Apple Store

5 Customer Management Strategies That Set Apple Apart

If you’ve ever walked past an Apple store on the eve of a new product launch, you’ve undoubtedly seen the line-up of devoted Apple fanatics waiting anxiously to get their hands on Apple’s newest smartphone or tablet. Apple has succeeded so well in cultivating a generation of fanatically devoted customers that their revenue model has been compared to that of a subscription service or a utilities provider – except Apple’s customers can’t wait to part with their money. In a recent Bernstein research study, an incredible 90% of iPhone users indicated an intention to purchase another iPhone as their next phone.

While revolutionary product conception, elegant design, and hip, clever marketing are largely credited for Apple’s incredible sales and marketplace dominance over the last half a decade, Apple has also managed to set itself apart from its tech competitors with an unparalleled level of customer management. Apple has consistently scored the highest for customer service in the personal computers category of the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ASCI), has been continually ranked number one in Vocalabs phone support satisfaction surveys, and has also achieved the highest customer satisfaction scores in Consumer Reports questionnaires – amongst a long list of other customer satisfaction accolades.

Apple’s customer management goes well beyond forward facing customer support, it’s about consistently delivering a customer experience that meets and even exceeds expectations. Here are 5 customer management strategies that Apple has used to set itself in a class above its competitors.

Create A Channel For The Perfect Customer Experience

Rather than leave its primary customer interaction to random employees of big box stores, Apple took the risky and expensive step of creating its own chain of retail stores. By creating the Apple store – a store devoted to selling Apple’s own products – Apple created an environment that allowed them to manage every detail of the customer experience and dictate the customer’s interaction with Apple as a brand.

Design An Environment For Customers To “Hang Out”

Not only did Apple’s retail gambit help them build the most valuable brand in the world, the Apple stores themselves are the most profitable retail spaces in the world, generating an average of $5,600 per square foot of retail space.

Despite the incredible profitability of Apple stores, the majority of customers that enter an Apple store don’t actually make any purchases. Instead, teenagers, young professionals, and middle aged parents all congregate to the Apple store to hang out and play around with Apple’s cool new products. Rather than have their staff pressure customers into sales, customers are greeted by smiling, knowledgeable, passionate employees who encourage customers to experience the product. Apple managed to turn shopping for computers and phones into an enjoyable customer experience.

Minimize Customer Service Problems With Tight Quality Control

If you’re going to be one of the world leaders in customer satisfaction, your customer service has to grow from the very core of your company’s business model. No matter how well trained your technical support staff, how friendly your retail staff, no matter how carefully you’ve selected your customer management outsourcing partners, a company that produces shoddy products will have problems with customer loyalty and retention.

While high quality standards are a must for any major consumer electronics company, Apple has taken quality control to a new level. Apple is well known for exercising tight control over every aspect of their business, from the famous veil of secrecy that shrouds upcoming products, to their notorious control over the iOS. This has allowed Apple an unprecedented level of control over the user experience and allowed them to stand in a class of its own when it comes to customer satisfaction.

Apple has taken unprecedented steps to ensure that the user experience for their smart phones and tablets are strictly controlled at a scale never before seen in mainstream operating systems. In their App store, Apple vets every piece of software before it can be installed onto an iOS device. Apple was even willing to neglect support for Flash – a piece of multimedia software required to view more than 75% of all video on the web – in their iOS software. Despite initial user uproar, Apple was willing to make this decision for the sake of maintaining a quality environment for users of their iPhone and iPad products. This unprecedented level of quality control has contributed significantly to the famous user-friendliness of Apple’s products, and ensures that Apple’s support staff and customer management outsourcing partners are rarely flooded with support requests.

View Customer Management as a Long Term Investment

While tech companies traditionally viewed customer management as an expense to be ruthlessly minimized, Apple viewed it as a long term investment in customer loyalty and brand building. Apple has made important customer-oriented decisions such as refusing to move the heart of its North American phone support offshore, and maintaining a hassle-free approach to replacing broken devices. Studies have shown that these decisions have been directly responsible for Apple consistently placing number one in customer service satisfaction studies. These policy decisions all stem from viewing customer management as a long term investment towards building customer loyalty and improving retention.

Have A Laser Targeted Business Focus

Despite being the richest technology company in the world, Apple only makes a handful of products. In fact, nearly every customer waiting outside an Apple store on the eve of a product launch could likely recite Apple’s entire product line by heart. This is no accident.  Steve Jobs understood that the key to great customer management is to be able to answer the question, “What is our business?”. Perhaps more importantly, Jobs understood that this question had to be asked from the perspective of the customer.

Steve Jobs understood that Apple was delivering more than just computers, phones and portable music players, Apple was delivering cool, elegant, reliable products that stood out from the crowd, and thus allowed its users to stand out from the crowd. By focusing only on delivering this experience to customers, Apple was able to build incredible – nearly fanatical – customer loyalty and user satisfaction.

Whether you’re working with an in house customer management team or a customer management outsourcing partner, it’s crucial that everyone from senior managers to customer facing personnel can answer the question: “What is our business to our customer?”. Knowing the answer to this question is the key to developing a customer management strategy that stands apart from the rest.

This is an article from John Szabo. John is a freelance writer, working for Capita Customer Management, the leading provider of customer management outsourcing services in the UK. He is always interested in the latest developments in business and technology.

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