Hall of Fame: How Folks At Apple Support Turned Me Into An Apple Advocate!

An Apple Customer Becomes an Advocate Due to Apple Support

apple_support_twitter_logo_smallUntil recently I was merely a customer of Apple. That changed over the last two weeks. How so? I ran into a problem and had to reach out to Apple Support to get that problem addressed.  That problem was addressed in a way that leaves me with a delightful experience – one that calls forth a smile and gratitude.

What Calls Forth Customer Loyalty / Advocacy?

Before, I tell you about my experience I want to address the matter of customer loyalty. How do you turn a mere customer into a loyal customer and advocate?  I don’t know as I suspect that it depends on the concrete (flesh and blood) customer.  I can tell you how the folks at Apple Support turned me into a loyal customer and advocate:

  1. You make it easy for the customer to get through to you when that customer needs you;
  2. You staff the front line with human beings (not bots) who embody the human touch and are technically competent;
  3. You put in policies-practices-tools that encourage/enable your people to sit side by side with your customers and together address the matters that matter to your customer;
  4. You make sure that the customer feels that you have made his problem (job to be done) yours and that s/he is safe in your hands;
  5. You don’t leave your customer’s side until you have gotten him/her to his/her desired destination – which is almost always a desired outcome; and
  6. You convey the impression that it has been a pleasure helping the customer in a way that the customer gets (at an experiential level) your pleasure

How The Folks At Apple Support Turned Me Into An Advocate

I own two Apple products: MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air.  My daughter is the one who is the heavy user of the MacBook Air and so I hadn’t used it for months. When I did use it I noticed that there was an opportunity to update the operating system to the latest version. So I went for it.  Something went wrong and the MacBook Air ‘died’.

When my daughter found out she was not at all happy. Why? Because she had important homework on it. Homework that had to be handed in the following day. Suddenly, it became both important and urgent to get the MacBook Air working again. This is when I noticed fear taking root. Why so? Because I was thinking something like this: “The MacBook is 5 years old. Will Apple help me?  I don’t see any reason why Apple should help me out with a 5 year old product. There is no warranty in place…”

I googled “Apple Support” and after two clicks ended up here: Contact – Apple Support.  What is the statement / promise Apple makes? “We’re here to help”. Is it an empty promise? No.  Look at the webpage! It invites you the customer to “Talk to us” – that is exactly what I did.

Almost immediately I found myself listening to a friendly male voice. He helped me to find the serial number. With the serial number he knew it was a 2012 MacBook Air. Then he told me how to reset it.  I initiated the process and noted that that computer was telling me it was going to take hours downloading operating system over the internet. So I thanked the young man and told him I was ok to take this forward. The Apple Support chap told me that he had logged my case, ‘gave’ me the case number, and asked me to quote that case number just in case I needed to call back.  He showed up as pleasant, knowledgeable, and helpful.  I felt gratitude.

A day later, I found myself on the phone to Apple Support. Why? The laptop had been downloading software for hours and then just hung up when it got to “40% remaining”.  This time I found myself talking with Danae. She detected my concern (given that the laptop had my daughters homework) and responded beautifully: she told me that it was not an issue and that she would help me to get the MacBook Air working. It was the tone of her voice – a combination of human warmth, confidence in what she was asserting, and her commitment to her promise.

Then she set about keeping her promise.  Whilst she was helping me I asked about her and learned that she is Greek. We talked a little about Greece given that I had been reading Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis (ex Finance Minister of Greece), and have positive experience of Greek people. With the reset process in operation again I noticed that the laptop was telling me it was going to take hours. I told Danae of this. It is her response that floored me. Why? She made it plain that she was by my side, continued  to own the problem, and would see it through to the end.  She followed up the verbal promise with this email (I have replaced numbers with *):

Case Number: ********
Dear Mazafer,

Thank you for contacting Apple !

It was pleasure working with you, I will take you in the right path to get your issue resolved!

Should you need anything further regarding this issue, please do not hesitate to contact me personally.

Looking forward to hear from you!

t: 00800 ******* ext.****
I will be in the office this week :
Sunday-Thursday 8.00.-16.00 UK time

Kind Regards,
Danae Panagopoulou
Apple Distribution International

This time the download process completed to the end. The latest operating system was installed and the MacBook Air was operational. A fact that was a great relief to me and a delight to my daughter.  I wrote back to Danae:

Hello Danae

I so enjoyed talking with you this morning – feel blessed that our paths crossed today.

