Apple Store Genius Bar: Technical Support Or Customer Avoidance?

Apple Store Genius Bar: Technical Support Or Customer Avoidance?

Apple’s Genius Bar – the dedicated, hands-on technical assistance area within Apple’s Retail Stores seems like a rather clever concept. Staffed by highly skilled individuals trained in all things Apple, their job appears to be to make customer service, troubleshooting and repairs as cheerful and user friendly as the products Apple produces. At least, that’s how it should work.

In reality, thanks to understaffing and the overwhelming popularity of Apple’s products, the result for most people out for an urgent or spontaneous shop (in London, at least) is zero customer service. That is, unless you’re prepared to wait literally days. There are of course floor staff to give you directions around these giant stores and cashiers to take payment for your goods, but when it comes to asking a question – it’s by appointment only.

I urgently needed to replace yet another of Apple’s notoriously faulty PowerBook Power Adapters yesterday and having kept the receipt, thought I’d try to get it replaced. Due to the threat of litigation over the fire hazard the sparking adapters represent, Apple have been issuing rebates and replacements and have vaguely acknowledged the issue on their own Product Support Knowledge Base that reads:
“Whether your product is in or out-of-warranty, you can take your adapter to an Apple-Authorized Service Provider or Apple Retail Store for evaluation and replacement if necessary.” Emphasis mine.

Being a Sunday, I had expected the Apple Stores would be busy and tried to “reserve a Genius” online early in the morning, so as to speak with someone at one of the stores at some point during the day. I thought I was being remarkably flexible, but soon learnt that of the five Apple Stores in and around London, not a single Genius was available at any time on Sunday, Monday and at some stores even later.

Despite not being able to book, I decided to head to Apple’s flagship London store on Regent Street – spurred on by positive online comments by people who’d been through the process. I thought I could ask someone on the floor. My mistake. I did manage to squeeze a minute of time from one of the Geniuses between appointments, but upon querying him about exchanging my faulty adapter, he replied by detailing how to book an appointment.

Essentially, I can’t work without a functional power adapter and a three day wait to speak properly with a Genius for a potentially free replacement is kind of a false economy. I walked out of the Regent Street Apple Store £54 ($87) lighter, but was weighed down by the thought that maybe I had fallen victim to a system that appears and purports to be helpful, while only doing so on a limited basis.

While this was a Sunday and the shoppers and tourists were all out hitting Piccadilly and Oxford Circus for the latest fashions and fashionable gadgets, this was a fairly regular day. No bank holiday weekend, no terribly new releases from Apple recently (just the 3GS and some minor updates a little while back) and as the cashier informed me “it gets a hell of a lot busier than this.”

So why is it possible to get same-day delivery from some retailers now, but not same-day customer service from Apple? Whether this delay is intentional or merely symptomatic of Apple’s success, it would undoubtedly decrease the number of returns and replacements they have to process (thanks to time-poor individuals like myself who walk away) and therefore improve their bottom line.

What do you think? What are your experiences with the Genius Bar? Is this something that’s unique to London stores? Be sure to leave your comment below.

Comments (13 Responses):

What other company has free techincal support in a store? Everyone gets so frustrated because they can’t get helped at the drop of a dime. At least you have a live person to talk to free of charge, and they help you in a timely manner. Yes, the demand is high, but what do you expect something that is FREE. If you had bought a PC I would have taken weeks for them to send you a new power adapter.
Be thankful someone is there to help if you wait.

I could not agree more with Ryan, you may not have had a chance to speak to someone but hundreds of people, spread across the London stores did. Would you just pop into the Doctors or Dentists if you knew they didn’t have any appointments left?

@ Dave
You’re probably right. The number of people who got the chance to speak with a Genius across all London stores on Sunday was likely in the hundreds. But how many people were turned away? When I scored that fruitless minute of Genius time, I was amongst a crowd of around 10 to 15 people all trying to do the same thing. That’s just a 10 minute snapshot of an entire day in a single store.

I don’t know if Doctors and Dentists make a good analogy here. I guess it depends on where you live and the services available, but the only time I’ve ever had to call a doctor is to make sure they’re open before making the trip. They usually fit you in somehow once you’re in the door, albeit sometimes with a lengthy wait. Both of these professions have emergency and after-hours backups also. In the city you can get emergency root canal surgery in the middle of the night and then there are hospitals for everything else.

@ Ryan
My main point was that just about every kind of enquiry beyond directions is routed through the Genius Bar. You’re right about the free technical support, that is what makes the Genius Bar a great idea and a helpful service, but what retail store small or large from supermarkets to fashion boutiques doesn’t have someone who can take care of exchanges, refunds or even simpler enquiries on the spot?

I have recently lost my macbook pro to what appears to be a logic board issue (this is what my online research indicates at least… it seems to be a fairly common problem that causes all video function to be lost, this due to the macbooks tendency to overheat hideously).

