Apple is experimenting with ways to bring its stores' legendary customer service to e-commerce.
Those perky Apple Geniuses, with their legendary customer service? The ones who Approach, Probe, Present, Listen, and End with such earnest aplomb as to make one forget that they're following rigid protocol? They now have digital counterparts. Early this morning, Apple launched a feature that allows online customers to "talk directly to a trained Specialist over the phone, start a live online chat and even watch your Specialist's screen during a personalised guided tour."
The digital specialist feature -- live, at the moment, only in the UK, Germany, Spain, and Brazil -- brings the hand-holding logic of Apple's in-store customer service to Apple customers who can't, or don't want to, travel to stores themselves. It brings scale to the Five Steps of Service that underscore any interaction taking place in any Apple Store, anywhere. Through phone calls, through chat, through tours. Through devices with which customers are already, ostensibly, at home.
That approach makes a lot of sense in the context of Apple's broader sales strategy. In a great scoop at Gizmodo yesterday, Sam Biddle got his hands on the Apple Store's previously mysterious training manual. (Official title: the Genius Training Student Workbook.) And while that manual "could easily serve as the Humanity 101 textbook for a robot university," Biddle wrote, "at Apple, it's an exhaustive manual to understanding customers and making them happy. Sales, it turns out, take a backseat to good vibes -- almost the entire volume is dedicated to empathizing, consoling, cheering up, and correcting various Genius Bar confrontations."
The online "Specialists" are an experiment in scaling that good-vibe-y logic, in extending the psychology of interpersonal perk. Can the strategic friendliness the Apple Store is known for transfer to the realm of digital commerce? Can Apple broaden the commercial reach of its brick-and-mortar stores even to people who aren't in physical proximity of them? Those with access to the new digital Geniuses will soon find out. Carmine Gallo, who is writing a book on the workings of the Apple Store, has observed that the venue is as much about cultivating brand loyalty as it is about actually selling products. It emphasizes the tactile sell, the sense of investment engendered in customers when gadgets are explained to them by guides who are as patient as they are charismatic. At the Apple Store, Gallo notes, "the ownership experience is more important than a sale."
This is what Apple looks like when it tries to transfer that experience to the realm of e-commerce.