Thank you for being a beautiful person – in a world that shows up an mostly inhuman it is soul filling to come across such as you.

I want you to know that you have helped me to fix my problem.

The MacBook Air is up and running and I know that this will please my 17 year old daughter who is never far from it.  She will especially welcome getting here homework back – so that she does not need to redo it!

I shall be writing about the GREAT folks at Apple Support and especially you.  Keep a tab on this blog here:  www.thecustomerblog.co.uk

How to end?  I wish you and your loved ones the very best. Also, is it possible to keep in touch perhaps through LinkedIn?

This is the reply I received:

Case Number: ***********
Hello Maziqbal,
Thank you for contacting Apple and for replying to my email (much appreciated)!
Good news, excellent!
I am very happy the issue is resolved and that you are more than satisfied with our support!
I really wanted to resolve this issue for you as much as you did.
Please whatever you will need from now and on just drop me an email and I will contact
you as soon as I will be available.
I wish you all the best!
Looking forward to hear from you!

t: 00800 ******* ext.**********
I will be in the office this week :
Sunday-Thursday 8.00.-16.00 UK time

Kind Regards,
Danae Panagopoulou
Apple Distribution International

Richard Shapiro in The Welcomer’s Edge stresses the critical importance of Welcomers – customers, to the business, by cultivating loyalty through genuine heartfelt service.  I am clear that Danae is a Welcomer!

I am also clear that the folks in leadership positions are the ones that create the context/space for Welcomers like Danae to show up as Welcomers. Great support does not happen by accident.  Great support flows from a certain kind of customer philosophy: take care of your customers and your customers will take care of you. This kind of philosophy requires a long term orientation and faith in the decency of human beings.  Few, of those that I have encountered, in leadership positions embody this orientation, this faith.

So I offer my thanks and gratitude to the folks at Apple – those in Apple Support, and those who in leadership positions who enable Apple Support to provide great support.

I dedicate this conversation to Danae Panagopoulou – I am grateful that she exists for it makes this world that much more beautiful with her in it.

Enough for today.  I thank you for your listening and wish you the very best. Until the next time….

Maz Signature

The customer’s experience: tales of disappointment and delight

Clarion Hotel Cork: in a services business the personal touch matters and it is not present at this hotel

I stayed at the Clarion Hotel in Cork for two nights.  At the functional level almost everything worked: the check-in was reasonably quick, my request to change room was granted without question/argument, the room was spacious, comfortable, had the right furniture for a business hotel, and everything was clean.  Yet, I am unlikely to go back.  Why?

Why is it that so many businesses show up as robotic?  The Clarion Hotel showed up for me as an emotional void.  No employee of the hotel connected with me emotionally and I did not connect with anyone either.  Put more precisely, not a single employee reached out to make an emotionally connection.  The employees showed up as competent automatons: robots with fake smiles going through routines they have gone through hundreds if not thousands of times.

How is it that a business whose central concern should be providing a good nights sleep does not take care of the details that contribute to that mission?  The sheets were too small for the size of the bed.  I tried and tried and I could not tuck in the sheet on both sides.  So what happened?  The sheet slid as I moved  in the bed and that detracted from the quality of my sleep and my sleeping experience.  Is that the best that is on offer from one of the most expensive hotels in Cork?  I wonder if anyone from the hotel has actually slept in that hotel?

Kathleens Country House:  how to connect with your customers, create a “wow” experience and get rewarded for it

I was welcomed by a Welcomer even before I entered into Kathleens Country House to register/check-in.   A smartly dressed, well spoken, woman greeted me with a beautiful big smile and told me that she had been expecting me and knew who I was.  And that was in the car park whilst I was emptying my luggage!  Before I even entered the guest house I felt that I had made a great choice, that the reviews I had read on TripAdvisor were spot on.

Check-in was completed instantly – yes instantly.  Then this lady asked me about my plans and I told her.  She listened and responded to each of my points providing helpful information. Then she went further.  She pointed out without pointing out explicitly that my plans for the next day were misconceived – I simply did not have enough time to do what I was proposing to do.  And she made two suggestions (and marked them on a map) based on what she had learned about me.  They turned out to be excellent suggestions.

