Late Night Crowd at The Apple Store, Fifth Avenue New York City

If you’ve never been to The Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in New York City, you’re missing something that can only be called “impressive”. Empty, this place is beautiful. Full of people, as it typically is even in the middle of the night (Apple keeps this store open 24 hours a day), it’s amazing. And loud. And a little intimidating.

And for the first time, I noticed last night, incredibly badly run. If Steve Jobs was still with us, he’d be appalled.

A few days ago, Apple added an element of customer service to The Apple Store and the iPhone/iPad Apple Store App that was supposed to improve customer service. I needed a charger for a Macbook, and last night tried out the new “order on-line, pick up in-store” feature that Apple’s dubbed Personal Pickup.

Customer Service this is not. Everything … and I do mean everything about what should have been a simple process went wrong. If I wasn’t sure that Apple’s intent was good, this experience would have landed Apple on The Answer Guy’s Customer Service Wall of Shame.

Using Apple Personal Pickup starts out seeming smooth. Go to The Apple Store On-Line, place an order, specify that you want to pick it up and at what store, and like every other retail operation with that kind of system, you get a confirmation telling you that your order will be ready soon.

Or … not really.

I ordered and paid for a charger using Apple Personal Pickup at approximately 7:45 last night. The on-screen live process indicated I would receive a e-mail confirmation of the order “soon”, and that I would be able to pick up my order within an hour. And I did get “confirmation”. No confirmation number or any specific identifying information, just a second iteration of the same message, telling me I’d receive that official confirmation within an hour and that at that point I could go pick up my order. Seemed like an unnecessarily redundant extra step, but … it was actually the smoothest part of using Apple Personal Pickup.

The “your order is ready” e-mail didn’t arrive in 60 minutes. In fact, it didn’t arrive in 90, so I headed to the Apple Store to see what would happen. I asked the young lady at the door how to deal with an Apple Personal Pickup order, and she directed me to another person. That gentlemen had no real information, telling me to go to “the far left register”.

At that far left register, I was third in line—or so I and the other people (fourth . . . fifth . . . ) thought. Because after the first person was done checking out the young lady at the register called the next customer from the regular queue of customers waiting to buy products. We had to inform her that she had been designated as the Apple Personal Pickup sales completion point. She was surprised.

Quite a few Apple Store employees had been standing around the check-out area doing nothing, and it was only at this point that two or three of the approximately ten doing-nothings were drafted into the Apple Personal Pickup line-reducing process. The young man who helped me scanned my credit card, saw the order in the system, and then disappeared into a back room for about five minutes. When he returned, he had the correct charger and a bag, scanned my credit card again, asked me to wait, and went again to the back room. I presumed he was printing a receipt.

I waited for him for another five minutes, at which time he returned with another charger, this one with my name pre-labeled on it. He switched my personalized box in for the generic one, and asked me if I needed a receipt. I was flabbergasted, and declined his offer.

Had I just gone to the Apple Store instead of using Apple Personal Pickup, I would have saved the ninety minutes I waited for the email that never came, and I’m almost certain would have made it through the regular check-out queue faster than the amount of time that using the “expedited” process took. I also could have spoken to one employee instead of three (or five if you include my three separate interactions with the person who gave me the charger).

As I said, Steve would have been appalled.

I’ve told you before that Apple has some strange ideas about customer service, and if I tie that thought to how I feel about Apple sometimes often doing business in an evil way this whole thing could go further. What I am saying is that Apple Personal Pickup, as it works so far, is an unmitigated disaster.

Apple should know better. More important, you should; when planning your business’ customer service, you must take everything—everything—into account.

Need help with your customer service strategy? Contact me here.

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