Back in the day, Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Ron Johnson, the retail visionary who rolled out the first generation of Apple Stores, went on a quest to find the best customer service experience.
As Walter Isaacson related in his 2011 biography, Jobs and Johnson polled employees, friends, whoever they could find, and the answer they kept getting was: being at a luxury hotel or resort. So they went to Ritz Carlton and partnered with them to train the Apple Stores' first cohorts of retail employees. Those early generations of Apple employees even had a credo attached to the lanyards around their necks--a credo based on the one Ritz Carlton gave all of its staffers, a daily reminder of three focus areas: Our People, Our Customer and Our Daily Commitment.
Don't be confused: Apple's now-legendary "anticipatory customer service" was a two-way street, both the customer and company have to walk away satisfied. Take the Genius Bar, which was modeled on a hotel concierge desk: As Micah Solomon pointed out in Inc. a couple of years ago, "For the company, the benefit is level scheduling of demand, a Lean process principle. For customers, the app eliminates wait times and promises undivided attention, something hard to find elsewhere in retail."
Becoming an Apple customer comes with a price tag. But, that's true for any business. But two principles of customer service stand out as an asset in the Apple way:
Live to serve
Apple is a true believer, and that informs every aspect of its culture. From the day you walk in for orientation as an employee, Apple tries to make you feel the way it wants you to make customers feel. When I arrived in 2010 to work on enterprise app sales, I couldn't believe the reception new employees received, the red carpet they rolled out for us. There's orientation, t-shirts, videos, lots of rah-rah and team-building; at Apple University we received tons of training via mock scenarios that put us in tough spots and trained us on how to respond, on how Apple treats its customers.
Apple is constantly working to build a deeper emotional bond between its customers, employees, and the company itself. Every time there was an event we would joke around, wondering, "What video will they show today that's going to make us cry?"
When FaceTime was announced, it was with a television ad showing a soldier in Afghanistan seeing his pregnant wife over FaceTime. If that doesn't make you cry, I don't know what will. And seeing that video as a new employee connects you viscerally to the customer and to how important that customer is. That's not a cynical thing. It's a sincere--and incredibly powerful--business tool.
Love = Loyalty
It's powerful because in producing a "repeat customer," that level of service and that connection allows you to withstand the storms and errors inherent in the process of building most (if not all) products. At Scrollmotion we recently put out a brand new version of our software that tweaked a pinch and zoom feature; in the process, we decided to change the experience slightly--but we did a terrible job of explaining it to customers before we pushed it out on a Friday night. Suffice to say that our users wasted no time in making us aware of our mistake. So I put out an all-hands-on deck call, scrambled our amazing team, and they had it fixed two days later. That's the kind of customer service Apple ingrained into me.
But that customer/company bond can be even more important. Customer love and loyalty allows you to take risks and arbitrage the competition: Shifting to a new use-case paradigm or new technical standards, for example, are essential aspects of product development, but can really piss people off.
The iPhone 7 was a perfect example. It comes out in 2016 and...there's no freaking headphone jack. People were livid. And Apple has done this for years: The transition from "30 pin" cables to Lightning cables. USB. CD drives. Sure, you forgot you ever had a 30-pin device, but chances are, you weren't happy at the time.
But Apple needs to constantly push the envelope to remain at the cutting edge technologically. So what do they do? They capitalize on your love, and give you more in return, bending over backwards to help you get through the transition. In the case of the iPhone 7, that meant a free dongle that provided a psychological bridge between the past and the future. That's just a temporary customer service fix, but it keeps folks happy, gets them on board, and makes them know that they come first. And it keeps them coming back for more.