Apple Prepping Genius Bar Changes: Focus on Shorter Wait Times, Multitasking, Overnight Repairs

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MacRumors has learned that Apple is preparing an overhaul of the functionality of its Genius Bar, with the company positioning the changes as a "giant leap forward" for the Family Room concept that has come to embrace both the Genius Bar itself and roving specialists able to help customers with their mobile device support needs at locations throughout Apple's retail stores.

According to Apple, the changes are designed to increase customer access and satisfaction in the Family Room by employing something of an "all hands on deck" approach to ensure quick response to customer demand. Among the tactics being employed:

- Active queue management: Retail stores will monitor customer demand for the Genius Bar from both reservations and walk-ins, reassigning qualified employees from other areas of the store as needed to open up new queues to ensure that staffing meets demand. Apple's goal is for all walk-in Genius Bar customers to be served within 30 minutes while obviously still meeting commitments for customers who have made reservations.

- Multitasking: Genius Bar technicians are being asked to serve multiple support customers at one time, using downtime during appointments such as during reboots or while diagnostic tests are running to assist another customer. Support staff are encouraged to use reservation notes left by customers in the Concierge system to help match customers with similar issues or to slip in a customer expected to need only a quick fix while a more complicated diagnosis is underway.

- Overnight repairs: Retail stores are expected to place a renewed focus on completing overnight repairs, but somewhat at the expense of "While You Wait" repairs. While Genius Bar technicians will still be able to offer "While You Wait" repairs to customers if support demand is low, the focus will be on moving repairs to night time shifts where Geniuses can focus on the tasks at hand and have customers' machines ready for pick-up first thing the following morning. Retail stores will gauge the number of repairs to be completed on a given day and schedule Geniuses to stay after store closing (up until a limit of midnight) to conduct repairs on machines brought in that day. Any repairs unable to be completed with the scheduled time and staffing after closing will be finished up by Geniuses arriving before store opening the following morning.

When it comes to mobile devices, Apple is broadening its approach of providing mobile support to customers, utilizing iPod touch devices loaded with Apple's MobileGenius software to help provide support anywhere in the store. The strategy comes with dual benefits: Reducing clutter at the Genius Bar allows for focus on Mac support there and conducting mobile device support on the sales floor offers retail store staff an opportunity to show off Apple's other products and hopefully generate additional sales.

While Apple is pitching the changes as a significant enhancement to support services in its retail stores, others are not so sure. One Apple retail store employee familiar with the changes noted that the company is trying to "do more with less", pulling in less-qualified Creatives and offering less personal attention through multitasking in order to deal with customer demand rather than hiring new staff. The employee also expressed concern about low stocks of parts available at retail stores and how without a change in how parts are allocated and delivered many repairs will not be able to be completed overnight as planned.

Regardless of how the changes play out, Apple clearly feels that it is simply unable to maintain the status quo in its retail stores by merely adding staff. As Apple's retail stores, many of which are relatively small, continue to see tremendous customer growth, the company is looking for ways to process customers more efficiently with regard to both timing and floor space within the store.

On a possibly related note, we and others have separately heard that a teaser has gone out on Apple's internal Retail News Network (RNN) for its retail store employees noting that something "big" is coming. While we can't definitively say that the teaser is referencing the Family Room changes we've learned about, RNN is frequently used to share information about changes in retail store operational policies and so it seems possible that these two items may be related.

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