Carmine Gallo on “the Apple experience”: An interview by Bob Morris

Carmine Gallo is the communications coach for the world’s most admired brands. A former journalist for CNN and CBS, Gallo works directly with the world’s top business leaders to craft compelling messages, tell inspiring stories and share innovative ideas. Gallo is a popular keynote speaker and has addressed executives at Intel, Cisco, Medtronic, Hewlett Packard, SAP, Pfizer, Linked In, Chevron, and other global brands. Gallo writes bestselling books including The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs, the winner of an Axiom award for one of the best business books of 2011. The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs has become an international bestseller, translated into 14 languages. Gallo’s subsequent book, The Power of Foursquare, reveals how businesses leverage new mobile marketing tools to attract, reward and engage customers. His latest book is The Apple Experience: Secrets to Building Insanely Great Customer Loyalty, published by McGraw-Hill in 2012. He graduated from UCLA and has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern. Gallo lives in Pleasanton, California, with his wife and two daughters.

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Morris: Who are Apple’s “internal” and “external” customers? To what extent (if any) does Apple treat them differently? Please explain.

The Apple Store “internal” customer refers to Apple Store employees. “External” customers are you and me, the folks who walk into the store to buy a product. Apple likes to say the soul of the Apple experience is in its people: the internal customer who is hired, trained, motivated, and empowered to do what is right for the customer.

Morris: What are the defining characteristics of Apple’s “insanely great customer experience” both internally and externally?

 I believe you can understand the Apple Store experience in two words: enriching lives. Those are the first two words on the Apple Store credo card that all employees are encouraged to carry. When you “enrich lives,” magical things start to happen. You hire employees who are passionate about serving the customer. You empower employees to spend as much time with a customer as they deem necessary. You design interesting spaces and multimedia displays in the store so customers can see and touch the devices. You can create innovative programs like One to One to help customers unleash their inner genius. It all starts with the vision to enrich lives; a vision that was very important to both Steve Jobs and former Apple head of retail, Ron Johnson (now CEO of J.C. Penney).

Morris: In two of your previous books, the focus is on Steve Jobs: his innovation and presentation “secrets.” To what extent does Apple’s “insanely great customer experience” illustrate any of those secrets? Please explain.

 I wrote The Apple Experience because we had much more to learn from Steve Jobs. In fact, some Apple Store employees told me they had read The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs and applied the principles to the sales floor, the “red zone,” as its known. That made me think: If the Apple Store is creating the next generation of customer service and some employees are using my book as a guide, then I have a real opportunity to capture and perhaps even influence the next level of the customer experience!

Morris: To what extent did Disney stores provide a model for Apple stores? To what extent did Apple stores provide a model for AT&T stores?

 I think it was just the opposite. Believe it or not, Apple inspired Disney! An executive who had the task of reinventing and revitalizing the Disney Store asked Steve Jobs for advice. Jobs’ response: Dream bigger. No better advice has ever been given. The new Disney Store will look a lot like Apple Stores complete with immersive, multisensory experiences, open space, uncluttered, and more. AT&T was also directly inspired by the Apple Store model. For example, walk into an AT&T retail location and you will be greeted within ten feet or ten seconds of entering the store. You’ll find the same approach in the Apple Store. The first “step of service” in the Apple Store is to greet a customer with a “personalized, warm welcome.” The way someone is greeted significantly impacts that person’s perception of the brand.

Morris: What are the basic tenets of “Disney’s People Management Philosophy”? What is its relevance to the Apple organization?

Disney employees deliver a consistent experience because the organization is dedicated to a 4-step approach to people management: selection, training, communication and care. The same four tenets apply to Apple and to any other organization committed to improving the customer experience. You must select people who can deliver a superior experience, train them to do so, teach them to communicate effectively with customers, and care for them so they enjoy working with the company.

Morris: What is the three-step process by which Apple hires people? Why is being “fearless” a necessary trait?

