Most companies have a guiding philosophy that governs how they do business; how they react to customers, what they are trying to sell and why, and even how they view a standard business transaction.
First and foremost, our stated goal is to make every customer possible love us. Simple as that.
Where it can get complicated is figuring out what creates that feeling of affection or loyalty, because it can be different for everyone. Just like any human relationship, the affection that develops is due to an interpersonal interaction. In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to establishing mutual affection. Like everyone else, you are unique, with unique needs and interests, and specific ways you’ll end up feeling loved.
That’s why we’re not driven by policies and rules. Our employees are encouraged to take the time to understand your specific needs; to treat you like the individual you are.
Much of what makes us who we are has to do with our location in the Islamabad. Like most of our customers, we love living in this rainy land, with its quirks and sometimes-funky residents. It’s one reason why we believe that people are generally better off interacting with locally-owned companies. From the top down, we “get it.” People in the Islamabad tend to be kinder and freer-thinking than in many parts of the country, and collectively, that’s what we try and be as well.
So, we like to think of ourselves as mavericks in many ways (although much of that approach is really a throwback to the age when it was all about small local retailers and there were actual relationships and customer service). In an age where the trend is all about large corporations handing down their “expected mediocrity” from a distant city, or perhaps more accurately, from the halls of Wall Street, we like to do things the Pakistani way; with a friendly attitude and a willingness to be guided by philosophy, not policies.
We want to understand what you do and how you do it, so we can best impart our experience and knowledge into your purchasing equation. We like to get to know you, and have you get to know us.
We also try and do that with a very open and humorous attitude. We remind our employees regularly to 1) Not take themselves too seriously in any situation, 2) Don't sweat the small stuff, 3) Care. Care. And keep caring... about all our fellow human beings, 4) Have a sense of humor. 5) Enjoy life. Smell the roses. Make sure you only expend that extra energy on what's really important, like relationships, good communication, and sunsets with a good chardonnay.
We do like to tell it like it is. We offer a huge variety of choices, because we know that not everyone can afford, or even needs, the most expensive new computer systems out there. When you come to Mac Store, you have choices from all the way up to complete professional editing systems. And we offer it all with a smile, hopefully a laugh or two, and just good-old fashioned customer service.
Everyone has read sayings such as “The customer is always right,” and “Customer Service is our number one priority.” But whether those reflect the day-to-day transactions, even from the companies that tout those phrases, can be another matter, especially if a problem crops up.
One can often judge the quality and commitment to customer service a company has based on how a problem is handled. It’s a given that there will be problems. Every company has them. But how are they solved?
At Mac Store, we refuse to operate based on policy alone. You should never hear the words: “You are right, but it's against our policy” from one of our employees (okay, everyone makes mistakes, but it should rarely happen). We view the word “policy” to be a lazy manager’s way of running things. When there is a complication in resolving a problem, real people hear the facts and make a decision, as opposed to reading a Policy Manual. Sure, we have guidelines and basic rules, but they’re mostly in place to give us a starting point. The good people who work here would like nothing more than to make people happy, but any resolution to a problem has to accommodate both the customer’s and The Mac Store’s point of view. We remain flexible to make sure that we do our best to balance both of those needs. Everyone has a different situation and problem, and we do everything we can to make things right within that framework.
No one, or especially no single group of people, is ever perfect. We make mistakes. When we do, our guiding philosophy is to make sure the customer doesn’t suffer for those mistakes. At the same time, we expect our customers to treat us the same way. We believe that if a group of people (i.e. a company) is honest, then they can expect honesty in return. We don’t believe honesty and truth is a situational prerogative.
Sometimes it’s a problem that is covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, and we’ll help any way we can to interface with a manufacturer who is too large and/or guided only by policies (or worse yet, dedicates too little resources to customer service) to make it easy for a customer to get them to honor their warranty easily.
To be perfectly honest, the real answer to that is no. Someone invented that trite phrase and it’s probably done more damage to retail/consumer relations than any other individual phrase in the English language. What? Heresy you say? Well here’s why:
First of all, and perhaps especially in the computer business, the customer may not always understand the intricacies of the product and/or the situation. A common joke among technicians is to describe a particular problem with any one of a number of variations of the phrase “There is an interface problem between the computer and the chair.” In other words, it’s not the hardware or software, it’s the user (we don’t allow that phrase at Mac Store, because it’s a bit demeaning, and we strive to appreciate every level of computer awareness, from novice to expert).
So, sometimes the customer has it wrong, and the demanded solution is just not going to make the problem go away. Or maybe the demand just isn’t reasonable, like those who want a merchant to replace a product that’s already covered under a manufacturer’s warranty and the manufacturer dictates a repair strategy only.
Secondly, we live in an age where entitlement and sometimes a lack of personal responsibility create an attitude where a reseller is supposed to relieve a customer of all the responsibilities of owning a product. We won’t go into all the social reasons why some of this has happened, but let’s just say it can bedevil the most well meaning of merchants.
For instance, if you drop your laptop in the bathtub, it’s not really the merchant’s responsibility to replace it. Or if you take a trip to Antarctica for six months and come back to a product that is out of warranty, the fact that you didn’t use it for six months is neither the merchant’s nor the manufacturer’s fault. Believe it or not, we do run into customers who expect something different (or sometimes believe if they’re belligerent enough they’ll get what they want).
