My friends Jackie and Ben (church of the customer) will probably agree with me-- here goes:
Apple forgets that all customers are not the same. They make the common mistake of believing that every pair of feet that walks in the door is worth just the same as the feet before and the feet after.
My negative Apple store experience last night was the sort of thing that any of my esteemed readers could troubleshoot in less than six minutes.
Problem 1: The geniuses at the Apple bar treat ipod owners like g5 owners. The guy in front of me in line had not one, not two, but three machines with him. He was shlepping $10,000 worth of hardware. That doesn't include the fact that a heavy Mac user buys a new machine every year or two, and if she runs a company, buys 20 or 200 at a time. An iPod owner, on the other hand, has an expensive toy that he can certainly live without for a day or two.
Why is a genius spending his time wisely when he futzes with an ipod for fifteen minutes while the guy with three Macs just sits there?
The trivial solution: Envelopes! Give anyone with a broken iPod a postage-paid padded envelope. Have them fill out a form online (see my idea below) and drop it in a mailbox. The mail takes the broken ipods to cheap locations where they are quickly triaged and replaced.
Problem 2: For a computer company, Apple is doing a lousy job of using a database to track their very best customers. In order to get on line to meet a genius, you need to type in your first name into a queuing system running on all the machines in the store. Shouldn't the system where you reserve your slot with the genius be able to figure out who you are and treat you accordingly?
Aside: As long as we're talking about consumers and treating people with respect, it's essential to remember this: people don't remember how long it took them to get service. They remember what the wait was like.
If i were running the genius bar, I'd keep the people waiting superbusy. First, I'd use one (or more) of the many Macs in the store to have people type in their serial number, name, problem, etc. This is all currently done by the genius, which wastes everyone's time. More important, it would make the customer an active part of the repair process, which would make everyone more engaged and happier.
For iPods, I'd go a lot further. It turns out that there are only three or four things that are wrong with 99% of all the iPods. So why not have a computer-assisted diagnostic station that people could use to reboot or diagnose their iPods with no help at all? Sort of like self serve gas. If, at the end of the process, the machine agrees that the thing is dead, it would print out a receipt and boom, you get a new one.
Apple's going 90% of the way but more often than not, alienating the very people they were hoping would become engines of postive word of mouth. Matt, the aggressive guy with the iPod, said this when he found out his player was dead, "What! I have to wait a week? Can't i just pay the difference in the price and upgrade right here to a new model?" The answer, "We're not affiliated with the retail people. You have to wait until we mail you one."
Have to wait?
Won't take more money?
The Genius Bar is genius. But it needs a whole bunch of tweaking. Sort of like the way you treat your customers?
Moral: Every customer touchpoint needs to be actively reavaluated.
"Could we treat our best customers better?"
"Can we change the story people tell themselves in between the time trouble starts and the time it's gone?"
"What are we doing that we've always done, instead of what we should do?"