From Forbes: Four Things Every Business Can Learn From Apple

Most companies will never have a share price that rivals Apple’s. And odds are they won’t have the chance to single-handedly revolutionize a string of industries, from computing to music, the way Apple has either. Still, other businesses, from start-ups to the largest public companies, ought to emulate Apple’s approach to customer service. With four simple steps they have made the experience so positive that they have built a fiercely loyal following. Here’s what Apple has done and other companies can too.

1. Learn from other industries. Ideas taken from outside the computer industry are a well known key to Apple’s success. Most famously, the Cuisinart inspired the footprint of the first Mac. But more importantly Apple took its cues from the hospitality industry.

When the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs and retail wizard Ron Johnson were ramping up to open the first Apple stores, they asked around Apple headquarters in Cupertino, “What‘s the best customer experience you’ve ever had?” Invariably, the answer came back that it was at a Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton or other 5-star hotel or resort. So Apple enrolled all its soon-to-be store managers in the hospitality training and leadership program of the Ritz-Carlton.

The most visible innovation to come out of their Ritz-Carlton experience is the Apple Genius Bar, which is directly modeled on a concierge station. Less visible is the way Apple emulated the most important part of a five-star customer service hospitality experience: anticipating needs. Horst Schulze, the legendary founder of Ritz-Carlton, said decades ago that he wanted to fulfill “even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.’’

Apple employees are unrelentingly focused on fulfilling unexpressed wishes. They know that anticipating what customers want is the most direct way to build engaged, likely-to-become-loyal, customers.

2. Stay one step ahead of what customers want. Anticipatory service at the Apple Store can begin for customers even before they arrive in person. If a customer uses the Apple Store app, a revolutionary tool that allows customers to schedule reservations and have employees available for them personally, Apple is able to expect the customer’s arrival at the Apple Store.

This benefits both the customer and the company. For the company, it provides information about the demand level, enabling it to more efficiently deploy staff. Meanwhile, customers know the app eliminates wait times and helps them get undivided attention–something hard to find elsewhere in retail.

Even for customers who don’t use the app to schedule an appointment, customer service starts almost immediately upon entering. You’re greeted promptly and heartily by an Apple representative who has been hired based on having the requisite passion for both computing and customer service excellence.

Apple Store employees often make a point of ensuring that the arriving customer’s name is used without the customer having to reintroduce himself, even by employees who were out of earshot of the initial welcoming of the customer. How does Apple accomplish this? The first Apple employee who greets the customer discreetly passes along descriptive details, such as articles of clothing (‘‘Jim Johnson, plaid shirt, a BlackBerry—yikes!—in side holster’’), allowing other employees along the line to greet the incoming customer by name.

The employees who work in the Apple Store listen to customers, figure out what they have come there for, and personally guide them in the right direction. Incidentally, if customers are there to pilfer, not purchase, this employee will likely pick up on that as well; this kind of pre-screening makes petty theft in Apple Stores less likely.

Asked probing, follow-up questions as they’re moved closer to a purchase, customers feel understood. The relationship may just have started, but it seems solid and sincere, which is a source of comfort, rather than technology-induced intimidation.


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