Monday, September 07, 2009

A fun visit to the Genius Bar

I love the Genius Bar at the local Apple Store. Not because of the Geniuses. With the right training and gumption, anyone can fix a Mac. But instead, what I LOVE is the process Apple has put into place to make you feel welcome at the Genius Bar, as well as the interesting characters you come across while there.

Today was a great example. Last night, my iphone decided to stop talking to me. I use the Voice Control feature quite often to call people, and when you tell your phone "Call Joe at Work" it's supposed to respond with what it thought you said ("Calling Jose Plurk"). However, my phone decided to just clam up and make the call, without telling me what it was doing. Real annoying when using the headphones and not looking directly at the phone's screen. So here was the process I went through:

1. Looked through Apple's discussion boards for a while. Closest thing I found was someone who managed to sweat all over his headphones and short them out.

2. Logged into Apple Support and requested a support call.

3. Five seconds after hitting Send My request, my telephone rang, and a dude from support was calling to help.

4. After trying a few things we found we couldn't fix the problem, so the dude was swell enough to check the hours of my local Apple Store and make me a convenient appointment for 12:10pm today to go meet a genius.

5. I got to the store around noon to discover that on a rainy Labor Day, EVERYONE hangs out at the Genius Bar. I checked in with the Concierge, walked back to the bar, and there was my name, third on the list.

6. After ten minutes, Genius Alex called my name. We discussed the problem. I told him how I'd tried a restore of the phone last night, to no avail. We tried a different set of headphones. We tried my headphones on a different phone. Then, he asked me if I restored the phone from a backup. I said yes, and he suggested perhaps I do a restore without doing it from a backup, thinking the backup might contain the obvious software error that was present. After reassuring me I'd lose nothing by doing this, he restored my phone from a computer within the store, and voila, the problem was fixed.

There's a reason for the alleged Apple Tax. And I'm happy to pay it. All computers have problems, Apple included. But I'm willing to pay a little extra to know that the problem will get fixed without wasting my time.

While I was hanging out the bar, I witnessed just the cutest thing I'd ever seen in a computer store. A little old lady, perhaps 70 years old, dragged a large canvas bag into the store and straight to the Genius Bar. The bag contained a 20" iMac. When she reached the bar, she made eye contact with Genius Alex and said, "Young man, can you help me? I've lost my Safari and I can't get it back."

Genius Alex and I looked at each other with knowing eyes, completely understanding that the poor old lady had mishandled her mouse ever so slightly, dragging the Safari icon off the dock so that it had disappeared, and somehow she felt her only solution was to lug the entire computer back into the store for some sort of warranty repair. How sad, and adorable. I nodded to Genius Alex with an "I can wait" gesture, and he took the little old lady aside to show her the error of her ways. Two minutes later, the little old lady gave Genius Alex a thankful pinch on the cheek, and he was back to wrap up his session with me.

Apple's retail setup is just superb. Despite crowds, they are able to handle traffic flow while making it appear effortless. They have an entire section of the store devoted to repairs, with nary a stray USB cable lying around in disarray, unlike your typical IT department or PC repair shop that usually looks like a grenade went off in the store. They have even done away with registers, instead employing several "light-blue-shirts" who roam around with handheld devices that scan your items for purchase as well as your credit card wherever you might be standing in the store (although I did notice that these handhelds were PocketPC based, and made sure to point that out to the store employee who sheepishly acknowledged it). In the days on big box stores closing and a vast amount of shopping being done online, other retail companies could learn a thing or two from Apple here.

I did notice one negative aspect of Apple's layout in the store, however, while this handheld process of checking people out was very slick, it also made it very confusing for customers to know where to go to actually buy something. I wanted to purchase a replacement keyboard today and, after pulling it from the shelf, I looked around and noticed there were no registers. I then looked around for an available employee but, given the crowds, every one of them was deep in conversation with a customer at the time. After wandering aimlessly for five minutes I finally was able to make eye contact with an employee who directed me to an available light-blue-shirt person at the back of the store dedicated to checking out people's purchases. They need a sign.

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