business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Bloomberg has an excellent story about the Apple store, which even enthusiasts have lately found to be disappointing in terms of basic customer service. This opinion, the story says, “is shared by legions of Apple customers who vent on social media, customer forums and in conversations with reporters. Only a few years ago, the raves easily outpaced the pans.”

For the record, I’d agree with this … the Apple store experience can be more of a mixed bag than it used to be, I think. The story is worth reading here.

According to the story, “In interviews, current and former Apple employees blame a combination of factors. They say the stores have become mostly an exercise in branding and no longer do a good job serving mission shoppers … Meanwhile, they say, the quality of staff has slipped during an 18-year expansion that has seen Apple open more than 500 locations and hire 70,000 people. The Genius Bar, once renowned for its tech support, has been largely replaced with staff who roam the stores and are harder to track down. That’s a significant drawback because people are hanging onto their phones longer these days and need them repaired.”

Now, it is worth noting that Apple CEO Tim Cook has replaced retail chief Angela Ahrendts - who came to the company from Burberry - with veteran Apple executive Deirdre O’Brien, who is seen as being far more grounded in Apple’s culture and tradition. She has challenges to make the stores more shopper-friendly and to improve the level and quality of staffing. She certainly “has plenty to work with - and her division remains an object of envy for the beleaguered retail industry,” and generates an estimated $5500 a year in sales per square foot.

I always wondered about the Ahrendts hiring - I just wasn’t sure that her fashion background was in synch with how most people use and think of their Apple devices, and I thought that she might put all the emphasis in the wrong places.

To me, it is less important that Apple may have gone off the rails a bit than it is that it appears to be working to fix its issues. I’m an Apple store regular, and I can tell you that if the experience is not as consistently superior as it used to be, it still is better than most … and my sense of Tim Cook is that he doesn’t think that good enough is good enough.

Things will, I think, get better … Apple will once again realize that that a brand only is as powerful as its customers and evangelists … and it’ll be an Eye-Opener.
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