How important is the customer experience to Apple?

Remember, back in 2001 when everyone thought Apple was crazy for opening retail stores? Now, almost 18 years later, the world’s most profitable company looks like they will have the last laugh.

What Apple knows well is that they cannot really rest on their success in the past to ensure future success. They need to continue to innovate and keep the customer experience on top of mind if consumers are going to continue to pay a premium for Apple products over increasingly formidable competitors both at home and abroad.

Going into retail was Apple’s initial innovation, which was soon followed by the Genius Bar (technical support), then followed by the open concept layout of their stores. Despite this innovation, for some of us, the Apple store was losing its charm and felt more like we were being herded to various queues, surrounded by crowds, rather than having a positive experience. They needed to do something to continue their retail success

I started thinking more about this when I was recently in the Apple store with my wife to replace her iPhone 6 with an iPhone XS. We went to the Apple store in one location but then ended up following-up at a different Apple store to get the actual phone because it required an ID for the cellular account and I forgot mine at home. I couldn’t help but observe how their flow had changed from my last visit.

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At the first store, we were greeted before we even walked into the store. I must have looked determined, because when I was about 15 feet from the threshold of the store, one of the sales associates was already waving “hi” to me. He asked us what brought us to the store, talked to us for a few minutes to assess our need and then handed us off to another sales associate. The sales associate’s responsibility was to help us with our device of choice. Once we chose the phone, it was retrieved from inventory by a third associate, called a “runner”.

Observing the same dynamic at the second store, I did something my wife only reluctantly tolerates – I began talking to the sales associate about her training and the flow of the stores. Just to note, I have done this an embarrassing number of times, most recently also shopping at Lululemon and comparing notes with a friend who works for Madewell.

According to the sales associate I spoke with, Apple changed their workflow with one objective in mind: keep the customer company throughout the process of making a purchase. Once customers are initially greeted, they are then led into 1 of 2 queues: one for service and one for sales. Customers who are “just browsing” are left on their own. The sorting process prevents associates from wasting their time with customers who were just in the store to wander around.

For service, the queue is straightforward: If you had an appointment, they honored the appointment and hand you off to a technician. If you did not have an appointment, they would schedule one for you, thus moving you to a different queue. The annoying part of the technician queue was that you needed an appointment to be seen, which could be weeks from now. Not super helpful once you have purchased your device.

The sales queue is more complicated than the service queue: Based on your input to the greeter, you are then sorted by product and are directed to meet a sales associate at the correct product display/demo table that houses the product you are interested in purchasing. That person then stays with you for the remainder of your experience at the Apple store. While the sales associate used to also pull the desired item from inventory, Apple has now chosen to hire runners to pull products from inventory, ensuring that the sales associate remains with the customer until the purchase is complete. My math suggests that they had to add staff in this model.

This begs the question: Why? Did Apple have trouble with customers leaving while the associate is going to the back to retrieve the item from inventory? Is this somehow a faster experience for customers? What is this new system about?

My view is that this change is all about making the purchase of a premium product a premium experience. The sales associate now functions both as a concierge and troubleshooter for any issue the customer may have with their new, beautiful, device. The sales associate can also make sure the device is set up correctly, limiting return visits for technical service that is really more about the user’s competency with the device. The associate could also up-charge some subscriptions or accessories, although, truthfully, I have not witnessed them doing that behavior.

Apple, like many other companies, is focused on getting their customer service system right as much as they are in getting their products right. Paying attention to the experience of buying an item or interacting with it in a physical place is crucial.

Apple is not the only example of a company making the purchase of a premium product a premium experience. Recently, my wife and I bought a Peloton (incidentally, we love it). We bought it after walking into a Peloton retail location in our neighborhood. The sales associate, Danny, gave us a memorable experience, answering many questions (we didn’t go to the store with the initial intention of buying anything), and setting up time for us to try the bike, taking a class in a private room in the store with plenty of water and clean towels. We went back three times before we made the purchase, each time with no pressure. Delivery was also easy, featuring complete set up and orientation to the bike, right in our home by a two-member delivery team.

A positive experience with these companies doesn’t happen by accident.

In business, it is critical that we not only pay attention to the product, but the experience people have in accessing that product. In health care, we have a lot to learn from retail regarding how to match clinical (product) excellence with experience excellence.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Businesses design the shopping and customer experience with a similar focus to how they design their products. A lot can be learned from companies, like Apple, who take the retail experience seriously.