Whilst a welcome is great and proactive information and advice is great, it is not enough.  The core service I hired Kathleens country house to do was to provide me with a quiet, clean, spacious room that had the amenities I needed.  That is what I got.  The room was just right.  The bed was just right and I did not have to try to tuck in a bed sheet that was too small.  The bathroom was just right.  And the breakfast was just right: the food, the service, the young ladies serving me, the guests, how Kathleen introduced me to the other guest who were having breakfast……

Whenever I encountered this lady I felt in the presence of someone who is fully alive, totally present and who ‘loves being of service’ to her guests, her customers.  So much so that the thought occurred to me that if I could bottle the essence of this lady and clone it then I would transform the world of service centred business.  Who is this lady?  The proprietor:  Kathleen.

Before I left I told Kathleen that she is the most welcoming person I had encountered in Ireland.  And that I would write a review on TripAdvisor.  Which is exactly what I did when I got home.  Why?  Because Kathleen does more than get customers, she creates fans.  It is fans and only fans that end up as advocates.   This is the least that I can do for a ‘friend’, yes a friend:  who else do you end up sharing details of your life – your work, your wife, your children, where you were born, what kind of holidays you like.….  Now compare this with my experience at the Clarion where I doubt if anyone even knew my name

Red Lion Pub: don’t ask a question if you are not in a position to act on the answer

It is 6:30 and my flight doesn’t depart until 20:15, so I decide to order a meal at the Red Lion pub at Cork Airport. After ten minutes or so my meal arrives: it is well presented and the ‘waiter’ pleasant.  It is a meal that I have eaten here before as I have been shuttling to/from Cork since October 2011.  Usually the quality of the food is good, this time it is not.

The waiter comes over and asks “How was your meal?”  I tell him that the food was not to the usual standard, it was poor, it seemed to be three days old.  The waiter is surprised, he clearly did not expect this answer and struggles to respond.  I am left with “I’m sorry.”  Is he really sorry or is he just saying that because it is the right thing to say?  I don’t know the answer to that question.  I do know that all I got from him, from the pub, was a sorry.  There was no follow up like “What can we do to put this right?” Or “Thank you for sharing that with me I will go and get the manager.”

JJM Taxis: why not blame the customer!

It is 9:25, I exit the customs area and am standing around on the first floor of Terminal 1 looking for my taxi driver.  I don’t see him so I phone the taxi firm at 9:26 to check what is going on. A lady I have spoken to many times (over the last 10 years) says she will look into it.  She rings back at 9:27 and says that the driver will be with me in 3 to 4 minutes.  I wait, four minutes pass, ten minutes pass and then fifteen minutes.  So I decide to ring the taxi firm and find myself speaking to the same lady.

Is she helpful? Does she apologise for not keeping her word?  No, she tells me that the driver is on his way and tells me off.  Why does she tell me off?  Because when she rang at 9:27 she told me that the driver was having trouble parking.  She forgets that she also told me that he would  be with me in 3 to 4 minutes.  I tell her that I am not going to argue with her.  And to myself I say “Well I am never going to use this taxi firm!”

The driver arrives a few minutes later, I look at him and it all makes sense.  I have had many taxi drivers pick me up at the airport and I can tell a lot from the way that they hold themselves, how they are dressed, how they greet me.  This chap does not greet me, he does not offer to help me with my luggage, he is busy talking on the phone ……. I can tell that he is the kind of person who is self-absorbed.  He has lofty dreams and being a lowly taxi driver is not a part of the dream.   No, he does not take pride in his work and he does not take pride in being of service.  On the way back it is clear he does not even know the obvious and quickest way back to my home and so I intervene and direct him.

Halfords Auto Centres: is a Welcomer enough to deliver a good customer experience?

Welcomers are important – they can make a big difference

In a recent post I stressed the importance of Welcomers and I shared the following statement from Richard Shapiro, the author of The Welcomer Edge:

There is a particular type of staff person who draws new customers to a business and keeps them.  I call this type the “welcomer”. Welcomers create a relationship with new customer that can last a lifetime.  People are so delighted to do business with welcomers that they will have little reason to change allegiance to the company’s competitors.”

My recent experience got me thinking and I have reconsidered my point of view – I am not that sure that Welcomers are enough to leave the customer cared for, appreciated, valued.  Allow me to share my experience with you.

I encounter Alex and he is clearly a Welcomer

I had a problem with the brake caliper on  one of the real wheels and so I rang my brother and he advised me to go to one of Halfords Auto Centres.  As Halfords is a well know brand, there is an auto centre just down the road and I am ok with the retail store experience I called Halfords.

