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Wednesday, November 09, 2005, 03:00 pm PT (06:00 pm ET)

Apple preps major update to Genius Bar reservation system

Apple Computer next week will launch a major update to the Genius Bar reservation system used by customers wishing to schedule an appointment for technical support or service at its many retail stores, AppleInsider has learned.

The new system, expect to be called "Concierge," will aim to streamline the reservation and repair process at Apple's stores, reducing the time customers have to wait before they can speak face-to-face with an Apple Genius, sources with ties to the company's retail division have revealed.

While often praised and recognized for providing one-on-one consultations with customers, Apple's retail store Genius Bars can at times become a source of frustration for customers who find themselves waiting endlessly to speak to a Genius during busy hours.

Sometimes customers wait hours, become fed up, and ultimately leave the company's stores disgruntled and without having solved their problem, said an Apple retail employee who works at one of the company's more prominent retail locations.

Often the source of long Genius Bar delays is a barrage customers demanding assistance with either dysfunctional or damaged iPod digital music players, the employee added. Customers with Macintosh-related issues are currently clumped into this mix and find themselves waiting endlessly for much-need computer service. Wait times for a 15 minute appointment have been known to balloon to five hours at some stores.

Under the new Concierge system, which retail employees sometimes refer to as "Maestro 2," Apple will begin segmenting customer requests into categories: those relating to iPods and those relating to Macs or other products. Instead of one waiting line for the Genius Bar, the new system will reportedly service two lines simultaneously — one for iPods and one for Mac-related issues.

Concierge will also sport a simplified interface reminiscent of the clearly-orchestrated Apple.com support website, sources said. The main page of the system will offer clear and concise instructions that will step customers through the reservation process and prompt them to input less information than in the past.

Customers looking for help with their iMac will simply need to select the iMac icon to begin their registration process, while those needing assistance with iPhoto, for instance, will click on the iLife icon and be transfered into the store's Creative Bar service. Sources say Apple retail stores that do not feature a Creative Bar (or Studio) will place Creative staff behind the Genius Bar to field Creative-related questions from customers.

Along with its transition to the new Concierge system, sources say Apple will also be working to increase the number of Geniuses and Creatives on hand at its stores.

Most of the changes being made to the Genius Bar reservation system have come as a result of customer surveys, which Apple sometimes conducts at its retail stores, offering willing participants cash incentives to accurately respond to questions about their Genius Bar experience.