One of the factors in my switch to Apple products was the level of customer service afforded, both online and via my local Apple retail store. I’ve had only one hardware related issue to date with the myriad devices (and there have been quite a few) I’ve purchased, but a short visit to my local retail outlet resulted in my faulty device being swapped out by the manager. No questions, no hassle, just friendly and quick help- something few retailers have been able to provide at all, much less to the level I was afforded.
To continue this positive relationship with their customers MacRumors reported recently that Apple’s online store will be expanding their support via chat (traditional text chat, screen sharing sessions, and online sessions to help set up new devices) to include the UK, Germany, Spain, and Brazil. US customers have already been able to access these advanced online support features, helping those that lived in a market area without an Apple retail store.
Unfortunately MacRumors also brought us news of changes at Apple retail stores that could have a negative impact on customer relations. The report reflected news of reductions of part time staff and cutbacks in staff hours on the heels of an admission by Apple that they had “messed up” in adjusting their staffing formulas for retail outlets that would have resulted in significant cuts to staff.
The changes are thought to be the result of the departure of former retail head John Browett who had campaigned for the focus of the stores to be customer satisfaction, while new CEO Tim Cook is thought to favor a more financially-focused approach for the retail operations. While the retail outlets should undoubtedly produce a profit, I’ve always felt that an organization that specializes in premium products such as Apple should provide an overall atmosphere to reflect that commitment. Much as BMW uses their comprehensive maintenance program to reinforce their brand image as a quality product, Apple should (even at the risk of losing out on some profit) focus on providing the best possible customer experience. The shift to using profit as the primary statistic to evaluate store performance is in my opinion a mistake, but I’ll defer to Mr. Cook’s business acumen. Time will tell if the change in strategy will be successful.