Are You Customer Smart or a Product Genius?

There is a really big difference between genius and smart.  A while back I traded in my antique flip phone and beloved Blackberry for a brand spanking new Apple Iphone at my neighborhood AT&T store.  Lloyd was the perfect sales person.  But, within a week my happy scale had dropped from delight to disappointment–the Iphone speaker would not advance past the whisper level.  A keynote in midtown New York put me a few blocks from the giant, classy Apple store on Fifth Avenue right across from Central Park.

“I need a genius!” I thought.  Vision’s of rapture from the reputation of the Apple Genius bar were dancing in my head as I approached the twenty-something genius. I bounced my description of the no sound challenge off the face of the “I’ve heard this a million times before” expression of the Genius.  There were no questions and little eye contact.  The genius seemed impatient to begin his diagnostic wizardry.  He seemed enamored with my new product but rather bored with me.

After, ten minutes of checks and tests the Genius announced his verdict:  “You have a defective Iphone. You’ll have to take it back to the AT&T store where you bought it for a replacement.”  As I backed away from the genius, I could hear, ”Next in line” echoing in the background.

Fast forward to the AT&T store the next day.  As soon as Lloyd saw me in the waiting area, he beckoned me back to the really smart side of the store.  “How’s our new Iphone behaving?” he asked, obviously recalling in complete detail the previous week’s sale.  Lloyd patiently listened as I outlined the problem and my trip to the genius bar in the giant, really cool New York City Apple store.

“Before we take a look at how we need to reprimand our misbehaving Iphone, Chip, let me ask you a few questions.”  Lloyd laid the Iphone on the counter as if it were getting in the way of his quest for understanding.

“Did you make any changes in the settings after you left the store last week?” asked Lloyd.  His focus was clearly on his customer, not on the product?”  Three questions later, the answer to his “Did you make any changes to the Iphone itself” question brought a smile to his face.   “Now, now, Chip!  A Blackberry screen protector will not fit on an Iphone!  It covers up the speaker!”  Peeling off the interloping screen protector, he brought perfect sound into the room.   As I left the AT&T store, I thought, “Apple may have a Genius bar but AT&T stores have Smart bars.”  And, customer smart will trump product genius every time!

The future of customer service will be characterized in part by a stronger and more pervasive reliance on experts.  The sheer complexity of work and life will make a “do-it-yourself” approach rarer.  Service providers in the business of delivering expertise along with “bedside manner” will be tempted to tout their special competence by keeping customers in a dependent mode.  Smart experts, however, will be those that embrace a partnership philosophy inviting the customer into a collaboration that enriches the service experience while professing the special proficiency.

Chip R. Bell is a renowned keynote speaker and the author of several best-selling books.  His newest book is the best-selling Kaleidoscope:  Delivering Innovative Service That Sparkles.  He can be reached at chipbell.com.


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