Apple Store Isn't Always Apple Store

Even the Apple Store Isn’t the Apple Store Every Day

We live in a world of mythologized companies, and in the customer service sphere, few companies are as mythologized as Apple. From Apple’s revolutionary product design to the experience design of its stores, Apple’s almost obsessive focus on the user experience helps it rank consistently among the elite customer service companies in the country.

As many of you know, when I have a critique of a company, I usually do not call them out by name on this blog. However, in the case of highly reputable companies like Apple or Ritz Carlton, I feel as if the lessons presented outweigh the baggage that comes with online criticism.

These are brands I highly respect, and when they do not deliver, I think it is helpful for those in customer facing roles to see how even the elite in customer service face many of the same challenges we do.

My experience at the Apple store last night was a perfect case in point.

The Apple Store and the Competition’s Greatest Salesperson

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that I am a committed Apple customer.Apple Isn't Always Apple

I love my iPad, I adore my iPhone, I rock out to my iPod, and I have managed to stay on speaking terms with my MacBook Pro. I am not an Apple fanboy, but I am still a huge Apple fan.

I went to the Apple store for three items: A new Otter Box case for my iPhone, a stylus for my iPad, and an iPhone armband (for working out) for my wife. I was in a rush and was trying to “run in” before a dinner meeting.

The experience was substandard on many levels.

To begin, the store was understaffed. Now, whether they were truly understaffed or I had walked in during an abnormal spike in business, I do not know. What I do know is that I was in a rush, and it took me almost 20 minutes to get the attention of a “genius” (what Apple calls its floor reps). When I did finally catch a genius, it was because I went to the front of the store where he was waiting to greet people and asked him if he could help me.

The salesperson was nice, but terrible. 

On the first item, the gentleman did a good job. I asked about replacing my OtterBox and he let me know that Apple does not carry the OtterBox. He directed me to a cell phone store that was a few feet down in the mall. Sure, he could have tried to sell me a replacement, but big picture, he provided good service by helping me to fill my need even though Apple does not carry the product.

On the second item, the stylus, things took a bit of a strange turn. When I asked him about the styluses he said, “They are right over there, but you can just get one when you go to the cell phone store.” Maybe he was trying to be respectful of my time, but I’m guessing he did not feel like ringing up a stylus.

At this point, I still had the armband for the iPhone in my hand. My wife came over, and I asked her if the armband I had chosen was what she wanted. She said yes, and we asked the genius if we could check out. He told us that we “might as well just get the armband at the cell phone store too“! (At this point, I’m fairly sure I heard Steve Jobs roll over in his grave.)

We were in a rush and not sure if the cell phone store would have the same model of armband, so we decided to go ahead and purchase it at the Apple store despite the genius’ aversion to, well… making a sale.

I ran to the cell phone store to find the two remaining items and left my wife at Apple to ring out the armband. The icing on the cake: It took the genius around 10-15 minutes to complete the armband transaction.

We Are Apple, and Apple Is Us

Obviously, this was not a great customer experience, but it was also not unusual. These stories happen thousands of times a day in retail — and sometimes, even at the Apple store.

So why do I relate the story?

Because it is easy to get caught up in the mythology of the customer service greats. It is easy to lionize the Starbucks and Apples and Amazons of the world.

Sure, intellectually we know these companies are not perfect. We know that they have problems.

However, this reality often becomes subsumed by the mythology.

Apple does have a great culture and a better staff than almost any large brand in a similarly situated retail environment, but it still struggles with many of the same challenges that we do.

  • Staff that does not follow the training.
  • Staff that does not buy into the culture.
  • Staff that cannot think innovatively to solve a problem.
  • And yes, staff that would rather send business down the street than take time to check out a customer.

So, when you are sitting around wondering how you can make your customer service more like Apple or Zappo’s; just remember, some days these companies are asking themselves that very same question.

Even the Apple store isn’t the Apple Store every day.


PS. There will be no post this coming Monday due to the Labor Day holiday here in the U.S. We will see everyone next Thursday!


By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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