This is very powerful. The Apple Store likes to hire people who 1) display grit. Grit means they can handle pressure. 2) Can deliver a Ritz-Carlton level of customer service with the proper training and 3) could have gone toe-to-toe with Steve Jobs. Let me clarify the last point. Few people could have gone toe-to-toe with Steve Jobs. But it’s a question mean to gauge whether or not the job candidate displays fearlessness. In order for an effective feedback loop to occur, a company must have employees who are not afraid of giving and receiving feedback. They must be ‘fearless.’

Morris: Fred Reichheld introduced the Net Promoter Score (NPS) system in his book, The Ultimate Question (2006), and Apple is among the companies that have adopted it. For those unfamiliar with NPS, what information does it reveal? How? What does Apple then do with that information?

 Thousands of companies have adopted it. It simply intends to measure “on a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend the product to a friend?” That’s a powerful question. Apple considers it a disappointment if someone answers below an 8 or 9. A company like Apple wants to see more evangelists than “detractors,” people who give the product or service very low scores on the question. Everything is meant to boost the score.

Morris: What is “The APPLE Acronym” and to what do the individual letters refer?

I’m glad you asked. I think this is critically important. APPLE is actually an acronym for the five steps of service store employees are encourage to follow from the moment someone walks through the door:

o Approach the customer with a personalized, warm welcome.
o Probe politely (ask questions) to understand the customer’s needs.
o Present a solution the customer can take home today.
o Listen for and resolve issues or concerns.
o End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.

Morris: In The New Gold Standard (2008), Joseph Michelli examines “the five leadership principles for creating a legendary customer experience courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.” You cite a number of Ritz-Carlton’s “WOW” stories. How can almost any organization create such moments?

 I was fascinated to discover that the Apple Store actually copied a number of techniques from The Ritz Carlton. Above all, employees must be empowered to do what is right for the customer. The Ritz Carlton gives employees a budget to use as they wish to make something right for the customer. For example, a waiter can comp an entrée if he thinks you’ve been waiting too long. At the Apple Store, employees are not on commission and are empowered to do what’s right for the customer. That means if they spend one hour with you and fifty minutes of that hour is spent talking sports, they will not be reprimanded by their manager. As long as they can justify that you had a great experience in the store, that’s all that matters.

Morris: What are “housekeeping No-Nos” and why are they significant?

 The customers’ brain dislikes clutter. It forces the brain to consume energy to suppress the distractions. So keep the sales floor open, free of clutter, and clean. No smudges on the glass and dirt on the floors!

Morris: How does Apple attempt to “unleash” its customer’s “inner genius”?

 One-to-One is a program that represents a real innovation in retail. For $99 upon the purchase of a Mac, a customer can have unlimited, personal, one-hour sessions to learn things about how to use the computer, software, movie making, photograph editing, etc. It’s designed to build a customer for life.

Morris: How and why does Apple “eliminate the clutter”?

 You won’t see many cables connecting off tables or connecting devices. The tables are specially made to hide the cables. You will not see posters cluttering the front window. You won’t see ads everywhere you look. Even the store signage is remarkably clean, simple, and concise.

Morris: For more than 25 years, it has been my great pleasure as well as privilege to work closely with owner/CEOs of several hundred small companies. That is, those that have annual sales of $20-million or less. Here’s my question: In your opinion, of all the material that you provide in The Apple Experience, which will be of greatest value to leaders in small companies? Why?

Gallo: Rethink the customer experience by blowing up traditional models completely. Steve Jobs and Ron Johnson didn’t just rethink retail; they started from scratch. Ask yourself, “What do we want our customers to feel?” The answer to that question will lead to a very different set of results than if you had asked, “How we do well more widgets?”

Morris: Was there a question about Steve Jobs or the Apple organization that you had hoped to be asked during this interview – but weren’t – and what is your response to it?

Gallo:You did a great job. But here’s another question: What advice would Steve Jobs offer small businesses today? I believe his answer would be, “Stop selling stuff and start enriching lives instead.”
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Carmine cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
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