Wed. Mar 29th, 2023

iPhone 14 Pro models on stands in a crowded Apple Store

I was running an important errand that didn’t quite work out as I’d planned.

Marginally peeved, I went for a walk around the mall and lo, there was an Apple store.

The last time I went into one, no one would talk to me. Well, no one who worked at Apple, that is.

So I wafted into this one to see whether things had changed. Oh, and to inspect, just one more time, the midnight M2 MacBook Air. Just in case I could be tempted and the store might have some in stock.

Miraculously, a salesperson quickly came over and asked if I needed help. The answer is always yes, even if I’m not in a store.

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So we chatted a little bit about the midnight Air before we got on to other topics.

I asked her a question I’ve asked phone store employees before: “How do you deal with difficult customers?”

“I have a lot of patience,” she replied.

“Where did you get that?” I wondered.

“Before I worked here.”

She explained she’d worked in an entirely different field where she encountered a lot of older people.

I thought she meant older than her, but she waved an arm toward the rest of the store and added, “See what kind of customers we get here?”

This was a weekday afternoon and there were, indeed, many customers of advanced years in the store.

“Older people can be grumpy,” she continued.

“You’re telling me,” I agreed, hoping she’d say I didn’t look that old. (She didn’t.)

“We do get older customers who look at the new iPhones and get annoyed that Apple has changed something. They say things like, ‘Why did they do that?’ It was fine the way it was,'” she said. “This is when I’m patient, but I’m straight with them.”

“You get mean?” I wondered.

“No,” she said. “I just say, nicely, ‘You’re just afraid of change and I’m here to help you get through it. You’re going to learn something new.'”

I can imagine this might be disarming. A younger person being very nice, yet telling you an inner psychological truth, might be a weirdly caring shock.

She said it works. They’re grateful for both the attention and the straight talking.

“But we get a lot of older people in here who know everything, I mean everything, about the phones,” she added.

“And how does that make you feel?” I wondered.

“Like there are a lot of people in their 80s and 90s who have really got it together, and that makes me feel good,” she said.

For many companies, phone stores seem to have become less of a priority. They want people to buy online. Perhaps they even want to shut down their stores.

Yet, far more often than not, the likes of Apple and Best Buy still offer some level of customer service — physical customer service — that surely makes a difference to their brand and their own offerings.

Recently, David Simon, chairman, president and CEO of Simon Malls — three tough jobs, those — insisted that “the brick-and-mortar retailer is strong and e-commerce is flatlining.”

He may, of course, struggle with objectivity.

I do wonder, though, whether for certain kinds of tech products — ones that are personal and not cheap, for example — real customer service adds a lot.

It’s such a rare thing these days, actual customer service.

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