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Are Genius Bars for IT departments a good idea?

Some of IT’s customers have always preferred to walk over and speak to someone rather than phone the Service Desk. Generally though, management and consultants have actively discouraged walk-ups to Service Desk staff by customers. Some companies I’ve seen have gone so far as have the Service Desk behind locked doors, or hidden away in some dark corner or basement.

Yet increasingly we’ve seen clients who have IT outposts around the organisation they support, and they tell us they and their customers love it. So, why is there this apparent discrepancy? Is it just a flash in the pan inspired by the glamour of ‘Genius Bars’ and all things Apple? And is it something you should be considering for your IT department?

The answer lies largely in the nature of your organisation. If you can afford to invest in one, and higher customer satisfaction is a goal, and your customers use mobile/laptop devices a lot, it might be for you.

Is the Genius Bar Right for You?

Prerequisites

The first question to ask is, does your customer base even want or need this? You’ll need a customer base that utilises mobile devices a lot. If tablets, laptops and smartphones are not widely used, then a Genius Bar may well be a lot less effective. You probably wouldn’t expect customers to unplug their desktops and haul them over to the Genius Bar!

It is also assumed that you have sites with enough concentrations of staff to generate the demand to justify a Genius Bar. Otherwise you will have bored IT staff sitting there twiddling their thumbs, dreaming of a job at the Apple store.

The Deal Breaker – Cost vs. Customer Satisfaction

If the prerequisites are in place, you then face the deal breaker. Can you afford this, and can you justify it compared to investing in other areas first?

At face value, having someone from the Service Desk sitting away from the phones and waiting for customers to walk-up is an additional cost, and it may be less efficient. At first, to maintain SLA performance and customer satisfaction, you probably won’t just be able to pull someone off the phones without replacing them. Therefore it becomes hard to justify doing this for an IT department where every cost is scrutinized.

At Silversix we’re curious as to whether time and better data might show that even in a highly cost conscious environment there still may be a case for a Genius Bar (see the next section for more on this). For now though, if you’re an IT department that matches the following description, then Genius Bars should probably be on the back burner:

  • Customer feedback (from surveys for example) is making it clear that you should be fixing some other areas first
  • You’re not in the position to invest the time to do this well
  • You haven’t got budget to spare

For organisations where money is less of an issue, where customer satisfaction is king, and where the basics for good IT customer satisfaction are already being done well, an Apple style Genius Bar may well be worth considering. The feedback we’re getting from clients who’ve implemented it is that it is a winner, and that IT and the customers love it. Customers feel they can get something looked at ‘right away’, can deal with a person rather than a voice at the end of a phone, and can physically hand over the device rather than being talked through troubleshooting steps they might not be comfortable with.

Is there still a case when budgets are tight?

What we don’t really know yet is whether a Genius Bar that is correctly structured, marketed, and managed might actually be good for customer satisfaction AND cost effective, and therefore worth considering for mobile-heavy organisations even when IT has tight budgets.

Good clear data about a few key things would help make this a lot clearer, such as:

  • Is adding this extra channel actually producing greater productivity overall for IT’s customers?
  • How much does this increased productivity translate into greater revenue and/or reduced cost for the company?
  • Is this support channel actually more efficient for IT for some types of incidents and requests, e.g. can IT do something quicker in person rather than taking a call, trying remote fixing, and then often passing it on for a deskside visit anyway.

Unfortunately these are things that generally IT has not been good at measuring to date. So if anyone reading this has solid data on this, please share, and I will gladly write a follow up article. It might turn out that a Genius Bar is actually highly cost effective and is the right way to go for any IT organisation that cares about IT customer satisfaction and has a lot of customers using mobile devices.

Where Does this Leave Us?

For now, if budgets are tight and customer satisfaction is low, there are almost certainly other areas you should look at first. Make sure that your first port of call is surveying your customers well, understanding their feedback, and acting on it.

But if your business is heavy on mobile devices and taking IT customer satisfaction from good to great is something your company cares about, and you have the scope to do this properly, it is definitely worth a look.

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