John Hancock’s new ‘Genius Bar’ aims to rethink the IT help desk

John Hancock president Craig Bromley (right) speaks to Jacques Ouimet in the new TechLab space. Courtesy John Hancock.
John Hancock president Craig Bromley (right) speaks to Jacques Ouimet in the new TechLab space. Courtesy John Hancock.

John Hancock is trying to take the pain out of the IT help desk experience for its 3,450 local employees. In a page pulled from the “we’re a savvy startup” handbook, the financial services company launched a new TechLounge in its Boston headquarters Monday that hopes to emulate the experience of the Apple Store.

Jacques Ouimet, the Boston-based vice president for global end users technology services at John Hancock’s parent company, Manulife Financial, says the goal of the new space aims to rethink the problem-solving process when it comes to IT. (You know the drill. Your work computer crashes, or freezes, and a frantic call to the help desk results in one of several scenarios: a frustrating 30-minute call, or a service request that seems as if you’re sending a missive into the void.)

The TechLab, with its sleek modern vibe and funky furniture, will attempt to make even Luddites feel more comfortable with their devices. “It’s all about our ability to push more technology onto people,” Ouimet says with a laugh.

In truth, he says it’s a response to the changing nature of the workforce; 75 percent of John Hancock staff now use laptops issued by the company, and a quarter have mobile devices. With many employees now taking advantage of their telecommuting policies, he says it’s become a bit harder for the IT support team to provide hands-on help for those struggling with their technology. Knowing that people had grown familiar with the Apple Store approach to service, they reasoned that it’d be simpler to create a space where people could come, seek help, and interact.

“The technicians we’ve put in there have a combination of technology and people skills,” says Ouimet, noting that it was the people skills that came first in that equation.

The hope is that the staff will actually learn to use the equipment they’ve provided, instead of seeking a quick fix. In addition to addressing tech troubles, they’re also offering small group sessions on topics like making pivot tables in Excel.

The TechLab’s ‘Genius Bar’-style concept was first launched in the Toronto office of Manulife Financial; another branch has also launched in their Waterloo office in Ontario, and they plan to extend the concept to branches in Tokyo and Hong Kong. Ouimet says the Canadian response has been positive: “They love to be able to walk in with the problems,” he says.

But while the company tries to create an Apple-like experience, he says it doesn’t completely extend to the IT staff: There will be no special T-shirts, and presumably no “psychological mastery” over its visitors. “Everyone gets a badge around their neck, that’s about the extent,” he said.

Janelle Nanos can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.
Follow Janelle on Twitter