Book Review: Be our Guest

Disney is known for excellence in customer experience at their parks, hotels, and on their cruise ships. The company formed The Disney Institute so that other companies could learn from Disney’s approach. While a Disney Institute summit may set you back over $4,000, a lot can still be learned from its considerably more affordable book, Be Our Guest: Perfecting the Art of Customer Service.

beourguestLike Starbucks and The Ritz Carlton, Disney has a well-defined, self-reinforcing, and rigorous system for customer experience. Disney’s “magic” is delivered through its organizational knowledge of guest psychographics combined with demographics (Disney calls it “Guestology”), its simplicity, and the complete integration and alignment of its system. Disney’s core purpose (like a vision statement) is defined as “We create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment for people of all ages everywhere”.

Guestology

Disney invests time, talent, and treasure in its efforts to not only know who are their guests (demographics), but also what their guests expect and want to feel (psychographics). While demographics are important and relatively easy to access through existing systems, psychographics are even more vital to delivering a superior customer experience.

Disney looks at the mental states of its customers by evaluating all of the parts of their experience through 4 dimensions: Needs, wants, stereotypes, and emotions.

Applying this principle to another business, like in an urgent care, for example, this matrix would resemble something like this:

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This analysis is a helpful tool to get a chance to match your service offerings to the perceptions and emotional states of your customers. Disney implements processes to respond to its guests’ emotions throughout their parks and resorts. For example, Disney was the first to entertain guests who are waiting in long lines to help them be less bored and pass the time quicker. Since guest needs, wants, stereotypes, and emotions can change over time, Disney revisits this framework often to match their systems to guest expectations.

The lesson here is that knowing your customer, not just who they are but what they expect and why they expect it, is an essential component of building a superior and lasting customer experience. Another essential component is making sure your system for responding to these factors is actionable by the employees (Disney calls them “cast members”) who are expected to bring it to life. This is accomplished, in part, through simplicity.

Simplicity

Disney’s customer service system has only two components:

  • The Four Quality Standards
    • Safety
    • Courtesy
    • Show
    • Efficiency
  • Three Delivery Systems
    • Cast
    • Setting
    • Process

The four quality standards are listed in order of importance, giving cast members an idea around prioritization. These standards are deployed up and down the organization and are reinforced through constant training and coaching. To build a culture around the two components, Disney uses its own language to refer to customers, employees, and attractions. Further, cast members are given guidelines, not scripts, for them to use to deliver consistent service to guests.

Part of the art of the four quality standards and the three delivery systems are what Disney calls, “Think globally, perform locally”. Doing so allows individual hotels or resorts to integrate their own flavor and uniqueness into Disney’s approach to service delivery. Disney empowers its cast members by soliciting their feedback as well as recognizing and rewarding performance.

Disney’s cast can also then focus on the three delivery systems, including seeing themselves as a part of a larger whole and responsible for themselves as well as the setting and process. That is also where integration and alignment become important.

Integration and Alignment

The Disney Institute defines integration as, “the work of aligning and distributing your service stands over the three delivery systems of cast, setting, and process” (p. 185). Integration is a way to, “build a service organization greater than the sum of its parts” (p. 185).

Disney has built-in accountability to its components of service through its emphasis on integration. It ensures that Disney is staying true to its core purpose by making sure that its cast, setting, and processes are always accounted for in everything they do. It also makes sure that the three delivery systems are developed with the customer needs, wants, stereotypes, and emotions of the guest in mind.

To make Disney’s guest experience consistent and reliable, the leadership is committed to this model and includes new initiatives through the lens of integration to provide context for staff at all times. At other companies, initiatives often appear disparate and unrelated due to the lack of context. By using an integrated model like Disney’s, companies can usually avoid this type of cognitive dissonance.

Conclusion

Healthcare organizations can learn a lot from Disney and many have worked with the Disney Institute or read books like If Disney Ran Your Hospital. In order to successfully follow the ways of Disney, the leadership of the organization needs to agree to an aligned model that they will always use as context.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Learning about your customers, developing a simple system for delivering to their expectations, and creating integration and alignment around those elements is how Disney creates its “Magic”. Doing it in your organization requires the same level of intentionality and discipline.


Be our Guest is available for purchase on Amazon for $24.99 (does not include Prime discount)