5 Star Luxury

One of the questions Apple Store hiring managers ask themselves while sizing up a potential job candidate is, “Can the individual offer a 5-star luxury hotel level of customer service?” A well-known luxury hotelier is the gold standard of customer service. It makes perfect sense that the Apple Retail Store—the most profitable retailer in America— would benchmark itself against a brand known for its legendary service.

Any business could do worse than to copy a 5-star resort. As I was doing the research for my book, The Apple Experience, I learned that Apple Retail adopted several techniques directly from the luxury hotel chain. Here are five ways the Apple Store builds customer loyalty the luxury hotel way. 

Approach with a warm welcome. Greeting guests with a warm welcome is the first step written on a wallet-sized credo card that all hotel employees are encouraged to carry. The greeting is the first step of the Apple experience as well. Walk into an Apple Store and you’ll be immediately greeted by friendly people with big smiles holding iPads and ready to assist you. Guests find the same thing in every hotel location: warm, friendly employees who smile frequently and say hello or ask how your day is going. A warm greeting makes people feel appreciated, valued, and happy.
Anticipate unexpressed needs. 5-star employees are trained to anticipate the unexpressed wishes of their guests. In a room service visit it’s not uncommon for a waiter to tilt the TV in the direction of the guest and place the remote control on the service tray. During one stay the receptionist called me and said, “We see that you are scheduled to leave very early tomorrow. Can we leave a pot of fresh, hot coffee outside your door?” Apple, too, instructs its sales staff to “listen for unresolved issues or concerns.” If a PC owner is thinking of making the switch to Mac, an Apple salesperson (specialist) might spend more time talking about the simplicity of learning a new operating system and provide a description of the One-to-One program which includes one year of personalized instruction as well as data transfer between a PC and Mac.
End with a fond farewell. These luxury-brand hotel employees are instructed to give guests a “warm goodbye” and to use the guests’ name whenever possible. When my wife and I left a restaurant, Salt, on Amelia Island, the hostess said, “Goodbye Mr. and Mrs. Gallo. We enjoyed having you. Please visit us again!” Apple learned this directly from the hotelier and encourages its employees to “end with a fond farewell and an invitation to a return.” It wouldn’t be surprising to hear an Apple Store instructor deliver the following remark upon the conclusion of a Oneto-One training workshop: “Please visit us again for another session. You take beautiful photographs. I can’t wait to see the photo album you created with iPhoto.” Apple Store employees are taught to make people feel special when they leave the store and give them something to anticipate upon their return.
Own the relationship. If you ask a hotel employee to point the way to a restaurant, gift shop or fitness room, don’t be surprised if you receive a personal escort to the location 
or close to it. The staff is taught to own the relationship and to make sure each guest has an enjoyable and memorable experience. No 5-star luxury hotel employee will ever say, “It’s not my job.” Whoever receives a complaint is responsible for resolving it. Employees at an Apple Store are also taught to own the experience. If you approach an 
Apple Store employee with a problem of any sort, that person “owns” the relationship. The employee can direct you to another part of the store (and they will often escort you to the appropriate product table) or might introduce you to another salesperson more specialized in the product you’re interested in. But even if they hand you off, they will often introduce you to the other employee by name and even check back to see if you got your questions answered. The employee owns the relationship and must do everything in his or her power to make it right. 

Reset internal clocks. Apple has learned what premier hoteliers have known for a long time: an employee can alter a customers’ perceived wait time by resetting the internal 
clock. For example, when my wife and I were staying in Buckhead (Atlanta), we were waiting a long time for our entrées. Just when my wife was about to ask about our order, the waiter appeared and gave us a tomato and mozzarella appetizer “courtesy of the chef.” These employees are empowered to make decisions that reduce the perceived wait time. In the same dining experience a family with two young children was seated right next to us. The two kids began to get antsy between the appetizer and the entrée courses. A waitress unexpectedly appeared with two small DVD players for the kids. Both children were thrilled, as were the parents who enjoyed their meals. 
Apple employees are constantly resetting clocks to reduce the perceived wait time. The customer’s clock is reset simply by being greeted warmly and being told how long the wait time might be. As the customer is waiting for a specialist to arrive, he or she might begin playing with the apps on an Pad or visiting a web site on a Mac (the products are all working and connected to the Internet). This distraction resets the internal clock once again. While the customer is waiting Apple employees might walk by, smile, say hello and “The new iPhone is pretty cool, isn’t it?” Short interactions reset the clock yet again. By frequently acknowledging the customer, perceived wait times are shortened.  A customer who had been waiting fifteen minutes to see a salesperson might say they only waited “a few minutes.” 
Steve Jobs once said, “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” The Apple Store emulated customer service techniques from luxury hotels and it has served the brand well ever since. If a computer retailer can learn something from the king of hospitality you can, too. These top five techniques will help you build customer loyalty regardless of what business you’re in.  
Carmine Gallo is the communications coach for the world’s most admired brands. He is a popular keynote speaker and author of several books, including the international bestseller The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. His new book is The Apple Experience: Secrets to Building Insanely Great Customer Loyalty. Visit Carmine online at http://www.carminegallo.com.

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