April 19, 2012

News & Opinion: The Apple Experience

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 6:53 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Carmine Gallo is no stranger to Apple. Having written other books about Steve Jobs, he rounds out his trilogy with a book about customer service, called, The Apple Experience: Secrets to Building Insanely Great Customer Loyalty. But calling this a customer service book is not necessarily accurate either. It's more about the experience customers have with the store, its employees, and its products. Gallo clarifies this early on in the book:
I don't bill myself as a "customer service expert." I'm a communications coach, speaker, and journalist. But what does it mean to provide extraordinary customer service? Well, if you study the brands that do it well such as Disney, Four Seasons, Zappos, FedEx, Nordstrom, Apple, and others, you will discover that it all comes down to communication: how you talk to your employees and how they, in turn, talk to your customers.
Communication is indeed a good starting point when discussing service and experience. Whether or not we're talking to a representative of a company, all sorts of things about a brand's products and how they present themselves speak to us. These details inform us in personal ways how the company is, and what they might mean to us. But of course, that can't be all we base an experience on, and that's where Gallo goes deeper with his book. There's a section on communicating with internal customers, from hiring, making employees fearless, building relationships, creating feedback loops, multitaskers, and more. For external customers, according to Gallo, here's the gist at Apple:
Warranties are written in black and white, but Apple employees are empowered to make decisions in the gray area. They are trusted to make the right decision for the company and for the long-term relationship with a customer. If a customer brings in an iPhone that was accidentally dropped in a puddle, an employee at the Genius Bar might look up the customer's history, and if he feels that replacing the device will restore the customer's trust in the company, he will do so. The Genius's role is not to fix computers. It's to rebuild relationships. In the first ten years of the Apple Store, the company learned "a visit to the Genius Bar can fix more than computers; it can restore a customer's relationship with Apple."
Whether or not we give away replacements freely at our own companies, the lesson here is that problems are an opportunity to build the relationship back with communication. Certainly, Apple, or any other company, won't keep replacing parts and products for ever and ever. But in the right situation, where an honest mistake might have occurred, a conversation and helping someone through that mistake can make the difference between keeping that relationship, or losing it. This is what the book, and Apple, shows in powerful ways.