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Apple's Successful Customer Service Model Remains Unchanged

June 27, 2012

About six months ago, I was in desperate need of a new computer. My old one, which I purchased six years earlier at the beginning of my college career, was long outdated, and was recovering from unfortunate encounter with a cup of coffee. 


After a good deal of Web research, I decided to go with a MacBook. 

The Apple store in my local mall is generally a zoo.  To be honest, most of the time I avoid it. This time, however, I braced myself and took the plunge. There really aren't many other stores like an Apple store. It's bright, it's noisy and employees are quickly identifiable, milling around in their signature blue Apple t-shirts and demonstrating products, helping people or just hanging out.

Before making my final purchase, I did a quick loop of the store, checking out Apple's latest offerings. Half the fun of visiting the store of course is the hands on aspect. Eventually, I found an employee and told her what I wanted. There was no up-sell, there was no pressure. There was no check-out line either. I paid by swiping my card through a reader she carried in her pocket. (At first I thought she was on the phone for our entire conversation, it turns out she was really just setting everything up.) 

Five minutes later, I walked out the door with a new computer under my arm, hassle free.

The Apple store, and the customer service model that goes along with it, can be traced back to Steve Jobs, shortly after his return to the company. Apple was having problems presenting its products with their catalog, online store and participating retailers alone.

Jobs cut ties with most of the big box stores, except for CompUSA, and entered into an agreement with the retailer allocating 15 percent of their stores' space exclusively for Apple products. This reserved Apple area would also come with a salesman trained specifically in their products. Sales remained stagnant, and the area set aside in CompUSA's stores didn't see the anticipated traffic. 

After deciding that other companies didn't truly have Apple's interests in mind, he introduced the idea of an Apple exclusive retail store. The goal was to promote a positive experience for customers, allowing them to interact with the products and to see them demonstrated. Designers and architects were employed to realize an environment different from big box stores without the bland rows of laptops and lists of technical specifications. 

The genius bar made its first appearance as a place not for selling products, but having them diagnosed and fixed, as well as an area for customers to simply gather and hang out. Salesmen were instructed not to be pushy, and to help customers regardless of whether they planned to make a purchase or not.

The first Apple store opened in Tysons, Virginia on May 19, 2001, and although there have been improvements to the original formula, the retail locations remain true to Jobs' vision eleven years later.       

Throughout the years, other stores have adopted Apple's retail tactics, including the pocket devices which eliminate checkout waits, and the general atmosphere of the Apple store: a bright, well-organized space that allows the customer to get a feel for a particular product before purchasing it. Last year, Apple stores took in more money per square foot than any other U.S. retailer and its 327 worldwide locations made 16 billion dollars.

 
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Edited by Braden Becker

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