Around the year 2000, Apple's Steve Jobs saw a grim version of the company's future: Apple would be increasingly dependent on major technology retailers who sold their products. The company had great products, but without their own way to sell those products, Apple would only be as successful as other retailers. Thus the idea for the Apple Store was born.
To create the store, Jobs applied Apple's tagline "think different" and borrowed core lessons from hospitality.
How the Apple Store evolved?
Head of The Gap, Mickey Drexler, advised Jobs to rent a warehouse and create a mockup of the Apple Store, to figure out what it could be.
So Jobs and the Apple team started to experiment. Their prototype was an early iteration of the modern Apple Store, which is a discovery hub rather than a simple computer store, however the pieces were arranged the way IT staff might store things. It was hardly a customer centric layout.
This early mistake led the team to shift the store's design, in which Apple products play a much smaller role and where everything is curated by interest, so you can find what you need for video or storage or music.
The hospitality lesson that led to the genius bar
With the physical design of the store sorted out, Jobs next turned to the idea of customer service. As he surveyed Silicon Valley heavyweights on their best customer service experience, almost every person he interviewed recalled a great customer service experience from a hotel, rather than a store. And not just any hotel, but a 5-star hotel, like the Ritz-Carlton or the Four Seasons. What's more, the excellent service story came from an interaction with the concierge desk at the hotel.
The concierge desk
Jobs realized that what made hotel customer service shine was that concierges were not trying to sell customers on something, even in those cases when they were making tour reservations or securing concert tickets. Instead, concierges were trying to solve a need with a customized solution. They were trying to help.
Jobs took the concept of the concierge desk and created the Apple Store's signature Genius Bar, which is a customer service bar at the back of the store. Customers can get technical support, learn more about Apple products, or get training that helps them unlock the full potential of their Apple device. Just as with hotels, Genius Bar employees are there to help when there's a need.
Anticipatory customer service
Jobs also borrowed another core concept from the hospitality field, that of anticipatory customer service. In anticipatory customer service, the goal of the hospitality service provider is to fulfill not only every single need each customer has, but anticipate the future needs someone will have and provide for those as well.
For example, consider the ways hotels have identified and catered to the needs of business travelers by creating business centers in the hotel, where travelers can access fax, print, email, and wireless internet service. International newspapers and a variety of healthy breakfast options help business travelers prepare for their meetings and stay up to date with industry-impacting news. These services are always there for travelers, who can just access the business center with their room key card.
In the Apple Store
With the Apple store, guests who need customer service can make a Genius Bar appointment and describe their need ahead of time, eliminating the wait. Apple staff can then prepare for their arrival by scheduling the right person to serve them (depending on their need), greeting them right away, and working quickly to satisfy their need. From a retail model, it is an efficient way to staff stores and take care of customers. Along with the benefit of fast service, customers enjoy the undivided attention of a single employee who has the information and skills to solve their problems, much in the same way a concierge can solve a guest's need.
Whether customers are there to purchase a new iPhone or get a broken laptop fixed, they will receive personalized service from the moment they enter the store until they are finished. In contrast to other stores, where a clerk may help the customer shop then direct them to a cash register to pay, the Apple Store keeps the same employee helping every customer thought the process. That's why store employees accept payment via iPad, so the entire process is handled by a single individual.
Customers love the Apple Store for the way it anticipates and solves their needs with personalized service. That -along with the quality of their products - is how Apple created a loyal customer base.