Over the weekend I was in an Apple store in northern New Jersey. It made me very uncomfortable. See, I'm a PC guy. A staunch Windows user, from Windows 3.1 to 95 to 98 to NT to XP to Vista (ouch) to the current Windows 7 (did I miss any?). However, I'm dabbling in the dark side, using an iPad (in addition to other devices such as a BlackBerry Playbook and a few Android phones).
On a recent trip I broke the glass of my iPad. Hence my trip to the Apple store. As I was waiting for someone from technical support (called the Apple Genius bar) to help me, I observed Apple up close and personal. Here are a couple of things I noticed that have, no doubt, played key roles in Apple's success.
Happy staff = happy customers
The whole staff was excited and happy to help customers. I observed one young lady in particular, an Apple staff member, who continually and genuinely smiled as she helped customers. She warmly greeted one customer after another and helped them work through their problems with a spark of excitement. Another lady adorned in big earrings and big glasses reminded me of a concierge at a high-end New York hotel. Friendly, professional and excited to help.
In another incident, a customer came in and had a question about using her product in another country. I overheard an Apple manager suggest to a staff member that he call someone in the country to which the customer was headed, to get the answer she needed! How many retailers would take the time to make a phone call (to another country!) to help out a customer on the retail floor?
A chaotically smooth in-store process
Over the course of my life, I've had the privilege of being around several U.S. Presidents. For obvious reasons, there is always a lot of commotion, activity and security around the President. However, all of this fuss is carefully choreographed by the U.S. Secret Service, the White House advance team and others. To an outsider it might look like confusion, but as you look closer you see there's a very detailed plan of action in place.
This is how it was in the Apple store. Their were dozens of customers milling around, all with different needs.
There were customers with pre-scheduled appointments at the Genius bar, walk-ins in need of technical support, those simply making retail purchases and people trying out new products—and everyone saw immediate attention from passionate and very knowledgeable staff members.
What was also interesting was that all of the sales staff on the floor had the ability to process credit card sales with their iPhones, an innovation that is not seen at most retailers. Instead of standing in line for the cashier, the cashier comes to you and processes your transaction on the spot: pretty neat (and efficient).
So what happened with my cracked iPad? Since the iPad was relatively new, the Apple representative said he would make an exception and gave me a new one. The entire process took about 10 minutes. I was fully expecting to pay $200 to get it fixed. So I was pleasantly surprised.
Clearly, Apple's products are well designed, easy to use and fun. However, the products are only one part of Apple's success. The other part is the ease of doing business (that is, making the purchase and receiving support) that Apple delivers so harmoniously to its customers.