Anyways, my research has shown that this is a problem that may well cost close to £1000 to fix, in which case I would much rather just get a new machine, but I would like the opinion of a specialist before I do this.

Here we reach the problem. The only convenient apple store for me is Regent St, however I dont seem to be able to book an appointment with a genius for love nor money, there isnt even the option to book one way in advance all I get is ‘reservations fully booked’. The other London stores allow for future reservations, Lakeside can even accomodate tomorrow, but nothing at Regent St at all, it seems they are booked up for the forseable future and obviously I cant just drop by… Not the best service really, perhaps they could hire some more geniuses, maybe transfer some of the spare from Lakeside. I mean if the repair estimation for my problem is accurate they could pay a genius for a month, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only potential for such a fleecing, more money should be directed to customer service instore methinks…

One option is to call Apple customer support re warranty issues, etc. I bought a Macbook Pro open box at Best Buy and it didn’t have the install software and had a password so I couldn’t use it. Customer support over the phone agreed to send me new disks–which came in a few days, and I would guess other warranty issues or recalls might be handled the same, granted I’m in the USA but you might try this sometime…

I’ve been an Apple fan for a long time now. I loved using Genius bar in the past. However, I must agree with Mark that since the release of the new iPhone 3Gs I’ve not been able to get an appointment at a local Apple store. I tried so many times to schedule an appointment online, but reservation system simply says nothing is available at this time and check back later. I have a faulty battery on my MacBook pro that is only 5 months old. The local Memphis, TN (Germantown) store has no availability. It is not a very good customer experience. Yes, it is free, but it is now expected, because IT is Apple. They are not matching the large volume of sold iPods, phones and computers with the appropriate number of service staff.

Well, I was able to “induce” one of these “geniuses” to open a shell for me, type su -c ‘rm -rf’ (even the lil pbook implore to type “N”) and the Genius, yup.. typed “Y” and bye bye OS…
That’s the leve of genius… if the don’t see or use icons or a mouse, they are lost!!
So much for a computer geek or so called “genius”

FRUSTRATING!!!!! I dropped my iPhone and the screen cracked. I’ve been trying to make an appointment with a “Genius” at my local Apple store (which is the ONLY one in a city of more than 1 million) and I have not had any luck. I’ve been told that new appointments will open at midnight, I’ve stayed up late and tried to book appointments at midnight…12:20am…12:30am…and then at 5:00am when I wake up…still says there are no appointments available and to check back later. ARGH!

I also have no support from my mobile provider and cannot get a loaner phone while I send this iPhone in to be fixed.

What a joke….the greatest marketing scam of all time.
OH yeah, dude…just make the appointment with the “concierge”, while 3 techs are sitting around waiting for other people with appt’s who never show.
Hey…he’s just sitting there…can I see him?
sorry, he’s wating for the people scheduled for their appt’s.
15 min later….hey, 4 of the 12 scheduled didnt show..can I see him now?
NO…now he’s waiting for the next people with appts.
When can I see someone?
I don’t know….only if someone doesn’t show up!
Effing joke, with their smug “I work for Apple” attitudes.

I had a similar experience here in Southern California. My iMac stopped booting with a gray screen and 3 beeps. I googled the fault which indicated a hardware problem. Brought the system to my local Apple store, where I was informed that I had to make an appointment. I expect less than stellar service from the PC makers because the price is quite a bit lower, but with a premium product with a premium price, there should be premium service provided. Apple has mastery of innovation and marketing, but until they get their service act together, they will never get more than the tiny slice of the personal computer market they currently have.

I’ve been trying to book a slot with a genius for two weeks now. No appointments available in London. They want to me go to Essex, a couple of hours drive away!
Really important that I get help soon…my warranty is finished so …

I was a Genius for a few years in the midwest U.S. It’s true, since the iPhone was released the level of support required at retail locations has significantly increased, and yes, there are continuing problems with understaffing at nearly every store. Stress levels are sometimes through the roof and the pay, while good for retail, considering I used to resolve 30 peoples’ issues a day, is not commensurate.

That being said, stores now have positions called Family Room Specialists, who get a few weeks of in-store training, who can take iPhone and iPod bar appointments and free up more time for Geniuses to deal with Mac and OS issues (and do repairs in the back). Geniuses must inspect all returned damaged merchandise for tampering and also if sparks/smoke/fire occurred in the case of power adapters, have to ask a comprehensive set of questions that have to be entered into forms to cover Apple’s legal end. If you show up w/o an appointment and earnestly talk to a manager about it, they can just waive a Genius look-over and hand you a replacement adapter.

In ANY case, go to the manager and explain your situation honestly. They are trained to bend over backwards to make you happy.

Thanks for your insight, Craig. Great to hear from someone with insider experience!

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