Why I absolutely, positively despise going into an Apple store, but absolutely, positively adore my iPhone
I absolutely despise going into the Apple Store. My fanboy husband loves long, leisurely trips to look at the new hardware, geek about the physics-defying store architecture, and compare shades of gold between model years. I find the stores to be consistently overcrowded and the display models to be uncomfortably germy. Alas, I sometimes have no choice but to visit in order to get service.
Rant #1: Total lack of way-finding
The sleek stores eschew all signage. It’s not obvious where you go for help versus order pickup versus checkout. I’m personally oriented toward self-service. Asking someone is my last possible resort. This type of in-store design makes me feel like an absolute idiot. I’ve used Apple products for ten years, surely I can figure out where to pickup my repair? Nope, I can’t unless I ask someone.
Rant #2: Never enough employees
On the particular experience that prompted me to turn my frustration into this blog, I bounced from person to person trying to get anyone to help me. Kudos to Apple that no matter how many people they hire and clad in bright t-shirts, none are ever available to help. During this particular experience, I was rejected by two Apple employees who told me they were “already busy”. Huh? I just wanted to ask a simple question (“where is repair pickup?”). Shame on me for approaching them with a cordial “Pardon me, could you…” only to be shushed away.
I dropped the pardon, spoke over the employee trying to ignore my interruption, and my third point of contact referred me to the “people at the bottom of the staircase”. Right… except, no one was there?
Rant #3: Humans are imperfect way-finding tools
Humans as way finding, despite how aesthetically pleasing it is to forego in-store signage is a system destined to fail. Humans wander off, they leave their post to help, they have to pee!
What frustrates me about this entire experience is that it is entirely avoidable. I propose the following solutions to Angela Ahrendts’s successors, who I pray have been charged with bolstering the in-store experience in an effort to pad the bottom line.
Solution #1: In-store experience has to exceed online experience
In an era of every retailer talking about experiences and differentiating the in-store experience to draw visitors, Apple seems to be resting on their laurels and wallowing in their record-shattering revenue per square foot. The stores are drop-dead gorgeous, but at the expense of what? Unless you’re a tourist (or my husband), you’re in the store because you need something you couldn’t get online. Either a thing or a service. Both require human interaction.
Service, especially in-person, boils down to a person-to-person interaction. No one likes to feel helpless, rejected or like they’re a burden, especially to their face. Those of us who easily navigate their intuitive online store struggle in a setting bereft of way finding.
Solution #2: Leverage the tech that brought me in
Find a way - perhaps using the iPhone and app that I used to make my in-store appointment, ahem - to help me navigate to where I need to go. Or mount an iPad with an interactive map.
Solution #3: Nice is free
Take a page from Chik-fil-a and hire the nicest people possible, then train them on your well-worn playbook. Prioritize smiles and patience over technical expertise for your frontline team.
Channel Hermés and commit your team to treating everyone like a rockstar.
Don’t assume that everyone coming up to you has a 10 minute question. 99 out of 100 might, but 1 probably doesn’t.
Thanks for your time and patience reading this. I hope Apple - any other retailers scrambling to keep and create happy customers in their store - forego the fancy in favor of the fundamentals: be nice, make it easy to solve my problem, and create an in-store experience at least as good as your online experience.