How to build insanely great customer loyalty

AppleExperienceEDMONTON, AB, Feb. 8, 2013/ Troy Media/ – You don’t have to look very far to find one the best examples of building insanely great customer loyalty. And if the words “insanely great” aren’t enough to let the cat out of the bag, maybe iPhone, iPod and iPad might just give it away.

Yes, it’s Apple! It has a plethora of fans, advocates and customers that not only buy, they also live, eat, sleep and breathe Apple. It’s no wonder Apple’s product announcements become huge events and why people are willing to camp out at all mall overnight like Edmontonian John Winslow or even days in line to be the first to get their new “iDevice”, when they could just order it on-line. Even Steve Wozniak, who co-founded Apple with Steve Jobs, stood in line for hours on more than one occasion to get an iPhone 4s, iPhone 5 and an iPad.

It’s this kindly of loyalty that helps the Apple store remain tops in revenue per square foot. Any businessperson, whether in retail or not, would want to know the secret of their magic; I know. I would.

In The Apple Experience: Secrets to Insanely Great Customer Service, by Carmine Gallo (McGraw Hill, 2012, 234 ppg.), we learn some of those secrets. Gallo interviewed scores of professionals and spent hundreds of hours at Apple retail stores. He takes us on a journey, sharing what he learned about Steve Jobs’ vision for the stores. He tells how the concept came about, what it was modelled after and even the secrets of landing a job at one.

But more importantly, Gallo illustrates how the customer loyalty is directly related to their Apple experience and Apple’s total commitment to its customers; and how businesses, if they wanted, could reinvent themselves and benefit by learning what Apple does.

Gallo’s analysis of the Apple model boils down to three-step action plan, each with a distinct area of focus:

1.Inspire your internal customer, i.e. the employees. Apple hires for attitude, not aptitude. Purple spiked hair, tattoos and leather may prevent you from gaining employment in certain companies, but if you’re the right person, for Apple, those things don’t matter. Gallo says the company trains and cultivates fearless employees who are encouraged to foster a feedback loop and keeping open, transparent and consistent communications with management. Their employees are willing to take initiatives to do what’s right and they’re empowered to take ownership. As a result, they become loyal customers themselves.

2. Serve your external customer. Ensure they have a consistent experience applying the five steps of Apple service: Approach, Probe, Present, Listen and End fondly. They approach, usually making eye contact within 10 seconds. They’ll quickly assess whether they can be of service; they’ll probe politely, asking meaningful questions, and then listen to what the customer has to say first rather than immediately imposing their opinions. Their presentation illustrates what the customer can do with their tool, the benefits and what the possibilities are rather than spew out a series of specifications. They guide customers, allowing them to make to their own conclusions and help unleash their inner genius while being considerate of their time.

3.Set the stage. Apple creates an environment is such is that they are focused on enriching lives. There’s an emphasis on relationship building rather than simply pushing for a sale. They want the customer to be clear in their minds before they buy and thus and Apple Store is never cluttered. They pay attention to detail with a simplistic and clean layout. All equipment is always functional. And when you are ready to buy, the cash/checkout is right there and wireless.

As I read through the book over a period of a few weeks, I put some of Gallo’s observations to the test. My local Apple retail store is very convenient as it’s virtually across the street from my home at Edmonton’s Southgate Centre mall, where I enjoy shopping and walk the mall four to five times a week. No, I did not apply for a job, but I did interact with employees and spent time just observing and, of course, playing. Setting the stage also includes offering a multisensory experience. Apple wants you to touch, play and interact. Ever wonder why displays are always set at 90-degrees? It’s because it forces you to touch it, to interact with it and set it to your personal preference. Clever, isn’t it?

While not everything was exactly as Gallo described each time, it came pretty darned close. I didn’t witness anyone bringing into the store a goat or having pizzas delivered, as Comedian Mark Malkoff did in July 2011 while having his iPhone repaired, but then again, I’m not there 24/7. Besides, this is Edmonton and it would have to be a moose and and a six-pack of Molson Canadian with the pizza.

Reading this book certainly gives an insight as to what Apple does at its stores to keep its customers happy and loyal and there are more topics covered in this 234 page book than mentioned here.

I did feel however that there was void in this book in two areas. First, it focuses on the retail store, with little or no discussion of the on-line or phone experience and that’s part of the entire Apple organization. Second, while Gallo mentions interviews, there does not appear to be any input from Apple itself. I’d be curious as to what the folks at Apple themselves would have to say.

Overall The Apple Experience: Secrets to Insanely Great Customer Serviceis a really good read. It doesn’t matter whether you like Apple or not or whether you are in retail of not, this book contain some real nuggets and some great stories that anyone in business or just curious can learn from and relate to.

Greg Gazin is a Tech Columnist, Small Business and Technology Speaker and Senior Editor at Troy Media. He can be reached at  Gadgetguy.CA on Twitter @gadgetgreg or you can find him on Empire Avenue at(e)GADGET1.

This article is FREE to use on your websites or in your publications. However, Troy Media, with a link to its web site, MUST be credited.

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