Crowded Genius Bars Spark Work Changes

July 15, 2010

Faced with an every-increasing number of customers at its retail store Genius Bars, and in the face of on-going employee dissatisfaction about heavy workloads, tipsters say Apple will revise its operations to improve product repair service. Some of the changes, such as requiring the Genius staff to multitask with several customers, formalizes real-world conditions that have existed for years. Other changes, including the extension of Genius work hours until midnight, were made after pilot tests at several stores in each region, but have generated an additional round of employee complaints about staffing levels and workload. Specifically, tipsters to MacRumors and IFO say store management will more proactively monitor Genius Bar activity to insure a 30-minute service goal for both appointments made on-line via the Concierge reservation system, and for walk-in repair customers. Second, the Genius staff will be required to serve several customers at one time, speeding up the flow of repairs. And third, some of the more complex product repairs will be shifted from “while you wait” to overnight, and some of the Genius staff will begin working both before and after the store opening to complete these service requests.

The number of people with Apple computers increases every day, with about one-half of all Macintosh buyers at the retail stores being “new to Mac,” according to company executives. Based on financial reports, this means that at least 100,000 new Mac users are created each month from Apple retail stores purchases, and up to 1.1 million new-to-Mac users who purchased their computer from other sources worldwide.

This increase in customers has put a considerable strain on the staff of existing Genius Bars, ever since new store construction slowed following the 2008 economic downturn. In particular, the number of new U.S. stores has also slowed as Apple has focused retail expansion on international locations over the past two years. During calendar 2009, just 14 stores opened in the United States, compared to 30 stores in 2008 and 26 stores in 2007.

In addition, there have been persistent reports from store employees that the introduction of the iPad and iPhone 4 have exacerbated poor working conditions. Just two weeks ago, a tipster told IFO that the stores, “are working over full capacity.” The person said that, “Employees are unhappy but are unable to vent. Ron Johnson (Sr. V-P Retail) sent an email thanking everyone for there hard work, but it really doesn’t cut it.” As a result of the heavy workload, “Employees are stressed, overworked, and understaffed,” the tipster said. Similar remarks have been posted on-line by other persons claiming to be Apple retail store employees.

The Changes

Various changes to Genius Bar procedures were rolled out to test stores earlier this year. After several months, the stores’ management team and Geniuses were asked for their feedback on the changes, insiders say. After evaluating the pilot programs, Apple’s retail executives selected the most successful changes that balanced two factors: improved customer service and the workload of the Genius Bar staff.

In its report of the changes, MacRumors calls the first change “active queue management,” something that most store managers are already performing, insiders say. A key goal is to accommodate walk-in service customers, who frequently did not realize that a Genius Bar appointment is a routine requirement, yet who still expect prompt attention.

Despite being listed as an upcoming Genius Bar change, multi-tasking is an everyday requirement of any Genius, especially at larger stores. A store Genius has always been expected to begin work promptly, handle more than one customer at once, and to continue working until the end of shift in order to maximize the number of service visits. It’s not clear how this new policy will change these current work habits.

The expansion of Genius work hours may be the most significant change reported in this latest tip. Apple’s legendary quick service at the Genius Bars will change as more complex repairs will be moved to the “overnight” category. Customers who are used to while-you-wait repairs may find they have to return the next day—or later—to pick up their repaired product.

In turn, Geniuses will be asked to begin work three hours before their store opens, or to work until midnight to complete the increased number of overnight repairs. Tipsters say that no additional Geniuses will be hired to provide coverage for these repairs, and current employees weren’t consulted about the changes. On the other hand, the new work-late policy is in effect only two or three days a week at most stores, and affect only five or six Geniuses at each store.

The Genius Bar changes come just months after Genius Steve Camuti filed a lawsuit in California over being denied legally-required rest periods during the shift. The lawsuit says the company has a corporate pattern of conduct that has “for years” failed to provide 10-minute shift breaks, and failed to provide accurate and timely wage statements that “effectively shielded itself from its employees’ scrutiny for its unlawful conduct.”

As a result of the conduct, the lawsuit claims, “Apple has enjoyed a significant competitive edge over other businesses within the industry in which it operates.”

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