The Yin and Yang of the Buzz – by Michael Laskin

I remember shopping at a leather goods store on the Ponte Vecchio that had the absolute best quality wallets, belts, and purses in Florence, bar none (maybe the world). Saying that this guy’s leather goods were like butter would be a definite compliment to the butter. “Total artistry in dead animal skins” might be an apt description. Do you think he has to advertise? Not really. Given a great location and a superior product his only problem is dealing with demand (and success).

Anyone who sells a product or service anywhere in the world knows the value of the buzz. When your product is clearly better than your competitors the buzz begins. People talk about your goods. People seek you out. Pretty soon you can’t keep up with the demand. A note on your door soon follows saying that you’ve “run out for a cappuccino, so please be patient. I’ll be back in 20 minutes.” And, they’ll wait.

I will preface the following story by saying I’m one who embraces technological changes slowly, carefully, and with trepidation. With all the new computer-driven stuff that populates my life, I feel like I need a full-time live-in IT person at my house.

I was at The Apple Store in Sherman Oaks for some trouble shooting on my laptop (I’m a Mac guy). I did the up-to-date streamlined thing and made my appointment online to see a person at “The Genius Bar” – the long counter where the resident “geniuses” help you maneuver the sometimes-mystifying inner workings of your hard drive. I showed up at the predetermined time, but it appears that even geniuses have their issues because they were running 45 minutes late. This gave me time to soak in the vibe, the ethos, and the buzz of the Apple experience. And that’s when I had a “light bulb” experience: I saw both ends of the buzz spectrum played out simultaneously.

To my left there was a woman who was definitely pushing 80. She was sitting at a new G-5 with a very patient, sweet, and perky Apple salesperson in her mid-20’s. This young woman had one of those husky damaged voices that sounded like she’d been a cheerleader in high school and all that screaming had left her with nodes on her vocal cords. Her voice could be heard quite clearly all over the store as she patiently and cheerfully gave this older lady a tutorial on computer basics: clicking the mouse, dragging things on the desktop, opening applications. You couldn’t create an ad for Apple better than this. Here was this terrific young woman taking a lot of valuable time carefully mentoring this senior citizen in “Computer Operation 101.” It embodied all that Apple stands for. This was a total buzz moment. Everyone who saw this had it register either consciously or subliminally. This was definitely something you wouldn’t see at Radio Shack.

Finally it was my time to step up to “The Genius Bar.” I was greeted by a blasé world-weary young man who, though clearly a genius, was deigning to help me with my computer issues. I explained that I’d spent nearly an hour with two people from Apple on the phone, and they couldn’t resolve the issue. He wordlessly looked at me, then at the laptop, and literally within 2 minutes had completely solved the problem – his hands racing over the keys and interfacing with the laptop in a way I’d never imagined possible. It was done in silence, and was nearly metaphysical. He calmly returned the machine to me, fixed, correct, and humming along as it was designed to do. He didn’t break a sweat. This guy was definitely slumming at “The Genius Bar” at the Apple Store.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think that, on the whole, Apple does an amazing job with their service and products. But if the young lady tutoring the old woman on the G-5 is the “yin” of the buzz, then this guy was clearly the “yang.” Both were extremely knowledgeable and helpful. But one took on her task with grace, patience, and good humor. The other with barely-disguised boredom. This is the challenge of maintaining the buzz. Success in the extreme can sometimes make everyday human relations with customers seem like a chore. That is, unless you are that hopeful, positive, young woman who understands that, like a restaurant, you’re only as good as the last meal you served. We’d be smart to recall Yogi Berra’s quotation about successful restaurants. He said, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

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