The first Apple store opened on May 19, 2001, in Tysons, Virginia. Then, the price of an Apple share was $1.68. Today, Apple is one of the most valuable companies in the world with shares worth nearly $200. Apple has since opened 506 stores across 24 countries attracting 500 million visitors a year.
When experts analyze what Apple has done right they often focus on product development. Innovative items like the iPod, iPhone, and iPad created new markets and attracted millions of customers. However, underpinning the growth of the company is an obsessive customer service culture aimed at turning one-time buyers into customer advocates.
In this post, let's look at how Apple retains its customers and highlight the lessons you can apply to your business.
7 Insights Learned From Apple's Customer Service
1. Choose the right channels to engage with customers.
Apple stores have been a central part of its customer experience since Steve Jobs took over in 1997. Before that, Apple computers were sold through chain stores and other authorized outlets. The company was not comfortable with this model as Apple severed ties with over 10,000 third-party retailers. After that, the company opened the first Apple store and overhauled its entire website.
Service provided by third-party resellers does have an impact on your company's reputation. Apple decided it wasn't comfortable with this trade-off and made the decision to move customer service in-house. This gave Apple control over every part of the customer experience.
This might not be an option for you. If that's the case, consider how you can support your customers after they purchase your products. This can be done by advertising the channels people use to contact your support team. Social media channels like Twitter and Facebook, are effective options for providing immediate customer support.
2. Focus on optimizing your customers' buying environment.
The transition from third-party sellers to running its own stores gave Apple more control over its customer service. It controlled all aspects of the customer experience from the layout of the store to how employees interacted with customers. You can see how much thought went into the first Apple store when you consider its design. The first store was broken down into three distinct sections:
- The entrance of the store showcased the Apple product line, broken down by target demographic.
- The center of the store was devoted to examples of how a person might use an Apple product. This part of the store was broken down thematically with sections for music, movies, photos, and kids.
- The back of the store hosted the "Genius Bar." This is where customers could get products repaired and resolve customer service issues.
These three parts align with the final stages of the customer journey. For a deeper explanation of how the store was envisioned check out this video of Steve Jobs.
This setup ensures customers not only learn about products but also try them in the store. After purchases, Apple makes it as easy as possible for customers to get their problems resolved by offering support within its store.
This focus on controlling the customer experience at the point of contact has played a pivotal part in creating Apple's legion of fans. And, given how many people at the time expected the stores to fail, this model proved to be surprisingly profitable. At $5,546, Apple stores have the highest sales per square foot in the US retail market.
3. Don't be afraid of making changes.
This is probably the hardest lesson. Don't be afraid of implementing significant change if you think it will benefit your company -- but do so cautiously. You can see how Apple made its transition in three stages:
- It reduced reliance on third-party retailers by severing relations with over 10,000 stores.
- It implemented a store within a store approach, first with CompUSA and then with Best Buy.
- When it saw sales of Apple computers were up, Apple opened its own stores.
Each part of this process was inherently risky. The company minimized risk by implementing a marketing plan in each stage. Even so, most people at the time thought Apple's retail experiment would be a failure. It could have been, but conservatively approaching each risk helped Apple achieve success.
4. Teach your employees about applied psychology
Applied psychology should play a role in how your reps deal with customers. This is widely recognized in sales as US companies spend $15 billion a year training their sales teams on customer management and communication skills.
A significant portion of Apple's Genius Training Student Workbook -- the guidebook for new Apple Geniuses -- looks at people skills. Take the example below from page 45 that covers nonverbal gestures.
These tips go beyond a general understanding of body language. Almost every conceivable interaction with a customer has been scripted. A good example is the Three F's: Feel, Felt, Found.
The Three F's are used to generate empathy with a lead who's mistaken or has bad information. The Workbook includes a scripted example of how this conversation might play out.
Customer: The Mac is too expensive.
Apple Employee: I can see how you'd feel this way. I felt the price was a little high, but I found it's a real value because of all the built-in software and capabilities.
Apple developed a system of training that's based on an understanding of psychology and people skills. By having this system in place, you can increase your number of stores while maintaining high-quality customer service.
5. Invest in customer service training.
When reviewing the Genius Training Student Workbook, you can see how much effort Apple has put into developing a system for managing customer interactions. The company wants to create a positive impression on every customer and understands that the best way to do this is by training its staff to meet those expectations.
If you expect your staff to provide great customer service you need to take the time to train them. People skills should be a core part of your support team's new hire training model. Creating this consistency is especially important for global companies that want to provide an excellent customer experience.
6. Create a rigorous hiring process
According to the company's PR department, it's harder to work for an Apple store than it is to get into Harvard. Apple has a rigorous hiring process. Depending on the competition for a job, candidates may have to complete five interviews over six weeks before they're selected for a position.
Store owners are taught to consider more than academic qualifications when hiring a candidate. According to Carmine Gallo, author of the book The Apple Experience, two major questions that Apple employees ask are:
- Can this person provide a Ritz-Carlton level of customer service?
- Do they display grit? Or to put it another way, could they have gone toe-to-toe with Steve Jobs?
When it comes to grit, Apple is looking for people who are determined to achieve goals. Additionally, it wants employees who can offer critical feedback when necessary. This helps avoid groupthink, which negatively impacts organizations.
The outcome of this hiring philosophy is a diverse workforce who come from very different backgrounds but share key character traits. When choosing who to hire at your business, consider your company culture and your job requirements. Don't let career experience, or a person's willingness to agree with you define who you select. Diversity in your workforce and difference of opinion can be a strength that brings out the best in everyone.
7. Adopt a customer first strategy.
When you analyze Apple you quickly realize that the company is not after a quick buck. Instead of simply throwing money at ads, Apple has implemented a long term customer first strategy. The aim is to build a genuine relationship with customers and reduce customer churn.
For example, employees at an Apple store do not have sales targets. Instead, they're trained to engage visitors and sell the A.P.P.L.E. way.
- A - approach the person in the store with a personalized welcome.
- P - probe to understand what the person is after.
- P - present a solution for the customer to take home.
- L - listen for and resolve any issues or concerns the person might have.
- E - end the conversation with a fond farewell.
Apple employees also have proactive service features that make guests feel comfortable when they walk into a store. For example, if you book an appointment to get a product repaired the employee at the front of the store will take your information. Then, this information is passed to the Apple Genius who uses your name when introducing themselves.
The Apple service model aims to make the customer feel comfortable in the environment. It shares many of the same characteristics as you'd find in the hospitality industry because Steve Jobs borrowed the Ritz-Carlton service model. So, don't be afraid to borrow the best ideas around you and adapt them to your company culture.
When you analyze Apple, you get a sense of the company's impeccable approach to customer service. Whether you're a startup looking to grow your website or a multinational enterprise, there's a lot you can learn from the customer service model Apple has developed.
For more inspiring service tales, read these good customer service stories.
Originally published Aug 9, 2019 8:00:00 AM, updated June 09 2021