How Apple Reinvented Customer Service

Regardless of the nature of your ecommerce enterprise, customer service will be a key ingredient in your success. Remarkably though, online stores are at something of a disadvantage in this regard because face-to-face human interaction is not possible. Your customer service team must become adept at helping people remotely, while leaving them feeling they’ve experienced a personal encounter. Apple Computer is among the best in the business when it comes to this. Here’s how Apple reinvented customer service.

The Power of Empathy

There is a difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy starts with expressing an apology, while empathy implies understanding. Apple’s people are specifically directed to avoid apologies for both the business and the technology. Instead, they radiate regret for the customer’s emotional state.  They use what the company refers to as the “Three Fs”—Feel, Felt and Found. “I understand how you’d feel that way. I felt that way too, but then I found I could…” This helps remove emotion from the situation and focuses on the solution. This is particularly powerful when you’re dealing with a customer whose perceptions are being colored by a mistake on their part.

Judicious Word Choices

In the parlance of Apple customer service, devices don’t “crash,” “bomb,” or “hang up.” They “stop responding.” Apple software doesn’t have “bugs,” but rather issues, conditions or situations that require correcting. Applications and hardware aren’t “supported,” they “work with.” “Disasters” are “errors.” Problems aren’t “eliminated,” but “reduced.” In fact, “problems” aren’t problems, they’re situations to be resolved.  Language has a very powerful effect upon the psyche. If you can get your customers to see things in these terms, the severity of the issue shrinks and a solution can be found more readily because emotional involvement is minimized.

The Five Steps of Service

As you’re working out how to sell an ebook online, or furniture, or cosmetics, or whatever, there is much to be emulated from observing how Apple reinvented customer service.

The company’s approach is expressed with an initialism derived from the word “APPLE”:

Approach customers with a personalized, warm welcome.

Probe politely to understand the customer’s needs (ask closed and open-ended questions).

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.

Your customer service representatives (CSRs) can adapt these steps for use on the phone just as easily as Apple’s “Genuises” employ them in brick and mortar stores.  

A  – Train them to smile before they answer the phone and keep the expression on their faces during the greeting aspect of their interaction with the customer. Callers will ”hear” the smile in their voices.

P – They should listen carefully to the customer’s concern; repeat it back and ask follow up questions to determine the most appropriate solution.

P – When a resolution is found, present it confidently and help the customer understand how it will reconcile their concern.

L – Ask if the customer is satisfied with the outcome and listen carefully as they relate their understanding of the decision. Respond to any lingering trepidations.

E – Thank the customer for bringing the concern. Let them know the work you did together will be passed along so others can benefit from the experience. Wish the customer well before ending the call and invite them to return anytime they have questions.

If your CSR team observes how Apple reinvented customer service and adheres to its tenets, you’ll have one of the highest levels of customer loyalty on the ‘Net. Look at Apple; most of its customers wouldn’t dream of using another brand for their digital needs.


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