What We Can Learn About Customer Service From Apple's Training Manual

Posted by Diamond Richardson on Mon, Sep 10, 2012 @ 09:47 AM

How does Apple maintain such astronomical sales? Part of the secret is out. Apple’s Training Manual, Genius Training Student Workbook, has been leaked. The training guide for Apple’s retail salespeople has been made fun of for being a bit cultish and manipulative.

But as Gizmodo points out, something about Apple’s selling system works, however strange it may be. Everyone hired to work at Apple's retail stores must complete an intensive 14-day training program. The training manual covers everything from "Using Diagnostic Service" to "Genius Actions and Characteristics."

There is another myriad of instructions for how to behave on the sales floor with exhaustive instructions. The manual lists words employees cannot say. An entire section is dedicated to reading a potential customer's nonverbal cues. Who knew an unbuttoned coat signaled confidence? Empathy is of particular importance. Apple employees are instructed to be understanding of what a customer or potential customer is going through and express that understanding whenever possible. Apple employees are also encouraged to provide feedback to other employees if they notice their interaction with customers is not up to Apple standards.

"Hi, fellow Genius. I overheard your conversation with your customer during that last interaction and I have some feedback if you have a moment," is the way employees are encouraged to approach each other.

Even if you are not in the business of selling phones and tablets, you can learn a few things about customer service from Apple's manual:

1. Everyone in the organization is in the business of selling: Apple's guide states this verbatim, and we are sure CEO's everywhere would agree. But knowing this fact and integrating it into your corporate culture are two different things. If employees do not see how their job contributes to the bottom line, they can begin to feel disengaged. Disengagement can dramatically lower the quality of employee’s work, decreasing productivity and eventually customer satisfaction. Remind your employees constantly how their job contributes to the over-arching goal of the organization. Everyone is in the business of achieving the company’s goals!

2. Positive language is important in the work environment: Apple salespeople are not allowed to say that a device “crashed.” Instead, phrases like “stopped responding” are encouraged. Every employee should watch the language they use to describe their work. If an account or client is difficult, encourage your employees to replace words like “annoying” or “too much work” with “opportunity to get better” or “chance to learn what we did wrong.” Positivity is contagious and every failure is an opportunity to improve service to customers.

Empathy is important with potential customers: While Apple instructs its salespeople to “not apologize for the business [or] the technology,” salespeople are supposed to empathize with customers feelings about malfunctions, prices and other issues. Here is one example from the manual:

Customer: This Mac is just too expensive.
Genius: I can see how you'd feel this way. I felt the price was a little high, but I found it's a real value because of all the built-in software and capabilities.

This is a great model for any organization to follow. Customers want to feel that they are understood. Training anyone who has direct contact with customers to practice empathy is critical to retaining loyal customers.

Apple is not the only company to use strictly defined customer service tactics. Zappos goes to great lengths to ensure its customers are happy. The company is one of the few online retailers that does not outsource its call center and whose customer service representatives do not read from a script. The company has numerous stories about how it goes above and beyond for customers. One Zappos employee sent flowers to a woman who had ordered six pairs of shoes because she was trying to find one pair that would work for her feet after a difficult surgical prcedure. Zappos also overnighted another pair of shoes to the best man in a wedding after UPS sent the original pair to the wrong location. It is clear that Zappos values its customers. This kind of intensity is not innate in each customer service representative though: all Zappos contact center employees undergo seven weeks of training. 

What do you think about Apple's training manual and Zappos dedication to customer service? Let us know in the comment section below or on Facebook and Twitter.
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Topics: Customer Loyalty, Customer Service, Sales Effectiveness