6 Lessons on Customer Service from the Four Comma Club

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In August 2018, Apple became the first American public company to reach $1 trillion market value. The company enjoyed their solo stay at the top until a month later in September, when Amazon joined in. And while Amazon’s stock did quickly roll back to below a trillion in total, it has become evident that businesses can reach this feat, and that the race to the trillion continues.

However remarkable this may be for the American-owned corporations, it’s not an impossible achievement to accomplish, as companies founded in other countries have done it before. But it’s important to note that the US tech sector has been enjoying growth in the global stock market over the last few years, and this might have contributed to the trillion-dollar feat.

Financial commentators and investors have expected this to happen, seeing that technology share prices ended strong in 2017 and are continually booming this 2018. The massive increase in valuations also came as a result of the global stock markets reaching record highs in 2017, the US tax cuts that share prices benefitted from, and the continued quantitative easing from central banks.

But perhaps, there’s one factor that is more important and has contributed most to the success of Apple and Amazon—both understand and take into consideration the needs of their customers first.

Also: 4 Customer-Oriented CEOs and What We Can Learn from Them

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Apple: Tech Meets 5-Star Hotel Service

It was Steve Jobs who pioneered the idea that technology isn’t boring or complicated, but fun and simple, and Apple products are evidence of this philosophy. Their computers, mobile gadgets, wearables, and internet devices have gained a following worldwide not just because it’s easy to use, but also because of how it takes into consideration the customers’ experience.

For instance, the first iMac design included a carrying handle not mainly for convenience but because Apple believed that being able to carry it everywhere would better connect its user to the device.

Not just in terms of design, but also in feasibility and packaging, Apple obsesses over the smallest of details and studies the customer journey exhaustively, making sure that it will provide the best possible experience. It’s safe to say that aside from innovation, a bulk of their trillion-dollar stocks is all thanks to buyers who want the Apple Experience.

And with that, let’s take a look at other ways Apple makes their customer service solutions better.

Lesson #1: The Ritz-Carlton level of service

Luxury hotel Ritz-Carlton can be considered as the gold standard of customer service, and Apple adopts their ways in their recruitment and training. The techniques that Apple assumed include the following.

  • Greet guests with a warm welcome and always be ready to assist them. A warm greeting, as well as addressing them by their name, make them feel valued and happy.
  • Own the relationship.  Every staff in the Apple Store, much like in Ritz-Carlton, need to make sure that all guests have an excellent experience by helping them. It’s as simple as directing them to another staff who can help with their need if the initial attending staff cannot do so. They should also check back and see if the customer’s concerns were addressed.
  • Reset internal clocks. This refers to the waiting time and how employees can reset it by simply greeting the customer, reminding them of the waiting time, other short interactions with them, and by allowing them to use the distractions laid out on them, such as Apple products available to access.
  • Anticipate their unexpressed needs. Apple employees are trained to listen for and fulfil the guests’ unresolved issues, concerns, or wishes, also known as anticipatory customer service model. This can be done as early as scheduling the visit at the physical store through the App Store to having the checkout come to you when you’re ready to pay for the services.
  • Much like in the beginning, Apple staff must end the customer’s journey with a fond farewell, with an invitation to return to the store. Make the guests feel special before they leave and give them something to anticipate for when they return.

Lesson #2: Feel, Felt, Found

photo of Apple's Genius Training Student Workbook
Image Source: Gizmodo

Apple reportedly has a Genius Training Student Workbook as a manual for their new hires. Supposedly, the word “empathy” was used a lot on the manual, outlined by the 3 F’s.

  • Empathise with how the customer feels in that moment, and let them know that you understand them.
  • Explain that you once felt that way before, too.
  • Tell them how you found that your concern was actually incorrect.

These steps can make a guest feel confident enough to make their own decision, but with Apple still trying to control what the decision will be. This technique may feel like Apple trying to find backdoors into the customer’s mind, but Jobs firmly believed that it is a great service and a memorable customer experience that resulted in lasting customer relationships.

Lesson #3: Empower employees

Apple believes that inspiring their customers entails encouraging their employees first. The company seriously values their employees and believes that they can make a difference.

The former head of retail Ron Johnson said that “The most important component to the Apple experience is that the staff isn’t focused on selling stuff, but on building relationships and trying to make people’s lives better.” They cultivate trust and autonomy internally, so they can offer the same to the customers.

Amazon: Anything can be Exciting

It seems that everything can be bought off of Amazon, so it’s no surprise that the company captures 49 cents of every ecommerce dollar in the US. Like Apple, Amazon takes something and introduces an exciting way to do it.