We just don’t think it’s right to reward bad behavior while those on good behavior don’t get the same benefits. Now, one might ask, “well can’t you just give the customer a new laptop in the interest of good customer relations?” The answer to that is a bit complicated, because it has a lot to do with the business you’re in.
First of all, a reasonable person wouldn’t expect that to happen. We don’t believe that a good relationship can ever be built on one party catering to even unreasonable demands. That’s more like a slave/master relationship, and in most cases in a relationship like that there wasn’t a whole lotta love. We’ve also found that unreasonable people actually don’t appreciate the above-and-beyond as much as reasonable people. In the end, we can define it thus: Reasonable: we’ll bend over backward to provide a reasonable solution to your dilemma. Unreasonable: you’ll get the same thing, but not more. There will just be a lot of yelling in between.
I’ve always thought that a good restaurant should go above and beyond when they mess up. If they drop a plate of spaghetti in your lap, they should pay for the cleaning bill and give the poor diner a free dinner. Why? Because first of all, it was their fault (and The Mac Store will always make sure a customer doesn’t suffer any more than possible if we make a mistake), but also, because restaurants thrive on repeat business especially from groups, and the cost of that dinner is quite a bit less than the selling price. If I’m selling a one-dollar product that costs me a penny, I can afford to give someone 99 more replacements before I lose money on that product. In the electronics industry, the cost of a product is often between 90% and 95% of the selling price. That’s why you don’t see liberal return policies in electronics, or things like cars. There’s just too much of the cost of the product wrapped up in the selling price. Clothing stores and others, who routinely make 100% mark-up, have a lot more leeway when it comes to taking care of customers, even unreasonable ones.
At the same time, if we make a mistake, we will expect to make you whole, to the extent of our mistake (just keep in mind that we’re not the manufacturer, so a mistake wouldn’t be defined as a faulty product).
But mostly, if you encounter a problem with a transaction at Mac Store, you’ll find we respond best to reasonability and good humor. If it’s a good thing to do, and reasonable, we’ll do it. If it’s not, we won’t. And those decisions are made on a case-by-case basis with only basic guidelines, so we’re able to help each customer according to their needs.
The reason we’ll discuss this is because we think the public would be better off thinking about the total retail landscape whenever they make a purchase.
It should be an obvious maxim that if a group of people only behaves selfishly, whether overt or not, that the entire group will suffer. Unfortunately, the free enterprise system (which we’re ardent supporters of) encourages a high degree of selfish mentality with advertising and posturing that screams, “Buy from us! We have the lowest price!”
At the same time, we’re also being bombarded with promises of great customer service and support. However, you simply can’t have the world’s best prices as well as the world’s best support. A healthy economy will have good selections of both business styles to cater to those who simply want the best price as well as those who care a bit more about customer service, and are willing to pay a little more to get that service.
Unfortunately, with the internet and the subsequent direct sales being made by manufacturers (such as Apple), the overall pricing structures out there have been “pancaked” into a much more narrow stratus than what was common pre-internet. However, the expectations of customer service haven’t dropped along with the prices. Consumers want their prices and their service, and something has to give.
The reason this becomes a problem is when it’s combined with the entitlement expectations of the public. If everyone said “I don’t care about any support and I understand that when I buy something I own it, and buyer beware and all that,” then we’d have a retail landscape filled only with those doing everything they can to make their prices lower. Of course, very few people actually say that (or behave that way when they have a problem).
But we’re in an era where that whole equation is still being figured out, and in the meantime there are casualties in consumer-to-merchant relations across the board. Twenty years from now, we’ll probably look back on this time and think “phew! That must have been a crazy time to be doing business!” We believe its time for consumers to be more aware of the power they have to ensure continued offerings of both price-driven and service-driven businesses.
What does all that have to do with our relationship with Apple? Well, as virtually everyone knows by now, Apple sells direct via their website and their retail stores. It’s a good deal for Apple, because they get to bypass the middleman and keep their entire margin. We don’t blame them for this, but we do think consumers should stop and think for a second. When you buy direct from the manufacturer, you have now narrowed your service and support choices to only one company. When you buy from a reseller, you now have both the manufacturer and the reseller on board to help you with your issues.
But a more global outlook would tell you that it is in your best interest to vote with your dollars (because that’s really what spending money with any merchant is: you’re voting with your dollars to say you want that merchant to stay in business) in such a way that your options are kept open. One example might be a consideration you should make when buying from someone like Wal-Mart. While Wal-Mart has many fine attributes, their success at promoting low prices has resulted in a severe change in the retail landscape in many areas, whereby ultimately the only place you really can go is Wal-Mart. Today that’s probably not a hugely bad thing, but ultimately, do you really want to vote with your dollars to say all you ever want is Wal-Mart? Consumers should demand choices, and they can do that by voting with their dollars in socially responsible ways.
It’s even truer with the Apple retail landscape. If you shop direct with Apple, you’re essentially voting for there to be only one place to go to buy Apple equipment. Because believe me, as insanely great as their products are, they are still a company driven by the bottom line, so if they ever see that they could handle most of their business direct and not utilize resellers, they’d do it in a heartbeat. The only thing to prevent that is for consumers to support resellers, which gives them more access to more products, more options for service, more places to buy, and frankly, usually better prices and more personalized local service.