Almost immediately I was greeted by a warm, friendly, cheerful, helpful chap called Alex.  We agreed that the best course of action was for Halfords to do a free brake check and we agreed on a time  – when the auto centre was most likely not to be busy.  Then I had to make a decision: leave the car there or wait.  So I asked Alex “How long will the brake check take?”  His reply “20 minutes”.  Excellent, I am thinking “I am on the way to getting my problem sorted out and it does no harm to get a free brake check”.

I turned up on time, was greeted by Alex, he had all my details, a service bay was ready and Alex drove my car to that service bay and handed it over to the mechanic.  I followed him and stood on one side of the workshop looking at what my car eager to be part of the service experience.  Alex noticed me and told me that whilst it was against policy to have customers in the workshop it was OK as long as I stayed where I was – out of the way and thus out of harms way.  Being grateful for everything he had done I thanked him and told him that I’d continue to stay out of the way.

Gratitude and delight turn to disappointment

I continued to stand where I had agreed to stand where I had agreed to stand with Alex.  During that time I noticed that the mechanic working on my car was in no hurry at all.  Furthermore, it occurred to me that he was not present to the work.  Actually, it occurred to me that he was alienated from the work.  Just at that moment the older chap from the office came up to me and told me wait inside the office.  The way that he said it left me with the feeling of being uncared for – the opposite of my experience with Alex.

At a rational level being in the office was no big deal as there was a clear glass divide between the office and the workshop and so I could see what was going on in the workshop.  Yet at an emotional level some kind of line had been crossed.  It was not that Halfords had put in place such a policy – the intellectual part of me understood the reasoning behind it, most likely the reasons of safety and productivity.  The emotional side of me was hurt and it had everything to do with the way the older chap had talked to me.

Standing there at the glass partition I see that the mechanic has raised my car on the ramp and taken off the wheels.  Then nothing!  He is standing around, walking around, talking with one mechanic (who is working on a car), then he goes and talks to another mechanic (who is working on a car) and then he does a little bit more work on my car.  What work?  He is looking at the wheels/brakes/brake calipers on my car.  Now and then he prods. Then he goes back to wandering around!

The quoted time of 20 minutes turns to 40 minutes and then 60 minutes.  Still there does not seem to be any end in sight – the mechanic is simply not in a hurry.  He also seems to be oblivious to the fact that I am looking at what he is and is not doing.  At this time I became frustrated and sat down in one of the uncomfortable chairs.  Then I notice the office.  The whole look and feel of the place if functional/dull – it lacks heart.  Whoever designed it did not design it for human beings.  The place lacks colour, it lacks art/beauty, it lacks a water cooler or a tea/coffee machine.  It lacks humanity.

Up to now I have not complained to Alex as he occurs as being young and genuinely helpful.  And I get that it really is not his fault: the mechanic could have got it done in 20 minutes, max 30 minutes.  So I do not hold the quote of 20 minutes against Alex.  Just when my frustration and bewilderment is turning to anger Alex returns to the office and tells me what is wrong with my car.  It is what I had told him was wrong with my car – the brake caliper on the rear wheel has to be reset.  And there are a few other minor things that need attention some time.

We agree on the work, we agree on the price. This price is some 50% more expensive than the local garage –  I am not surprised nor disappointed as I know there is no such thing as a ‘free brake check’.  I call my wife, she picks me up and we drive home.  Later that day,  Alex rings me up  with his cheerful voice and tells me the car is ready.  I turn up, Alex greets me with his smile, all the paperwork is ready, I pay and I leave – all inside of two minutes.  The car drives perfectly, the problem is solved.  I notice that I am grateful to Alex and at the same time disappointed with Halfords.

What have I learned?

As a customer I have learned that:

  • Halfords Auto Centres can be trusted to do the work that is agreed between us;
  • I cannot count on and should not count on any time estimates supplied by Halford Auto Centres;
  • There is no such thing as free – the free stuff is built into the higher prices; and
  • Halford Auto Centres are designed to work on cars and fix cars they have not been designed to look after and leave customers feeling cared for.

As a consultant in this space I have learned tha:

  • One good person, a Welcomer, is not enough to create/deliver a good customer experience;
  • The people in the back office (the mechanics) are just as important as the people in the front office – breakdowns in the back office can and do turn a good experience into a disappointing one.
  • Customer Experience is team game that only generates the right results when everyone plays that game wholeheartedly.  Put differently, culture matters – the culture at display at Halfords Auto Centres was one of fixing cars rather than creating happy customers be leaving customers feel recognised, appreciated, considered, valued.