As the New York Times pointed out, the company started as a new, exciting way to buy books when the internet was still less developed. Then, they offered new, exciting ways to read books via the Kindle, and to publish with CreateSpace.

Today, we have new, exciting ways to power the internet through Amazon Web Services, to get deliveries via the Amazon Prime, and to power up your home with Alexa.

At the heart of these exciting innovations is the company’s desire to serve the needs of their customers. Founder Jeff Bezos built Amazon based on that philosophy, and it helped make the company one of the best when it comes to overall customer satisfaction.

Bezos is known for being very particular when it comes to customer service that he reportedly sat through an almost 5-minute wait to get through a customer support phone call, as he wanted to find out and understand what their customers were going through, especially during the holiday rush.

Lesson #4: The Day One Philosophy

Day 1 is the name of a building in the Amazon compound, named as such to remind the CEO of his work philosophy, that every day is Day 1—the first day of operation of the company.

In Day 1, everything is still new; the company still has a positive outlook in terms of reaching its goals. Bezos wants to preserve that state that’s why he treats every day at Amazon as if it’s still Day 1. He dreads seeing Day 2, as it can bring “stasis, irrelevance, excruciating and painful decline, and even death”.

So how does Amazon maintain their Day 1 outlook?

  • Focus on results and not process. Don’t let following the process rather than running after results and growth become the desired outcome.
  • Leverage high-velocity decision making. Have the start-up attitude of making decisions quickly. At Amazon, the management does a “disagree and commit” system, wherein everyone will try to agree on a choice. When one or more employees disagree, they will still commit to working toward the same goal.
  • Embrace external trends. Bezos believes that “the world can push you into Day 2 if you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly.” This has allowed him to take advantage of the tech innovations in the industry, including delivery drones and the Amazon Go convenience store, which uses machine vision instead of human cashiers at checkout lines.
  • Resist proxies. According to Bezos, “Customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied… even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight will drive you to invent.” It’s important to hear out actual customers and not rely on market research and surveys, especially when you’re inventing and designing products.

Lesson #5: Obsessive customer focus

As already mentioned, Amazon is very customer-centric, which is also reflective of the Day 1 attitude. This is evident throughout their process and policies, such as their return policy which states that a package will be replaced if it gets lost in the mail, or in their dedicated help page where they offer different ways to get in touch with customer support in case of an issue.

screenshot of Amazon help page
Amazon thinks ahead by offering several options on how users can get in touch with their customer support staff.

Much like Apple’s anticipatory customer service model, innovation for Amazon is making sure that your products and services are providing people what they want even before they ask for it. This means that the company truly understands them and their needs.

Being customer-focused also means having a data-driven approach on making company-wide decisions based upon the success and failures of their customer experience. Bezos believes that what’s best for the customer is also what’s best for the company.

Here are other ways Amazon take their customers’ considerations:

  • The Empty Chair: Reportedly, in many Amazon meetings, Bezos will put an empty chair to signify their customers, or what he calls “The Most Important Person in the Room”. The decisions that will come out of the meeting must satisfy the occupant of that chair.
  • Respect today’s customer: Bezos firmly understands today’s customer, being a pioneer in ecommerce. Amazon knows that today’s customers are listening to fellow customers, doing their research, and praising or critiquing on social media. That is why the company knows how to handle and respond to complaints and negative stories about them.

Lesson #6: Acknowledge your mistakes and apologise sincerely

Amazon has had their share of both positive and negative press. For instance, in 2009, the company was criticised by Kindle users after digital copies of the books 1984 and Animal Farm were remotely deleted from their devices, alleging that the company is monitoring and forbidding users from reading these titles.

When Amazon’s initial boilerplate apology fell on deaf ears, and they started losing customers, Bezos stepped up and made an informal and heartfelt apology, owning up to the mistake and saying, “We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.”

No one likes admitting to their mistake, but if you don’t want to lose loyal customers, it’s something that you must do. Embarrassing and frustrating as it may be, saying sorry shows that you genuinely care about the needs of the customer.

The Customer is at the Core of Apple and Amazon’s Driving Force

Both Apple and Amazon’s products can be described as groundbreaking—Apple paved the way for the smartphone era, while Amazon pushed the boundaries of what a humble ecommerce corporation can create.  As a result, people—especially consumers—saw and experienced how their products and services improved their lives. Needs were addressed even before they were expressed.

And while there may be small differences in the way the two companies handle customer service—Apple going the luxury route while utilising psychological measures and Amazon appealing to the emotional side of the market by acknowledging the company’s human tendency to err, the core and end goal remain the same: understanding the customers and putting their needs first.

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