Apple is a company known for, among other things, attention to details. Steve Jobs had a reputation for being uncompromisingly particular about every part, interface, and material used in his products. When Apple stores first hit the scene in 2001, every element, true to form, was carefully orchestrated, including the IT customer service training that Apple employees underwent.
When Apple’s first retail stores opened, the company faced the challenge of not being a company known for its vast selection of products; at the time, Apple only had four product categories. So what was Apple’s response? Instead of filling the retail space with product density, they created a space that offered an experience, and more importantly, solutions for the customers. Apple invited people to come in, linger, play with their products, and spend as much one-on-one time as needed with their customer service reps (unabashedly named “Genius Bar Experts”). The stores, as we all know, have been a phenomenal success.
Yet it’s more than Apple’s products that make Apple stores so popular and beckoning; it’s truly the customer experience that one finds when stepping into an Apple store. So what’s behind Apple’s IT customer service training philosophy that makes the stores so popular for those seeking not only products, but IT help?
Personality counts as much as technical knowledge
Apple’s IT customer service training manual, which was summarized in a Forbes article, provides insight into the depth and length that Apple goes to when trying to create an IT customer experience that leaves a lasting impression. First and foremost, Apple seeks out employees who have a “magnetic personality.” The IT personnel must, of course, have technical knowledge about the products and services, but Apple deliberately hires employees who can deliver the IT knowledge with a personality that is inviting and warm to the customers. The soft skills, in other words, are just as crucial as technical acumen when building customer loyalty.
IT customer service training requires constant feedback
Apple stresses in its IT customer service training manual that both managers and IT specialists should be at liberty to offer “fearless feedback” to one another. Apple looks for those personalities who are not passive—they want managers to provide honest, deliberate feedback to the IT customer service reps—and, likewise, they want the employees to feel empowered to express their opinions to management. Apple is not seeking out an environment of orders and protocol based on a script. The company encourages its management and IT support staff to have dialogue and constantly find ways to improve the customer experience through open feedback.
Happiness is an important part of Apple’s IT customer service training curriculum
When examining your own IT customer service training method, how often does the concept of happiness play into your instruction? Is the word “happiness” even in your manuals or training process? Often, in customer service, we can get so caught up in concepts like customer loyalty, time-to-resolution, or the holy grail, the customer satisfaction score (CSAT), that we forget the most simple concept of all: Make sure your customers are really happy. In Apple’s training, customer happiness is a key tenet. The stores seek to be an environment where customers are in a happy place, not only to shop, but to learn and get help. It’s simple, but a powerful tool to keep in mind—happiness in the workplace, and delivering happiness to your customers.
Apple IT customer service reps are empowered
When developing their IT customer service training process, Apple borrowed some techniques from The Ritz Carlton playbook, namely, the concept of employee empowerment. Apple doesn't want their employees to work from a script or feel constrained by time and quotas when helping customers—they want their employees to feel empowered to make the right decisions that will help the customer, be able to spend the necessary time required to solve the issue, and be able to think about solutions that will truly be right for the customer (even if it means not pushing a product or going for the sale). Apple employees are not paid on a commission basis, and they are encouraged to take their time helping customers find the right solution.
We can’t all be Apple, but we can borrow from Apple’s IT customer service training methods
For many companies, customer service technical support takes place from call centers and not from retail stores. However, Apple’s IT training for their store reps offers valuable insights into successful concepts that keep Apple customers coming back again and again to the retail stores—not just to browse and play with Apple products—but to find effective solutions for IT issues. The key takeaway we can all learn from Apple is to be aware of all of the details that have an effect on the customer experience; from the personality of the people we hire, all the way to the training our team receives, so that they feel competent and empowered.