Customer service: Apple gets it

March 22, 2011

I am the proud owner of a brand new, IMac with a monitor bigger than the TV in my bedroom. And way bigger than my MacBook Pro.

As I write this, the new Mac’s at the Apple store in Los Gatos, along with my backup drives. Apple folks are actually transferring all of my data for me and when I pick it up, probably today but definitely within 72 hours, I’ll be ready to go. Plug and play.

Some accuse Apple fans of being cultists. It’s true that it makes a beautiful, functional creative –and addictive–product, but what I love most about Apple is that it totally “gets” the customer experience and has built a customer-centered retail experience around it.

There’s a point at which every layperson computer user freaks out. Most of us know that terrible, panicked feeling when something isn’t working right and we’re clueless. Apple has so many unique technologies that link us in to our lives–Ipad, Ipod, Iphone, IMac, Macbooks–when things don’t work right it can be anxiety-producing.

Have you ever talked to a PC tech support call center in India, the Philippines or some other distant place? It can be an exercise in complete frustration and futility. That’s the solution that PC companies provide their customers. Call someone thousands of miles away who doesn’t understand your culture, your fears or your problem. Someone who flips through a manual continuously while talking with you. Someone who can’t help you.

Got a question about your Apple product? Make an appointment at the Genius Bar at your nearest Apple Store and talk it over with the friendly, knowledgeable Genius. He or she will immediately put your mind at ease with their confident, cordial manner.Apple takes most of the frustration and fear out of technology by providing human, in-person help.

The Genius Bar is… genius. I’m serious.

Last year M. and I visited Fry’s in San Jose to buy a mini PC. It was a nightmare. The huge store was overwhelming and there were few salespeople. Those we could find barely spoke lay person English, didn’t know differences between the products and were unhelpful. Talk about anxiety. As it turned out, we bought a mini that wasn’t compatible with our router and had to return it. And pay a restocking fee. It was the last time we walked into a Frys. We’ll never shop there again. EVER.

Want to buy a Mac product? Hike down to your Apple store and play with one. They’re all nicely laid out on huge tables and they’re all connected to the internet. A friendly Apple rep will greet you and answer questions if you like, but if you just want to fiddle with the products, well, you’re welcome. Play to your heart’s content. If you’re new to Macs, they’ll help you. They aren’t pushing product, because they aren’t on commission. It’s a happy experience.

Apple gets that the key to a great tech buying experience is to make it both anxiety-free and expert. To cater to both knowledgeable users and novices. Very few big consumer companies get that. VERY few.

I bought my MacBook in 2008 and fortunately, bought the extended warranty. After carting it around several countries and dozens of flights, it started to act up. Last summer, Apple replaced some significant parts to repair it. They said it would take two or three days. I had it back in 24 hours. Last week, the hard drive, video card and a few other things needed replacing. I had it back in the promised four days, as parts were not in stock.

Now, there are a few things that don’t make me happy.

Apple missed the mark by providing a slightly smaller than standard-sized keyboard for the IMac. It’s small and cute, but for someone like me, who has used a keyboard more than 40 years and who writes all day, the feel is not right.

But it’s solvable–the Apple rep suggested I zip over to my nearest Best Buy and buy a full-size wireless Logitech keyboard that’s compatible. Sure, I wish Apple had provided me with a standard keyboard for the money I’m spending, but they had a specific solution, which is the next best thing. (Update: the Logitech wireless keyboard looked like it had been made by chimpanzees working in the dark. I bought a wired, full-sized Mac keyboard instead at the Apple store and am ok with that.)

Genius Bar appointments are made online. But if your Mac is down, you may not be able to access the internet. It’s a modern conceit to think we can do everything online. Sure, you can walk in and see if they can help you. But a phone back-up for appointment would be smart.
(Update: They failed to move all my data as promised. Backups for three older computers were missing. Fortunately, I had the backups on a flash drive that was easy for me to transfer from myself. I’m not sure what happened, but the flash drive did not copy at Apple.)

The touchscreen keyboard on the Ipad is problematic for me. It’s quite clear that Apple is again leading the way, this time transitioning the typing public to touchscreens. But if you’re an experienced user, a constant typist or a writer, this limits the current functionality of the Ipad to read-only. Or read-mostly. I couldn’t blog on it. I couldn’t write emails more than a few short sentences. Yes, I can buy an external keyboard. But instead, I am doing without an Ipad right now. After all, I have both a Kindle and MacBook.

The transition to touchscreen typing is another one of those things I accept as the wave of the future, but will not adopt at my age. I like the feel of a keyboard too much. And oh by the way, the feel of Apple’s keyboards is satisfying.

Overall, though, I’m a fan. I have never walked out of an Apple store unhappy, even if my MacBook was sick. The folks at the Genius Bar seem so well-trained in customer relations that it mitigates the upset of leaving a computer for repair. I’ve been to the bar at least a dozen times this year, maybe more, and I’ve only had one arrogant rep. The others never made me feel my questions were stupid or unwelcome. (By the way, haven’t seen that guy there, last few months.)

I’ve blogged about this before, but my last few experiences at the Apple Store were practically euphoric.

Think about the kind of poor service experience you’ve grown accustomed to: airlines, cable companies, ISPs, cellphone, auto dealers and so many more. Hardly anyone gets customer service right. So when we have a great experience, it really stands out.

Kudos for Apple for having the magic decoder ring–and actually using it.

(And yes, you have to be a certain age to know what that means. See cereal package offer at left.)

One comment on “Customer service: Apple gets it
  1. elle salazar says:

    Makes sense. The best tech company would probably listen to the complaints a lot for them to produce better products.

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