By David Cross
At an exclusive private event, Apple revealed to me a stunning new innovative Secret that can help you transform your business. It's so new that you may not have heard of it…until now.
Before the Secret is revealed, let's meet Brad
I wasn't asking which aisle the canned peas were on but his nonchalance made me feel that I had. Although my question was simple he stared off into space and seemed completely clueless and detached. I walked round into his direct view, smiled and asked him again.
"My daughter picked some of the keys off my laptop and your colleague said if I brought it in you could fix it in the next couple of hours. I live 35 miles away and I really appreciate you doing this."
("Helloooo! Anybody home?")
After a few minutes of fumbling without a clue, I finally got to speak with a tech dude (they're called Geniuses) who delivered the great service I've come to expect. The experience ended well.
Bad hair day for Brad? Sure – it's one of the features of employing people! But that's the experience I've increasingly been met with when I've spoken with Apple Store employees over the last year and the front-desk staff at the stores can often seem in a trance.
Apple's biggest secret to their continued success isn't technology or design. They already make sexy products that just work and which people covet. The Secret or problem is the promise that Apple makes…a promise that we've all bought into.
Think Different 1.0
Think back to 1997; Think Different. That was Apple's ad campaign and it's always been Apple's brand message. I heard it described best that PC computers were developed by a group of boring university types and Apple was started by a bunch of ex-acidhead hippies from the '60s!
But we get the message - think differently and do things differently. Use Apple and think differently too.
Marketing 101 states that people don't buy features, they buy benefits. We buy what we gain from using a product or service. We buy what's in it for us. But many of the benefits are inferred by customers rather than explicitly expressed by manufacturers. The benefits customers expect are like promises made and as with any relationship, promises are often inferred and interpreted at very subtle levels. The tricky part is that it's often the subtlest of promises that mean the most, especially when they are not fulfilled.
We expect Apple to deliver on that brand promise by delivering more than just cool, stunningly-designed products. We want and expect a different experience with everything connected with Apple. If I just want a PC I could go back to a black one that reliably crashes Windows every day.
Apple's big Secret revealed is brand promise and is twofold. First, that I will gain a different experience by using their products. Second, that Apple just gets it and leads the way in thinking and doing things differently. But a brand promise is not about products. It's about benefits…experiences. So my experience of doing business with Apple had better be congruent with that subtle brand promise, or there's a jolting disconnect.
The problem Apple faces is, if the experience of Different isn't there, the promise is lost and we're left only with a product. And products that don't strongly differentiate themselves in markets become commodities that people weigh against other products judged only on features and price.
How can Apple grow their technology and continue to deliver the experience we expect?
And how can you do that in your business as it grows?
Think Different 2.0: Manage the Moments of Truth
When Jan Carlzon took over at the helm of Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) in 1981, the company had a truly appalling reputation for lack of punctuality and over-centralization to the detriment of customers and airline staff. Carlzon's book Moments of Truth highlights the changes he brought to SAS including empowering every single employee with the ability to fix problems on the spot.
Every employee learned how to manage what Carlzon called a customer's Moment of Truth – a snapshot that every customer takes of SAS based on their individual experience. Manage the individual customer snapshots and create a better overall experience of SAS.
He is widely recognized with revolutionizing the airline industry through his passionate focus on creating positive, memorable customer experiences. Jan Carlzon said at the time: "Problems are solved on the spot, as soon as they arise. No front-line employee has to wait for a supervisor's permission."
My friend RR who founded and heads a successful company that delivers unique educational experiences for high achieving children displayed similar visionary-mindedness - he renamed the role of Receptionist in his company to that of Director Of First Impressions. I love that title! We can see what a shift of focus that is. Manage the first impressions and create a stunning first impression…first experience. RR's whole company is like that and he realized that philosophy had to extend deep into every pore of his business.
I shared these two stories with Bill, the Apple Store Manager who called me back following my lukewarm response to Apple's survey they sent me after my visit. To his credit he did seem genuinely interested in improving his store's shortcomings and in retraining his staff. And it's the first time such a survey response was acted upon by Apple (there are 3 more in their survey database).
Every Sale is a Risk
My father used to say, "Every sale is a risk until it's fulfilled". Only recently did I appreciate fully what that means and how profound that saying really is. I know that in business everyone loves to celebrate when a sale is made. Woohoo! Kerching! But it's only then that the real fun begins because in buying your product or service, your customer then expects the benefits…the experiences…that you've promised. And especially the ones that you didn't know that you'd promised!
To set your business apart…to differentiate yourself from the competition and hordes of also-ran, you need to deliver and exceed every promise your customer expects to receive from you, your business, your products and services. And every fiber of your business must deliver on that or your customers will experience the same disconnects I've started to experience at Apple over the last year.
Here are some practical ways you can start to achieve this in your business:
- Go deep on the customer experience. What is the experience like for your customer? Buy your product, call your team, have friends do it. What is the experience like? If you feel that something is not right, your customer is even more sensitive to that experience.
- Make everyone a hologram. If you break a hologram into pieces, remarkably every piece can still recreate the whole hologram. And every person in your company must be able to convey the same passion, enthusiasm, dedication, commitment and ability to convey a stunning experience as you can. (You still can, right? Because if you lack passion that will trickle down to everyone in the company)
- Put the right people in place. In our story, Brad may respond to retraining. If he doesn't put someone in place who conveys the correct experience that is congruent with your brand promise.
- Look for stunning examples of Done Right. Whenever you or your team experience stunningly good service in other businesses, try to take and adapt the best elements of that into your business. It doesn't have to cost much; many of the simplest, personal and caring touches define the greatest experiences of business.
- 5. Ask customers! Duh! What do customers love and loathe about doing business with you? What comments could improve the experience of doing business with you? Test some of these ideas.
- 6. Look to your refunds. Refunds are good because they instill greater confidence in customers nervous to buy. They are also good for you because if there are high rates of refunds this indicates disconnection between the promise you make or imply in your marketing and your ability to deliver on that promise. High refunds demonstrate your inability to deliver the customer experience you've promised in your marketing.
- 7. Ask customer service. Your staff who speak with your customers have their finger on the pulse of customer experiences and can share with you what customers love, loathe, want more of and want less of in your business. Harness that and look for ways to improve. If you can improve a little every day, these small, incremental improvements will produce stunning results over a relatively short period of time.
- Change the focus of customer service. Customers don't want servicing. They're not cars! Customers want to receive experiences that exceed their expectations, and if your team can deliver strong, positive, lasting experiences that are congruent with your marketing and brand promises, you will have a tribe of happy customers.
People buy benefits, not features. The experiences ARE the benefits and to create customers that stick you need to make sure that the experiences people receive are in excess of what they expect. Can you consistently over-deliver stunning customer experiences?
David Cross is an Internet business consultant who specializes in monetizing content and in marketing to customers at the most opportune time using David’s unique Niche Timing process.
David’s role as Senior Internet Consultant to Agora Inc. for 9 years rocketed Agora’s global online sales to over $300 Million.
He lives on a small farm close to Mount Hood in Oregon with his wife, a veterinarian, and their five children and a menagerie of animals. David writes his own newsletter “Water The Root” about how to be self sufficient in life.