High Tech & High Touch – Apple’s Customer Experience

The customer experience is what keeps you coming back. I wasn’t one of the first to rush out and buy Apple products. Well, I was a pioneer in the ’80s with my Apple computer (back before the Mac – I can’t even remember the model), but then the PC became prevalent. Then I got an iPod when they were old news, and bought it at a retailer other than an Apple Store. After the iPad was on the market for about two years, I decided it was time to get one. I ventured into my local Apple store on a weekday afternoon to avoid the weekend rush, and I was thrilled with the personal service I received.

Apple is committed to having a customer-facing interaction with everyone who enters their stores. To do so, it follows five steps of customer service, and employees are trained to walk each customer through these steps, making them feel welcomed, empowered, happy, and eager to return. Cleverly, these five steps are an acronym for the company’s name “A-P-P-L-E.”

· Approach customers with a personalized and warm welcome.
· Probe politely to understand the customer’s needs (ask closed- and open-ended                 questions).
· Present a solution for the customer to take home today.
· Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns.
· End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.

Approach – Every customer is greeted by an employee who is friendly, passionate, and committed to customer service. A customer’s perception of his or her experience begins to be formed in the first ten seconds of an interaction. Apple employees make those seconds count.

Probe – This simply means to ask a series of closed- and open-ended questions so the customer can be matched with the right product, not the most expensive product. In the Apple Store, a closed-ended question elicits a simple yes or no, such as “Will this be your first Mac?” An open-ended question is more general and gives the sales associate (specialist) more information to guide the conversation. For example, “What will you be using the iPad for?”

Present a solution – Store employees are reminded that they are not in the business of selling computers. They are in the business of “enriching lives.” A sale isn’t the only way to enrich the life of a customer and to build loyalty. For example, customers might be frustrated to walk into an Apple Store expecting to see a technical specialist (a “Genius”) only to be told they need an appointment at the Genius Bar. A trained specialist would offer an alternative solution such as, “We have appointments available tomorrow. May I sign you up or show you how to reserve an appointment on our web site?”

Listen – Store employees and specialists are trained to pick up on customers’ “unexpressed” wishes or concerns during the “probing” step. For example, some long-time PC users might be reluctant to learn a new operating system, but they don’t necessarily express that concern. A specialist who uncovers this information might spend more time describing One-to-One, a unique program for Mac customers who want to learn more about the computer in one-hour face-to-face sessions. It was intended to build a customer for life and often does just that.

End – How customers feel when they end a transaction significantly impacts how they perceive the brand and whether they are likely to recommend the brand to others. After a purchase, it’s not uncommon for an employee to give customers a business card in case they have more questions. Above all, give your customer a reason to return.
I’ve been back to both my local Apple Store and others around the country since purchasing my iPad. Sometimes just to purchase accessories, on another occasion to purchase an iPad for my husband. I always received the same level of service no matter the price of my purchase. I was delighted to turn my husband over to the “Genius,” who helped him set up and learn to use his iPad. I knew he was getting a high-touch experience.

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