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.

Confessions of an iOS Fanboy

Early last month, Apple had its annual September product announcement. I’m sure you’ve seen the headlines:

  • IPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are now available
  • IPhone Watch is under construction for an early 2015 release
  • iOS8 is standard on new devices and available as an upgrade for older models

These devices are larger and faster, with pricing pretty much staying the same. Yawn.

But wait—there’s more. A few features that were not prominently highlighted in the headlines are significant in my mind. These include:

  • New HD retina displays that provides more contrast via a polarizer layer, creating a better user experience.
  • Enhanced “under the hood” hardware.
    • Near Field Communication antennae enables Apple Pay while opening the door to integrate payments into applications on the iOS platform.
    • 3x faster WiFi (802.11ac), vitally important for video streaming and data sharing.
    • A barometer, which measures atmospheric pressure and will provide elevation tracking and other uses over time.
  • Updated camera—put that DSLR away. This will add to what I think is already a great tool.
    • Image quality in low light, dynamic focusing and  image stabilization.
    • Video capture at 1080p and 120 fps.
    • Front facing camera improvements for better and burst selfies (oh my!).
    • User interface changes to support larger form factor “reachability.” This may put some of the concerns about one-handed use to rest.
  • iOS 8 upgrades that provide better integration with the hardware and many additional enablers for developers.
Photo (and sketch) by Mark Baker

Photo (and sketch) by Mark Baker

The biggest knock from the public on the new models is their increased size. In response, I would ask, “Are you really going to hold this up to your ear? If so, how often?” Today, thinking of an iPhone as primarily a phone is misguided. I’m sure I’m not alone in observing that as my usage of my iPhone has gone WAY UP, the voice minutes used have surely gone down—WAY DOWN.

Seven years ago when the original iPhone launched it was a phone first that added a mobile browser, music player and camera and a couple of other features. THAT WAS IT. The concept of an App Store didn’t even exist. Now, you practically have a complete computer desktop platform at your fingertips. The so-called iPhone has evolved to be an indispensible, highly portable, all-purpose digital communication device. That’s worth an upgrade.