Astute Planning, Flawless Execution,
Delighted Customers

Issue #155

Tuesday, October 23 , 2009

Apple - Doing Something Very Right
Craig Bailey

Over the last couple of months, people around me have heard me say "a human should NEVER have to wait for a computer."

I consider myself a highly mobile personal computer power-user who beats on a laptop several hours every day. Looking over my shoulder, you will typically see several applications open (Outlook, Internet Explorer, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, MS Project and MS Money, at a minimum). When acquiring a new laptop (every 2+/- years), I always jack-in as much horsepower (memory and CPU) in as small a unit as possible. To keep the machine clean and secure, I fanatically ensure my anti-virus is up-to-date, perform frequent scans, run Ccleaner (previously called "crap cleaner") to rid the machine of debris left behind, and occasionally defragment my hard-drive. Recently, I still found myself waiting for the computer. Since time is money, this drives me absolutely nuts.

Then, picture this: Sitting next to me at the kitchen counter are my two oldest sons with MacBooks. When they open the lids, the machines are simply on. Always. No waiting to "resume from hibernation." Not sure that they have ever needed to do a reboot. And, if ever a program gets hung up (a rare exception), they simply do a "Force Quit" and it stops IMMEDIATELY. And, they can resume what they were doing. There is no need to acquire anti-virus software or wait for anti-virus updates and scans. They have found great joy in ribbing me as they observe my frustration resulting from my machine again being hung-up, bogged down updating anti-virus, or "not responding," forcing me to once again kill that run-away process that was sucking up 99% of my CPU.

When I finally got fed up one morning waiting for my windows-based laptop and decided to explore my options (could a Mac really work for me?), I went online to look for an Apple retail outlet. I could have gone to Best Buy, which is less than 5 miles away, but I wanted to speak with an expert on Macs whom I could put through the ringer with my many questions related to how a "business" power-user could effectively convert from a windows-based machine to a Mac.

I found that the closest Apple store was about 25 minutes away. Then, I learned that you could make an appointment for a "personal shopping experience." That is interesting; an appointment to shop at a retail establishment (in a mall)! I scheduled an 11am appointment via their website.

Upon arrival, I quickly realized why it was important to make an appointment. The place was packed! I was greeted by an extremely pleasant young man (in a bright orange t-shirt with the Apple logo) who asked how he could help me. When I replied that I had an 11am appointment for a personal shopping experience, he confirmed the appointment on his handheld device and immediately directed me to a person (in an orange shirt), near the rear of the store, who would help me. Navigating my way through the store, I easily found the correct employee. He was expecting me and said "Ara will be working with you, and will be with you in just a moment." Within 30 seconds, a guy in a bright blue t-shirt came from behind the counter, grabbed a sign on a pedestal which read "personal shopping experience" and walked towards me, introducing himself.

Before I go any further, I want to share that EVERY employee that I spoke to in the Apple store, and most others that were working there, was in his 20's to early 30's. Most had earrings; one had an awesome looking mo-hawk (his hair was spiked at least 12 inches high). And, you could tell that they were proud to be there and VERY happy to help. I'm loving this.

So far so good...Can this really be?

I explained my situation to Ara. He promptly walked me to a table which had the MacBook Pro that he felt would be a good starting point for my "evaluation." I'd consider it more of a grilling, with my round of questions. As a technically advanced user, I had some pretty tough questions. My primary constraint to switching was that it must be TOTALLY transparent to others whom I work with. Ara was able to answer "almost" every question to my satisfaction. For those that he couldn't answer, he replied "I will get you an answer to that when we are done." Which he did. I was sold.

After identifying a few needed accessories, Ara explained that they offer a one-to-one support program that would be helpful to ensure a quick migration from Windows to the Mac. The program allows me to schedule an unlimited number of one-on-one sessions with a Mac guru, for an entire year. Sounded like the right plan to get me jump started.

To complete the order, Ara indicated that they would need about 30 minutes to install the additional memory that I requested. And, that if I wanted to get some lunch, it would be ready when I returned. So, I checked out, got some lunch and came back in about 30 minutes. They were ready. Done, in the time specified. No wait.

With my new toy (I mean business tool) in-hand, I couldn't wait to return to my office to get started. If you have an iPod, you probably remember opening the box. Once you get your device out, you question whether you should throw away or save the box; it is that nice. Well, the same experience happened for me when I opened the box to my Mac. It is presented to you like a fine piece of jewelry. There is NOTHING left to chance here.

Now, the conversion...To be fair, I will say that the first week of my "conversion" was painful, primarily because I was straddling two environments (Windows and Mac) as I migrated my world piece by piece. Partway through the process, I realized that I needed to schedule some "one-to-one" time with a Mac guru. So, I went online and scheduled an appointment at the Apple store. I won't go through the greeting process again (it was the same great experience).

Mark introduced himself and indicated that he would be working with me today. He escorted me to a table which had a MacBook that he would be working from and space for me to crack open mine. He asked how he could help. I went through a number of questions and he nailed every one, masterfully. They ranged from the complex (how can I run an application that my customer uses, which appears to ONLY operate in the Windows environment?) to the simple (where the heck is the backspace key?). One of the most interesting comments that he made related to the latest version of the operating system (Snow Leopard). He mentioned that "We listened to the feedback received from our customers and addressed many of the features and concerns in this latest release." Note the "We listened..." He feels ownership in this! When have you heard ANYONE represent Microsoft in such a way? Instead, we hear technical support people and retail staff (selling Windows-based machines) constantly bad-mouthing the environment which is positioned as something that we (supposedly) must simply live with. Wrong!

With two minutes left in my appointment, Mark politely said "with only a couple of minutes remaining, do you have any other questions or is there anything that I could recap for you?"

Again, I need to repeat..."Most" of the people representing Apple (extremely well, I might add) are earring-clad 20/30-somethings. This is HUGE. EVERY one has been extremely polite, proud to work there, and on a mission. That mission is to make the world a better place, where people don't have to wait for computers.

Recently my dad sent me an email with a link to an article covering Apple's latest earnings and stock price. He said "They must be doing something very right." It is not just about the devices that they sell (which are flawless). It is about the entire experience. There are still a few Windows-based machines remaining in my home. I'm excited about replacing them for a couple of reasons, the first of which is to eliminate the time I currently spend as the on-call technical support person in the Bailey household. I want to be like the Maytag repair man. And I'm anticipating the thrill of going into the Apple store for another great experience.

But, this goes beyond just a positive experience for the consumer. The experience generates huge amounts of business for Apple. A recent NY Times article about Disney's new retail concept specifically mentioned performance of Apple stores vs. other retailers. Steve Jobs is on the Disney board and reportedly provided a lot of input from their experience launching the Apple store. As quoted in the article: "...Apple is king of the mall. Its fleet of stores generated sales of about $4,700 a square foot in 2008, by far the highest for any retail chain, said Charlie Wolf, an analyst at Needham & Company. In comparison, Best Buy's sales are about $1,000 a square foot."

In closing, betting against a behemoth like Microsoft, with the pervasiveness of its installed base, may be a long shot. So, I'm not sure I'm ready to sell their stock. Perhaps Windows 7 (now available) will improve the situation. Good luck with that. There is a better way.

Apple Keep doing what you are doing!



+ Apple - Doing Something Very Right


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