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.


Expectations Shifted

earbudsI find it sad when a great business story ends in failure or irreparable decline because its leaders didn’t pay close attention to today’s consumers and trends in the marketplace. Think Blockbuster and Borders. Think Dell and Sprint. Here are some of my recent experiences that may have implications for the future of your service, product or business….that is, if you can read the signs.

  • Have you had a service experience at a brick-and-mortar Apple Store?  My wife’s headphones that were at least two years old developed a short in the wire.  Five minutes after she entered the store, she left with a new pair at no charge, a smiling, satisfied customer.
  • Are you a TED Talks fan? I have come to appreciate their stripped-down approach that gets to the heart of the subject quickly. No introductions, no fanfare, just a few relevant slides. Recently I was at a conference and noticed that the traditional, lengthy speaker introduction had me unenthused even before the presenter took the stage. The ensuing PowerPoint overload didn’t help redirect my thought of “Why am I not at home watching a TED Talks in the comfort of my reading chair?”
  • Have you done any shopping at Zappos.com?  Find exactly what you want, or order multiple sizes and colors, and return what you don’t want. They set the gold standard of online service: 24/7 customer service, free shipping both ways, and a 365-day return policy. No questions, no hassles.
  • After returning to a home improvement store three times in an effort to replace a bathroom fan, it finally dawned on me that I could have made the purchase on Amazon.com. And by taking advantage of Amazon Prime, I get free, two-day shipping, no matter how small the order, as just one of its many benefits.

Clothing, electronics, household goods, gifts and of course, books. As consumers, our expectations have shifted. Whether it is convenience, customer service or ease-of-use, I am convinced that for many of us the future has already happened.