Jo Shipley, a Consultant in our Marketing, Sales and Service practice details some of the steps that Apple have taken to deliver an outstanding customer experience.
It is hardly newsworthy to observe that Apple think differently in designing their products and user experiences. You may not however be so aware that Apple consistently perform best-in-class customer service, and, in recognition of this were recently ranked third in Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s fourth annual Customer Service Rankings report.
So what is it that Apple do so well and differently? Well were you also aware that if you are an Apple customer, personal one-on-one help from a certified Apple Genius is available through dedicated Genius Bars in their retail network of stores? It is this concept that I’ll explore in more detail today.

Firstly, what is a Genius Bar?
It’s quite simple really – if you have a problem with any of your Apple products you can go online, schedule an appointment at your local Apple store and take your product along for diagnosis with one of their Geniuses (or should that be ‘Genii’?). If replacement parts are in stock, problems can often be resolved on the day (otherwise you’re given an estimated fix time), the service is free and if your product is under warranty, so is the fix (although obviously check with your Genius before walking out of the shop!). Think of it as the A&E of the technical world but without the strange hospital smell, ridiculous wait times and blood. Notable advocates of the Apple concept Bruce Temkin who covers customer experience for Forrester.
Secondly, why is the Genius Bar concept such a win-win for both Apple and its customers?
Benefits to Apple:
(1) Trusting relationships support their brand and prices – Apple has growing brand strength as demonstrated in Interbrands’ Best Global Brand list of 2009 where it was rated at number 20, up from 24 in 2008. By providing face-to-face customer service (alongside phone, email, live chat and online tutorial options), Apple demonstrate to their customers that they are valued, leading to an improvement in customer relationships and a strengthened brand. The better your brand, the higher the emotional pull and the more customers will pay. You have to service them anyway, so why not make it count?
(2) Good service means product failure becomes a sales opportunity – it must have been tempting to hide unsatisfied customers away from potential ones so as to avoid negative ‘cross pollination’ – just look at the iPhone 4 issues – but by marrying service with retail, Apple have come up trumps. Now unsatisfied customers get to resolve their issues with an expert at the same time as being surrounded by swanky furnishings and new products. What to do whilst you wait for your appointment? Hmm, perhaps try out the latest offering or look at how you could enhance your current product when it’s fixed. And guess who’s on hand to ring up your purchase with their POS iPod? Yep, your Genius can do sales too!
Benefits to Apple Customers:
(3) Hand-offs are kept to a minimum – gone are the days of ringing call centres, being passed around to multiple agents and having to explain your problem 20 times on the same call. Now you register online, the Genius picks up the details on his iPod Touch and you’re away.
(4) You can actually speak to a real human-being – we know that convenience is a growing trend and web / phone support still has a role to play. But sometimes you just want to see the whites of someone’s eyes, especially when there’s a strong emotional attachment to the product that’s at risk (think of all the photos that are stored on Macs). And with a Genius, you get someone who is the right blend of tech-y and customer service orientated so they can fix and sooth in the right proportions.
(5) The service reflects the product – it’s ‘mobile’ – use your Apple product on the go much? Let’s be honest, iPods, iPads, iPhones and Mac laptops were all designed for mobile living and with Apple stores (and therefore Genius Bars) throughout the world, your service can be mobile too.
I really think Apple are onto something here, and, it seems that i’m not the only one.
TalkTalk have set up a Customer Experience Centre in Soho and Microsoft now have their Geek Squad which focuses more on sales than service but recognises the importance of intimacy and expertise in an increasingly crowded market.
Next time you have a problem with an Apple product (yes, I’m sure you own at least one) try out the Genius Bar and tell me I’m wrong!