I brought my new (to me) Apple 15" Powerbook into the Apple Store in Santa Monica last night around 6:00PM. In trying to get the Powerbook to be totally versatile, I had purchased an AirPort Extreme Card earlier in the day, followed the awesome step-by-step instructions complete with pictures, and couldn't get the machine to recognize that the card had been inserted. Finally, after reinserting the card several times into the slot, I gave up and called Apple Care who referred me to the closest Apple Store to have the store troubleshoot the card and the machine.
When I arrived at the Apple Store, I went straight to the Genius Bar, logged in, described my problem, sat back, and waited. Even though the displays told me it was going to be 25 minutes to talk to a Genius, the 1 Genius behind the counter managed to effectively multi-task between myself and 2 other customers and provide pretty adequate service to all of us at one time.
My computer had to be taken into the back to be analyzed, so I sat in front of the Genius Bar and watched the tutorial that was being given on Microsoft Office for the Macintosh. More than watching and listening to the live tutorial, I was shocked to see that all of th audience members were over at least 50 years of age. Thinking about that, however, I realized that the Macintosh platform is the perfect machine for the 50+ age group; you plug stuff in and everything just works, there's no need to install drivers, configure Internet settings, etc. Interestingly enough, if Apple were to focus on the retired, not supported by their company's IT department segment, they could probably really get some business; based on the number of older people taking this class, maybe they're already succeeding.
The Genius who was helping me came back after about 45 minutes with my computer, a LED light, and a dental mirror -- not a good sign. He showed me the inside of the bay in which the AirPort Extreme card is supposed to be inserted, and there was a white piece of paper stuck against the receiver pins; no doubt I had jammed it further into the pins when trying to install the card. Instead of telling me the machine had to be sent out, another Genius offered to try his hand at removing the paper, so I settled in for another 30 minutes on my stool.
During the nearly 3 hours I was at the store, the sheer volume of product, particularly iPods, that the store was selling was mind-boggling. They happen to back-stock the full-size iPods in the Santa Monica store behind the Genius Bar, and there was almost a constant stream of salespeople grabbing iPod boxes to hand to customers.
It was interesting to watch the Genius Bar employees at work. In one case 2 gentlemen came in that wanted to purchase their iSight cameras and wanted the Genius to set them up and show them that they worked. No problem, the customers were sent to purchase the cameras, came back to the bar with them, the Genius unwrapped everything, and showed them how to work the cameras over the complementary wired and wireless network in the store.
In another instance a customer was having a problem reading CDs on his machine. The Genius hooked up an external hard drive, booted from the external drive, fed a CD in, the CD mounted, and the Genius determined there was a software problem on the machine. Then the Genius ran some utilities that didn't solve the problem, so the Genius offered to sit with the customer for 1 hour and reinstall the operating system, or offered that the customer could leave the computer for the Genius to do the work (free of charge, of course) and come back the next day to pick it up. The customer opted to leave his machine.
The last case that I witnessed was an irate customer who had the motherboard of his computer replaced and his DVD player no longer worked. He spent 15 minutes yelling at the Genius and the manager of the store finally came over and agreed to let the man leave his machine at the store, let the Genius fix it, and offered to let the man come back at 10PM that night to pick the machine up; after the customer left (i.e., stopped yelling), the Genius fixed his machine in 4 minutes.
Back to my machine: After 3 hours of attempts by 2 Genius employees, they finally could not get the piece of white paper out without potentially damaging the pins. Even though the repair is normally classified as a Tier 2 repair (i.e., not covered by the one year factory), the Genius told me they were sending the machine in for me and having it repaired free of charge. I did get to see what I would have been charged for the repair; suffice to say that it was just shy of 4 digits.
It's refreshing/incredible/exciting to me that Apple gives their employees the latitude to make the kinds of decisions that the Genius made with my machine. I've been through the repair process at Best Buy and have never felt so well accommodated. This is the kind of experience that will turn me into an Apple Store evangelist? Can you beat the prices that the Apple Store charges other places? Sure, you can save yourself a hundred bucks or so, but why would you want to? I guarantee you some Internet store is not going to give you the kind of service I and the other customers I observed received.
If you've never been to an Apple Store, I recommend that you go and just check it out. People watch. Play with all the cool toys; you can put your hands on everything. Sit at the Genius Bar and observe; yes, they let you site there even if you don't really need anything specific. Go to one of the classes some night and observe the people in the audience. When you find yourself near the store in Santa Monica, pop in and observe the people that bring their dogs in, roll their bikes in, and are rolling around on rollerblades throughout the store; try doing that in Circuit City.