When we talk about amazing customer experiences, a handful of companies always come to mind: Zappos, FedEx, Amazon, Apple, and so on. When it comes to Apple, the nexus of their customer experience occurs in their legendary Apple Stores. Chances are, if you own an Apple device, you’ve spent some time in an Apple Store either bombarding the friendly staff with questions about the new iPhone, or somberly bringing your beloved MacBook in for repairs. Chances also are that you faced customer service quite unlike any other computer store you’ve ever been to in your life – the pros and cons of them are up for debate.
In any case, the “Apple Customer Experience” is doubtlessly quite an eye-opener, and at the same time quite a mystery to onlookers. Wonder no more – the veil has recently been pulled aside by an “Anonymous Ex-Apple Genius” (going by the pseudonym JKAppleseed) in an article posted on McSweeney’s (and re-posted, to a torrent of comments, on Gizmodo). Being an Apple fan (to some extent), my interest was piqued, and I had a read of this first-person account, as well as all the comments, last week. Here are some things I believe we can learn about customer service from this insider’s look into the Apple Store.
1. Customer Experience Trumps Pretty Aesthetics
“As much attention as Apple pays to the aspirational architecture outside, they pay much more to the customer experience inside.”
Now, delivery app Postmates has a lovely website – simple, to-the-point, and pleasing to the eye:
A recent and consequently highly publicized email that their CEO accidentally sent to the customer, though, could definitely have been cleaned up more:
Ouch. I’m pretty sure Bastian was slapping himself on the forehead following this. What compounded this horrific “mistake” was a backlash that resulted on social media. What caught my attention was how a Twitter user linked this experience to future customer service:
You can be sure that Postmates has a mountain to climb to get their customer service reputation back. Compare this to Apple’s emphasis on serving the customer well:
Why? When formulating the philosophy behind Apple Retail, brainstorming executives tried to recall their most exemplary customer service experience, which turned out to be hospitality at the Ritz Carlton. If you ask any bellhop, janitor, or maid for directions in a Ritz Carlton hotel, they are trained to drop what they’re doing and personally show you the way. The practice is impressive; it cements customer loyalty and you would never expect that level of attentiveness at, say, a computer store in a mall.
Lesson learnt: No matter how awesome your website or product looks, all it takes is one bad customer experience to create a negative brand image. Never let that happen – always prioritize the customer.
2. Know the Customer Like the Back of your Hand
“He explains, “Listen, friend. Red-rimmed spectacles are a warning sign in the Red Zone as surely as bright colors are on those frogs in the Amazon.”
“I’m not being ageist. I love my Nana. But, here? In the Apple store? When that person with the senior citizen flair beelines at you? You know their device is broken. Or they don’t know how to use it. Or, hey, great, both!””
Meet Max. He is an Apple veteran on the sales floor of the Apple Store. He has the “art of customer service” down pat, according to the writer. Not only does he dress in a way that gives him more credibility with status-conscious shoppers, he knows exactly what characteristics a certain type of customer has (red-rimmed spectacles equals to a hard, elderly customer), what type of questions they usually ask, and how to answer them (refer them to Google). In other words, he knows the typical customer profile like the back of his hand, and this translates to efficient, stellar customer service.
This is even viable for those who work in the online space by building up customer profiles based on their online behavior, and serving them based on these characteristics. Regardless of medium, it is definitely possible to make your customer support incredibly personal.
Lesson learnt: Know your customers, so well, you can predict their moves the moment you see them.
3. Patience is a Virtue (And Might Even Save a Life)
“This is the dilemma of working for a technology company that is also perceived as a luxury brand: We attract clients who understand that we provide the latest and shiniest things that they must have, while at the same time they have no idea whatsoever how to use them. I wanted to ask Debris, “Did you ever learn about electricity and water?” but instead just recite the question over and over in my head.”
JKAppleseed’s accounts of certain “memorable” customers he has faced and attempted to deal with, were hilarious, though fairly stereotypical. From the woman straight out of The Devil Wears Prada to the bouncer-like macho boyfriend, these people are no doubt a daily reality for customer service representatives everywhere. How he dealt with the lady with a modicum of patience (the security guards took care of Brock in a satisfying manner) is the standard to meet for those dealing with customers. Even if you feel like slapping them, bear in mind that they really have no idea how to deal with their problems, and their frustration might even have carried over from other exacerbating factors.
Take the lady (Barbara) whose hard drive died. Who would have known that helping her to revive it, and the photos in them, meant bringing a connection to her late husband back to life?
“My stomach drops. This, my manager didn’t know to tell me. I try hard not think of what it would have meant had we not gotten her computer back online.
I look up at the dozens of people cradling their aluminum babies. Tapping their feet, chewing their nails, licking their lips, they’re worried bad about something that matters to them. I wish Barbara the best of luck, really meaning it, and excuse myself. I unholster my iPod and call out the next customer’s name.”
Lesson learnt: Be unwaveringly patient with your customers. Behind their irritable responses and demands might lie worries over something that means the world to them.
Of course, Apple is not perfect. Here is something that we should learn not to follow:
4. Love your Customers, but don’t Suffocate them
“I feel the same way, it’s almost obnoxious the point where employees have to walk away from their job to show me the EXACT product I was looking for, when all I needed was the isle number and I could easily have found the item, from there. Maybe a different scenario for an elderly person or someone who looks totally lost, but having a 20-something guy walking another 20-something guy around the store just feels plan weird. This is especially true for bag boys. My items have been scanned, I’m paid, my items are all bagged up, and the bag boy is already half way out the door with my stuff, INSISTING that he helps me get my 3 grocery bags all the way out to my car.”
This statement was taken not from the article, but from the comments that preceded it. Very clearly, it shows that while having attentive, fantastic customer service is all fine and dandy, there is a line some customers draw which we need to be careful to observe. While some customers would absolute be delighted by the service given above, other more introverted individuals might be turned off by it. This goes back to point 2, on knowing your customers well.
Lesson learnt: Be wary not to suffocate your customers – love them in the way they want to be loved.
What do you think about the “Zopim Customer Experience”? Share it in the comments below!