Giving customers what they need (not what they think they want).

Back in the day, Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Ron Johnson, the retail visionary who rolled out the first generation of Apple Stores, went on a quest to find the best customer service experience.

As Walter Isaacson related in his 2011 biography, Jobs and Johnson polled employees, friends, whoever they could find, and the answer they kept getting was: being at a luxury hotel or resort. So they went to Ritz Carlton and partnered with them to train the Apple Stores' first cohorts of retail employees. Those early generations of Apple employees even had a credo attached to the lanyards around their necks--a credo based on the one Ritz Carlton gave all of its staffers, a daily reminder of three focus areas: Our People, Our Customer and Our Daily Commitment.

Don't be confused: Apple's now-legendary "anticipatory customer service" was a two-way street, both the customer and company have to walk away satisfied. Take the Genius Bar, which was modeled on a hotel concierge desk: As Micah Solomon pointed out in Inc. a couple of years ago, "For the company, the benefit is level scheduling of demand, a Lean process principle. For customers, the app eliminates wait times and promises undivided attention, something hard to find elsewhere in retail."

Becoming an Apple customer comes with a price tag. But, that's true for any business. But two principles of customer service stand out as an asset in the Apple way:

Live to serve

Apple is a true believer, and that informs every aspect of its culture. From the day you walk in for orientation as an employee, Apple tries to make you feel the way it wants you to make customers feel. When I arrived in 2010 to work on enterprise app sales, I couldn't believe the reception new employees received, the red carpet they rolled out for us. There's orientation, t-shirts, videos, lots of rah-rah and team-building; at Apple University we received tons of training via mock scenarios that put us in tough spots and trained us on how to respond, on how Apple treats its customers.

Apple is constantly working to build a deeper emotional bond between its customers, employees, and the company itself. Every time there was an event we would joke around, wondering, "What video will they show today that's going to make us cry?"

When FaceTime was announced, it was with a television ad showing a soldier in Afghanistan seeing his pregnant wife over FaceTime. If that doesn't make you cry, I don't know what will. And seeing that video as a new employee connects you viscerally to the customer and to how important that customer is. That's not a cynical thing. It's a sincere--and incredibly powerful--business tool.

Love = Loyalty

It's powerful because in producing a "repeat customer," that level of service and that connection allows you to withstand the storms and errors inherent in the process of building most (if not all) products. At Scrollmotion we recently put out a brand new version of our software that tweaked a pinch and zoom feature; in the process, we decided to change the experience slightly--but we did a terrible job of explaining it to customers before we pushed it out on a Friday night. Suffice to say that our users wasted no time in making us aware of our mistake. So I put out an all-hands-on deck call, scrambled our amazing team, and they had it fixed two days later. That's the kind of customer service Apple ingrained into me.

But that customer/company bond can be even more important. Customer love and loyalty allows you to take risks and arbitrage the competition: Shifting to a new use-case paradigm or new technical standards, for example, are essential aspects of product development, but can really piss people off.

The iPhone 7 was a perfect example. It comes out in 2016 and...there's no freaking headphone jack. People were livid. And Apple has done this for years: The transition from "30 pin" cables to Lightning cables. USB. CD drives. Sure, you forgot you ever had a 30-pin device, but chances are, you weren't happy at the time.

But Apple needs to constantly push the envelope to remain at the cutting edge technologically. So what do they do? They capitalize on your love, and give you more in return, bending over backwards to help you get through the transition. In the case of the iPhone 7, that meant a free dongle that provided a psychological bridge between the past and the future. That's just a temporary customer service fix, but it keeps folks happy, gets them on board, and makes them know that they come first. And it keeps them coming back for more.

 

Storytelling is no different today—we just have had a few upgrades to our tools and no longer have to rely on a burnt stick with some pigment on it. Lucky for us, we live in a time when we all carry around great storytelling tools in our pockets and backpacks. It has never been easier to tell a visual story, and let’s face it, just like that cave drawing, a picture is worth a thousand words–it’s a cliche for a reason, people!

Humans have a strong biological desire to express themselves, to tell their stories, and if you think about it, storytelling becomes the basis of just about everything we do as a species. The way we choose to dress in the morning tells the story of who we are just as surely as does our actual life narrative.

Large businesses use sophisticated storytelling to position themselves in the sweet spot between naked pitching and a sublime alignment with their customers wants and needs. Smaller businesses on an upward trajectory have an even greater need to tell a compelling story that shows what’s different between them and their competitors. “We are better bison hunters than they are, and we have the pictures to prove it.”

Just like our caveman storyteller, a good story needs to have the power of three’s: a beginning, middle, and end. The arc of the story moves the viewer from the hook at the beginning (who are you and why are you the best?), to the middle (this is what we do better than anyone), to the end, where your viewer has become your customer because you’ve told the best story and offered him a piece of your bison.

Some of us are natural-born verbal storytellers but don’t understand how to translate that to text, photos, video, and interactive content creation.  The thing to remember is that those are pieces of the puzzle. The real thing to determine is this: What do you want the outcome to be? More custom cake orders? Show them the time it takes to build that fantastic cake and how much care you put into it. That’s a story within a story! These mini-narratives are best told with interactive tools.

In caveman days, if it moved, it could kill you, so our limbic senses pay special attention to movement— ‘was that a saber-toothed tiger I just saw? I think I’ll pay extra-special attention now because I really don’t want to be eaten.’

Fortunately, Ingage offers non-lethal interactive tools. Our compare page uses a before-and-after photo with a sliding curtain that reveals portions of each—cake before icing, cake after icing. Upload any sort of short video to the scrollmotion page—timelapse, product 360, progressive charts, panorama of the inside of your cave—and it becomes a touch-driven interactive.

The easy interactive features are the icing on the cake, the roasted bison of the story, so to speak. The real value comes from the intuitive interface that allows you to drag-and-drop images easily and quickly into beautifully designed templates designed for telling a story.  No designers, no developers—just you, your iPad, and some Chinese take-out.

Now that you’ve built your story, try it out on your customers. Their limbic brains will be busy paying attention to the cool interactive features that you’ve managed to pull off. Need to make changes? You can do that while they are sitting next to you. Ready to share it with the world? It’s as easy as logging into your Mailchimp account or posting on Facebook. What if they don’t have an iPad? Have they been living in a cave?? No problem. Ingage can be shared anywhere with the native experience beautifully translated to a browser webview.

Join me in future blogs to learn more about creating a great interactive experience that tells the story YOU want to tell.

Lisa Lytton is Ingage’s Senior Director of Product Design and was formerly Director of Digital Storytelling at National Geographic.

Alan Braun