What does it mean to provide extraordinary customer service? Well, if you study the brands that do it well such as Disney, Four Seasons, Zappos, FedEx, Nordstrom, Apple, and others, you will discover that it all comes down to communication: how you talk to your employees and how they, in turn, talk to your customers. In fact, Apple did not invent many of its customer service principles. Steve Jobs has acknowledged that the Apple Store was inspired by the Four Seasons.
But Apple has refined and improved upon the principles it learned from others. Apple has, in turn, inspired many brands that touch your life. AT&T made changes in its retail store experience with input from Steve Jobs himself. Disney, Nike, T-Mobile, Tesla, J.C. Penney, and other brands have done the same. You can, too.
- Find inspiration outside your industry. Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is connecting things.” He meant that creativity comes from connecting ideas from different fields and applying those ideas to your company.
- Ask meaningful questions. Steve Jobs asked, “What would the Four Seasons of retail look like?” That’s an intriguing question that sparks creative answers.
- Craft a vision statement. Remember, a vision is not a mission statement. A mission statement is about “us”; a vision is about “them.” What are you going to do for your customers? Make sure your vision is bold, specific, concise, and consistently communicated.
Hire for Smiles
- Visit an Apple store and watch the employees. Take note of their personalities, watch the way they behave and interact with each other and the customers. Visit Disneyland or Disney World with kids. Take note of the smiles you see on the faces of the staff and how they interact with you, the children, and with each other.
- Ask yourself, “What attitudes define our best performers?” Make an effort to build a staff of people whose attitudes reflect the culture you’re trying to build. Avoid culture by default. Design a culture instead.
- Try asking the question of job candidates, “Are you nice?” The way they answer the question—and how long it takes them to come up with an example—might tell you everything you need to know.
Cultivate Fearless Employees
- Go toe-to-toe with Jobs. When evaluating potential talent, ask yourself, “Would this person have gone toe-to-toe with Steve Jobs, or would he or she have been mowed over?”
- Provide Ritz-Carlton customer service. If your job candidate passes the first question, ask yourself a second, “Is this person capable of providing Ritz-Carlton level customer service with the right training?”
- Encourage team interaction. Don’t hire anyone without seeing how the person interacts with others. Is the person a know-it-all, or does he or she treat others with respect and even ask for help from time to time?
Foster a Feedback Loop
- Create daily opportunities for feedback between you and your team. Check your egos at the door. Everyone must feel comfortable and confident giving and taking feedback. Ask them to be “authentic,” and they might surprise you with their input.
- Design opportunities to solicit feedback from your customers after the transaction takes place. Apple doesn’t ask for feedback on the sales floor. This can be as simple as an e-mail survey or a brief phone call. Above all, the most important question to ask is, “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely is it that you will recommend our product/service/company?”
- Learn more about the importance of feedback and the NPS customer satisfaction score. Read The Ultimate Question by Fred Reichheld.
- Follow the three steps to a happier customer. Train your employees to follow the three steps of effective multitasking: address, assess, and assign.
- Designate role models. If you already have a person on your staff who is a great multitasker, you have a team leader whom other staff can observe during customer interactions as part of their training.
- Greet within ten seconds. Regardless of how many customers are in your store or location, do not let more than ten seconds go by before acknowledging the presence of a new customer who walks in. Brands that stand out in customer service have learned that customers want to be acknowledged within ten seconds of entering a store, even if they cannot be served right away.
Empower Your Employees
- Foster empowerment. What can you do to give your employees more autonomy, authority, and flexibility when it comes to serving the customer? Even small measures of empowerment will lead to huge returns in employee engagement and customer satisfaction.
- Share your own wow moments. Steal a page from The Ritz-Carlton playbook and start sharing wow stories of employees who exceeded customer expectations.
- Offer genuine praise. Praise your employees each and every day. Make your positive comments as public as possible.
Follow Apple’s Five Steps of Service
- Study the five steps of service. All employees at Apple know the steps of service as the acronym APPLE:
- Approach customers with a personalized, warm welcome.
- Probe politely to understand all the customer’s needs.
- Present a solution for the customer to take home today.
- Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns.
- End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.
These five steps are taught to every Apple Retail Store employee. The steps are also practiced by other brands in a variety of industries as the foundation to delivering exceptional experiences.
- Study the five steps of service.
- Train your staff to follow the five steps. If you manage staff, hold training sessions on the five steps of service. Develop mock scenarios where employees play the roles of the customer and the salesperson. Show them what the five steps really look and sound like. Send them the list, but don’t forget to practice and model the behavior, too.
- Conduct your own research. Start observing the difference for yourself. Walk into an Apple, LEGO, or AT&T retail store, and watch the interactions. See how those interactions compare to other stores that do not follow the model.
