Apple, Apple, Apple. It seems that every time there's a success to report about U.S. business these days it's connected to that Apple (AAPL) corporation. Will we ever get tired of hearing about all the ways that Apple is "winning?"
One of the most significant successes for Apple is found in the recent report from market research group NPD which found that 60% of Apple owners said they were more likely to make another Apple purchase because of their positive experience with Apple's in-store technical support. Also 31% of customers who had interacted with the Apple Store Genius Bar said they had a more positive view of Apple afterwards.
In the world of technical support these are epic numbers. Actually these customer satisfaction-to-loyalty results should be awe-inspiring to any company in any industry. To have a customer walk in with a challenge and walk away with loving feelings of loyalty is the dream scenario for any technical support team, any retailer, or any company in any industry, for that matter.
This Apple customer service success report came on the same day that geeky gadget website Gizmodo published portions of the Apple Genius Training Student Workbook on its website. When some people looked at that Apple employee training manual they saw psychological tricks, smooth seduction, and creepy mind games. When I look at it I see clear, focused customer service training that creates a consistent, Apple-branded technical support experience. Criticize all you want, but the customer loyalty results that Apple's exhaustive training creates are beyond reproach.
I had the opportunity to interact this past week with some extremely personable, willing, helpful, and friendly technical support team members. Seemingly this tecchie team had read and were embracing the Apple Genius Bar training manual wholeheartedly or perhaps they had written it. I can't imagine anyone ever having a complaint about the attitude of a member of this team.
If I was to rate my overall technical support experience with this company it would be somewhere between "Horrible" and "OMG-Kill-Me-Now." What? But they were so friendly! How could that be?
Tecchie #1 said he could make a requested change and that it would be quick and easy. The change didn't happen, however, and I was forced to wait through the weekend to follow up. Monday morning, Tecchie #2 seemingly made the change, but the way he did it caused other things to glitch out. Tecchie #3 - #8 over the next two days each took an action based on the actions of the team members before them, with each action causing a new set of problems. Five days later I provided the supervisor with a detailed e-mail about how to find the root cause of the problem. After following my instructions he did. Now on Day #6 we are undoing everything that's been done so that the supervisor can start from the beginning and personally make the "quick and easy" change initially requested.
Each of the 9 people that I dealt with couldn't have been more polite, personable, and patient with my growing frustration. But customer service isn't just about being nice. From a customer's perspective, customer service is about getting satisfaction. In sharp contrast to what a majority of Apple Genius Bar customers are reportedly receiving, this was not a warm fuzzy customer loyalty-building experience for me.
The fault for the service failure here does not lie with the employees, in my opinion. They are victims of a system that doesn't support the people who are delivering the service. The comedy of errors I experienced was largely due to the fact that I was unable to follow up with the same person twice. They couldn't receive incoming calls directly and I couldn't receive an outgoing call from them. That is a setup for customer service failure.
The supervisor revealed the second major fault in the company's customer service system when he said, "I'm really the only one here who knows about this. My guys really don't have training in this area." This is a piece of information that would have been nice to know eight people and six days ago. I forwarded the link to the leaked Apple training manual to the supervisor.
To me, undertraining a technical support team is like pulling eight used car salesmen into the service department, handing each a wrench, and telling them to do the best they can to fix the car that just pulled in. And by the way, even if you don't know what they're doing, do it willingly, and make sure to be nice to the customer while you try to figure things out. How could a company not know that this is a bad customer service strategy? It's mind boggling, really.
And speaking of mind-boggling customer service decisions, did you hear that Groupon recently decided to "experiment" with moving some of its customer service duties to India? I could not think of a better way to destroy customer trust, weaken a customer base, and further erode stock prices than that.
My apologies for making a broad generalization about the quality of customer service received offshore, but whenever one of my customer service calls obviously lands in an international call center, my first question is always "What time does the U.S. call center take over?" In an economic environment where every company is competing with every other company for tight-fisted consumer dollars, you just can't afford to alienate customers with bad service. Does Groupon really think the average customer service experience is going to be improved with this decision?
I once had a bad customer service experience with an undertrained Dillard's (DDS) associate with a bad attitude sometime in the 1990's. It had something to do with a piece of clothing I was returning, her lack of training with the return process, and her less-than-nice attitude towards me. Today I'm not 100% positive what the details were. But I am 100% positive that two decades later I have not purchased anything from a Dillard's store since. Nothing. Not a piece of clothing, a lipstick, a necklace, a gift, or a pair of socks. I don't look at the Dillard's store fliers, a Dillard's Black Friday ad, or follow a link to the Dillard's website. Nothing. I don't have to remember what happened to remember that it was a loyalty busting moment. The end.
Although I've never seen a study about the average number of times a relationship-ending experience occurs between a customer and a retail brand each day, I can say with certainty that it's more than once. And every time it happens, it's one time too many. That should be business common sense.
But it's not just that businesses can't afford to piss customers off every day, it's that businesses can't afford to ignore the missed loyalty-building opportunities that are presented to them every day. That's what Apple gets. Every interaction with the Genius Bar is an opportunity to improve customer loyalty. And the ultimate measure of success for any customer interaction should be what effect it had on customer loyalty. If customer loyalty isn't enhanced, the customer interaction should be deemed a failure, or at least inadequate.
One last bit of important news about customer satisfaction and customer loyalty came from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) in August. In case you missed it, this recent ACSI report on the auto industry revealed that overall customer satisfaction with automakers is currently at an all time high. The study goes on to state that the reason customers are so satisfied is because they perceive that the autos they are buying these days are better quality with improved features.
After reviewing the results of this latest auto industry report, ACSI founder Claes Fornell concluded, "An ongoing commitment to quality seems like a workable formula for sustaining both customer satisfaction and sales growth."
A link between high quality products, customer satisfaction, and sales success... hmmm... radical!