several elements come together to help drive the need for this change:

  1. Demand for IT solutions
  2. IT solutions need to be sustainable
  3. IT professionals need to shift their focus

Why? First, we have seen a dramatic increase in the demand for technology solutions. Recent consumer experience with technology has created heightened expectations for ease of use and mobility. New to the scene is the ability to leverage social tools in the enterprise to tap into knowledge and networks of expertise; engage associates in various professional and personal interests; and connect with customers and prospective customers in very different ways. Finally, the volumes of data that could unlock new understanding is just now starting to be tapped while there are large initiatives (network of things) that will provide exponentially more data.

IT groups are moving from focusing on providing infrastructure and large enterprise applications (systems of record) to helping drive new client services and products; new ways of collaborating across time, place, distance and organization; and rich methods of connecting with clients and prospects (systems of engagement).

IT personnel are expected to be able to provide and support more tools and software in an anytime, anyplace with anyone scenario. Traditional approaches are no longer able to meet these needs.

Second, IT solutions must be sustainable (meaning: able to be maintained). IT organizations have typically been largely reactive, focused on infrastructure and large enterprise applications. These have long provisioning cycles and long life cycles with plenty of maintenance in-between. A proactive stance— helping create a business outcome—is now expected. Solutions need to be simple and elegant, not inflexible and hard to learn. Approaches must be agile and not rigid. We must build solutions with building blocks and not make every unique solution to order. This second driver also requires a transformative shift.

Last, but most importantly, it’s about people. IT professionals are being asked to do a lot: provide excellent client service, deep technical expertise, solid routine operations and maintenance while communicating clearly in business terms. Concurrently we’ve moving from comfortable well-known solutions to cloud and multi-vendor solutions fraught with all of the pluses and minuses of “new.”

People are developing their skills, interacting with more internal and external parties, and putting together integrated solutions to provide business value. These are most often not generic, same-as-last-time approaches.

The solution involves moving to IT as a Service. This chart illustrates the model for ITaaS that we are beginning to employ at Wipfli.

vertical to horizontal

The paradigm shift involves transitioning from the primary focus being vertical silos of capabilities (infrastructure, network, applications, business analysis, project management and help desk) to a horizontal set of services broken down into three broad phases: design, build and run. Services are what is consumed; consider these examples:

  • “Communications and collaboration” service includes email, phone, web meetings and instant messaging,
  • “Workstation” service includes laptop, remote access, web access, office productivity applications and security components.

Information technology organizations must orient their operations to provide easy to consume, responsive and transparent services and not force consumers to feel like they are receiving a service produced by hand-offs between individual siloed departments.