Reset Your Customer’s Internal Clock
- Review all of your customer touchpoints. Are you and your staff greeting customers warmly? Are you making them feel as though they have entered an organized, helpful environment? Are you letting them know how long it will take to address their needs or answer questions?
- Train your staff to reset internal clocks. If you manage a business of any type with a physical location or phone support, every person on your team must be coached in the five steps and in the proper way to reset their customers’ perception of time.
- Provide training consistently. Apple managers are providing constant feedback or praise for their staff. AT&T managers hold coaching sessions once a week where they review the greeting and even conduct role-playing exercises to make sure every employee is proficient at providing a superior customer experience.
Sell the Benefit
- Always ask the question, “Why should I care?” Communicate the benefits behind your product by answering the following question: Why should my customers care? Remember, it’s not about you: it’s about them.
- Communicate consistently. Include the answer to the question you just answered in all of your marketing collateral, websites, advertisements, and presentations.
- Train everyone to sell the benefit. Finally, make sure each and every employee is trained to focus on the customers’ needs and to clearly articulate the benefits behind each of your core products or services.
Unleash Your Customer’s Inner Genius
- Teach people about products. Develop educational or instructional material to help your customers understand your products. Create an immersive experience, stimulating multiple senses. Customers should be able to see the product, hear about it, and touch it, if possible.
- Offer classes or tutorials. Think about offering classes or tutorials in person or online to empower your customers and to teach them something new.
- Create culture-focused job descriptions. Design a customer-focused culture starting in the job description. Clearly describe the type of person you’re looking for, preferably someone who is committed to helping people live their best lives.
Create Wow Moments
- Create wow moments. Think about creating wow moments around your products or services. Apple employees know how to create such memorable moments for each product category. Customize the experience by using examples and stories relevant to the customer.
- Obey the ten-minute rule. Provide a wow moment in the first ten minutes of a conversation. Research has shown that people “tune out” of a conversation after approximately ten minutes. Hook them back into the conversation.
- Mimic the presentation stage. Consider the sales floor as a stage with the salesperson as the presenter and the customer as the audience. Train your staff to see themselves as presenters delivering memorable and engaging moments that leave their audiences speechless.
Rehearse the Script
- Script a story. Make sure that every product, service, or program has a story—narrative—that has been scripted for it. The script must use clear, simple language that is repeatable and memorable.
- Create a message map. Make a message map for the product, service, or company. You can use a small team of people to help you craft it, but be careful about circulating the message map among too many people to get their buy-in. The goal is to have just the right amount of content that can fit easily on one page. Too many points defeat the purpose.
- Share the message map. Circulate the message map, and coach the team to repeat the key messages. Everyone in a position to discuss the product should have at least three or four key messages ready to deliver and a story or example to accompany each message. If they don’t get to each message in every conversation, that’s OK. It’s more important that they are armed with the story when they need it.
Eliminate the Clutter
- Unclutter the retail space. The last ten years of research have confirmed that open spaces and uncluttered environments make customers feel more relaxed and more receptive to making purchases. Does your store pass the smudge test?
- Apply the open space philosophy to your website and marketing material. Eliminate clutter on your site. Be sparing in the use of content. Study the Apple website (www.apple.com). According to Dr. A. K. Pradeep, the Apple site is the best example of blending content and space to appeal to the buying brain.
- Visit and take note. Visit Apple stores, AT&T retail stores, Tesla Motors, and the new Microsoft stores for design inspiration
Pay Attention to Design Details
- Review every detail of your customer experience, including every aspect of design. Consider it from your customer’s view: website, packaging, physical design. Are all the design elements of your “location” (physical and virtual) telling the brand story that you want to convey?
- Develop a consistent experience. Train yourself and your staff to make every experience memorable for each and every customer and from one day to the next by minding the details and not slacking off.
- Strive for what Jobs called “Museum of Modern Art quality.” What people don’t see is often what matters the most if only because it forces you to pay attention to design throughout the entire customer experience.
Design Multisensory Experiences
- Start from scratch. Try this exercise to kick-start some creative ideas. Ask yourself, “How do we want our customers to feel when they experience our brand?” The answer will be much different than asking the standard question, “How are we going to grow our sales by x percent next year?” Starting from scratch means asking new questions.
- Create multisensory experiences for your clients or customers. Even if you do not own a retail establishment, you can create such moments by adding video and stories to your website or reimagining how you deliver presentations. Masterful communicators go beyond the slides to inspire their audiences through auditory, visual, and kinesthetic means.
- Bombard the brain with new experiences. Visit a Lush store to see how the staff creates multisensory events where customers can physically experience its soap and bath products in-store. Plan a trip to Las Vegas and visit one of the newest hotels, The Cosmopolitan. The hotel has created one of the most unique experiences on “The Strip” with images, lights, and space unlike anything you’ve ever seen in a hotel. You don’t have $3 billion to replicate the experience back home, but you’ll be inspired to think differently about the experience you do provide.