Apple has become one of the world’s most valuable companies for a few reasons: yes, it’s a hardware innovator with a sticky product ecosystem, but I’d argue that its most consistent, characteristic trait is its investment in exceptional customer experience. In fact, Apple recently redesigned its retail stores to feature more customer-centric features, including Genius Groves. These revamped Genius Bar areas are complete with tree-canopied seating and additional product experts, so visitors can relax as they get help from resident “geniuses.”
Apple’s customer support is exceptional and highly visible, which helps build trust and perpetuate the company’s commitment to customer experience. Companies must follow Apple’s lead, or risk losing out to the competition. Experience is the biggest differentiator for today’s brands, and that shows no signs of changing. My company has taken a page from Apple’s book when it comes to serving our customers, and in doing so, we’ve built a team that supports 2 million users while sustaining a 98 percent positive satisfaction rating.
Achieving this level of customer success is all about building sustainable systems that empower your team to provide great service. Here are four ways to create those systems, inspired by Apple’s approach to customer experience:
Build Your Vision and Values Around the Customer
Customer support isn’t a cost center, it’s a valuable business unit; treat it that way. Structure your organization around serving the customer, starting with your vision and values. Apple’s vision is to design the best hardware and software in the world for consumers. Its corporate values, including accessibility, privacy and inclusion, put the user first. Tim Cook often talks about the investment Apple makes to keep customers happy. It’s more than a corporate policy or lip service; Cook himself has been known to personally answer customer emails and has vigorously defended customers’ right to privacy.
At Campaign Monitor, we’ve explicitly named customer success one of our core values. We believe “if our customers kick ass, we will too,” and that’s reflected in how we structure our teams and global offices, build our product, collect feedback, test new approaches and evaluate our business. Everything cascades from the principle of customer success. My role, for example, is to advocate for the customer — to intimately understand their needs and pain points, and to be their voice in every decision we make.
Create Support Careers — Not Just Jobs
Product experts play a prominent role in the Apple experience, both online and in-store. Geniuses, clad in blue shirts and lanyards, have become an embodiment of superior customer experience. The best way to build a customer support team is to hire smart people who wake up every day wanting to help others. They will be the first to interact with customers and they’ll also reinforce the value of customer success internally. While technical expertise is a plus, a positive outlook and friendly demeanor are much stronger predictors of success, which explains why Apple hires for attitude as much as aptitude.
Reinforce the value of customer support by creating a career track for people in this role. Be transparent about what it takes to move up that ladder. Give people the feedback, resources and mentorship they need to progress. At Apple, Genius positions open internally before they’re posted publicly, and it’s common to be promoted from within the company. Your people are an investment in customer success — treat them that way.
Invest Time in Great Service
As a fast-moving company, it’s tempting to try to reduce the time employees spend on any given task, but when it comes to customer support, this is a misstep. Taking the time to thoroughly resolve every issue will boost customer satisfaction, improve retention and avoid future complications. Apple does this really well. Geniuses will engage with you for as long as you need, and if they can’t answer your question, they’ll help you find someone who can.
Look at the metrics your customer support team is tracking, and make sure they’re incentivizing your employees to truly put the customer first and not just check a box. (For example, we’ve chosen two key metrics: initial response time and customer satisfaction rating.) Train your team to prioritize full resolution over fast resolution, and to escalate issues appropriately. Open up lines of communication to other departments, like product and engineering, that can help provide feedback and progress solutions.
Be More than a Service Desk
Adding value as a support organization also involves investing in customers’ success with your product or service. This means answering questions and troubleshooting, but it also means counseling customers on the strategies that will help them grow. With its redesigned stores, Apple has intentionally created space to facilitate training opportunities for small businesses and developers, encouraging customer success and innovation as much as support. Consider how you can make your customers’ lives easier, and their businesses better, not just how you can answer their immediate questions.
I am so disappointed in Apple’s lack of help when my Apple gift card purchased at Safeway was lost in the mail. Apple could tell me that the card had not been used, but they refused to block the card and issue me a new card. They want to blame Safeway and Safeway wants to blame Apple and I am stuck in the middle out $50! I am so unhappy with the Apple support people I have talked to! I’ll never repeat this buying experience!