Secrets Revealed: How Apple Delivers an Elite Customer Experience

Contributor:  Mike Wittenstein
Posted:  08/30/2011  12:00:00 AM EDT
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Apple makes sure that each positive effect customers perceive front-of-house (FOH) is supported by solid back-of-house (BOH) operations. It’s just like a restaurant where the maitre d’ handles the dining room, wait staff, and experience delivery while the chef takes care of food preparation, kitchen staff, purchasing, etc. Apple integrates Front of House (FOH) and Back of House (BOH) strategically, elegantly, and profitably. (That’s the first secret by the way)

“Hi. Welcome to Apple!”

FOH: Cross an Apple store’s threshold and you’ll get a warm and authentic greeting from a caring expert. It just takes a minute or two for this well-trained, smart, friendly person to learn your intent, take accountability for your experience, and surround you with the right resources. At an Apple store, retail comes to you.

BOH: Apple captures its Customer’s Intent early (with a real person doing the work) to queue up the right resources.

Here are some outcomes you can expect by listening to your customers early and intently:

*You can enhance the opportunity for resolution at first contact, saving time, reducing staff resources expended per visit, and impressing customers.
*Having a ‘smart’ person greet your customers doesn’t add to hourly labor costs, it helps contain them—while improving the quality of First Impression. An experienced team member at the front of the store directs customers properly and sets service delivery expectations accurately. Customers appreciate knowing what’s going to happen next and are easier to handle once it’s their turn.
*The ‘talent weighted to the front‘ strategy also allows you to keep lines shorter. Send the customer with two needs to the shorter line first to reduce perceived wait time.

“You know, you could do the same thing with this model—and it’s less expensive.”

FOH: Try to spend $2,500 on a top-end MacBook Pro laptop or $49 on an entry level iPod Shuffle and you’ll get thought-provoking-and-assumption-testing-yet-friendly questions from your very own consultant. Don’t be surprised if they try to ‘unsell’ you on what you think you want to buy; seeing if a lower-priced or lesser-featured product will be perfect. (Creating positive anticipation is another secret)

You’ll endure the questions well, and leave knowing that the product you selected is the right one for you, based on your needs, style of use, budget, and appetite for learning.

BOH: Make sure a customer’s first purchase is the right purchase. Leave customers in charge. Make friends. (Those are the next secrets.) These three rules seem to be the keys to happiness—and profitability—at Apple.

I believe Apple earns these hard-to-obtain retail operating returns by putting customers first:

*Product returns for the usual ‘didn’t like it’, ‘didn’t understand it’, and ‘it’s not for me’ reasons don’t seem to happen as much because team members have the time to make sure the product is right for the customer during their first store visit.
*Add-on services (training, support, warranty, web services) are bundled more successfully on the initial sale because team members understand what their customers want and how they want it. Their recommendations are stronger and get presented in a more personalized manner.
*Unpaid support and service around product compatibility issues seem to occur less frequently because of the initial attention paid to each customer’s specific situation and their technical environment.
*Employee attrition is extremely low because team members are happy at what they do, because they are empowered to serve, and because they are proud to serve.

“Are you ready? I can get that for you right here...”

FOH: When it’s time to check out, the cash wrap comes to you. Wherever you are in the store, team members use an internet-enabled handheld device to ring up your sale, register your warranties, collect payment, and send you an e-mail receipt. The only time they may need to leave your side is to fetch a shopping bag for you. The result is that you feel well attended to, get more minutes back in your day, and you get bragging rights to a cool experience to share with your friends.

BOH: Apple loses the lines without creating more work for its customers. (Less work for customers is the third secret)

Here’s what makes that idea work:
*Transactions take less time because they are a seamless part of the service experience, not a bolt-on afterthought.
*Sales per square foot increases because valuable retail and interaction space isn’t ‘lost’ to cash wraps and queues.
*Cash control is easier, in part because Apple’s demographic prefers plastic.
*Theft is minimal because every team member is on the floor side-by-side with customers.
*Lost sales decrease dramatically because there really isn’t any self-service in an Apple store. Every customer talks with at least two team members.
*Follow-on marketing and communications opportunities are usually on-point because the Apple customer database is refreshed more frequently. Real-time updates keep the merchandising and research wonks happy and give them something more to do.
*Suggestive selling really works because the suggestions are well-founded; they are based on a more intimate knowledge of each customer’s needs.

Analysis compiled by contributor Mike Wittenstein.  Wittenstein draws on two decades of experience to help companies achieve key business objectives through carefully-crafted customer experience design.  His other blog entries can be found here.

Are you positioning your brand to dazzle customers?  Learn how companies like American Express, Redbox, McDonald's and more are using customer insights to develop elite customer experiences.  Get the latest details on Customer Insight Week!

Mike Wittenstein Contributor:   Mike Wittenstein

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