Hours before Apple launches a new product, people line up in droves, waiting. Consumers love Apple — and it’s not just because it makes cool technology. Apple’s success, with 2 billion active products as of 2023, hinges largely on how the brand makes customers feel: cared for, confident, and part of a special club.
While creating an Apple-level standard of customer loyalty may seem like a lofty goal, there’s good news. Steve Jobs has already given us the key to how we can make it happen. Jobs shared: “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around.”
More specifically, Apple has developed a service philosophy that’s the North Star for any company that needs to improve customer communications. Let’s dive deeper into how you can apply the A.P.P.L.E. framework at your company.
How to start the conversation
The first interactions your customers have with your brand matter. A lot. Research shows that 90% of customers use first interactions as a barometer for their future brand loyalty.
Thankfully, Apple has your back. Apple’s steps of service, cleverly outlined in the acronym A.P.P.L.E, starts with “A: Approach customers with a personalized, warm welcome.” Let’s dive deeper into how to make the first touchpoint positive and memorable.
1. Reply as soon as possible
How did you feel the last time you contacted a customer service team and the line rang and rang, was busy, or you sat on hold for hours? Not great, right?
You’re not alone. According to Salesforce, 83% of customers expect to interact with someone immediately when they contact a company.
Drew Schuffenhauer, Customer Support Team Lead at OpenPhone, explains that time to resolution can be a recurring theme with frustrated customers. They wonder why it takes so long to get a response.
“Internally we have our own way of organizing work, and we try to adhere to it to best serve everyone. But from the customer’s perspective, they don’t know that, nor is it typically what’s important to them.”
Customers don’t care what your internal processes are — they just want a quick resolution.
To meet this customer expectation, you need a phone system that makes it possible to answer customer calls as soon as possible. OpenPhone customers have access to automation features like snippets and AI-suggested responses so people can get a faster reply.
What’s more, OpenPhone offers shared numbers so your team can share responsibility for incoming calls and text messages. This means if one of the salespeople on your team is busy or off-the-clock, the call will be redirected to another trained rep who is available and ready to take the call.
When you cut down response time and time to resolution with an innovative phone system, customer satisfaction goes through the roof.
2. Use the customer’s name
HBR reports that a significant part of someone’s identity is their name. When you call someone by their name (and pronounce it correctly), it has a positive impact and makes the customer feel connected and validated.
Better yet, using a customer’s name shows that you pay attention to the needs of the specific customer you’re talking to. Always greet the customer by their name and use it throughout the call.
Prioritize personalization with OpenPhone!
If you’re an OpenPhone customer, you can use our lightweight CRM to see who’s calling and greet returning customers by name. With the software, you can also add pronunciation cues and phonetic spelling to make sure the rep says it correctly.
3. Open with relational words to empathize
As a quick review, relational words are verbs and adverbs that demonstrate concern or signal agreement. For example, “please,” “thank you,” “sorry,” “yes,” “okay,” “I hear you,” and “I see” are all relational words.
HBR reports that expressing empathy by using these relational words — especially in the opening of the customer interaction — is critical.
As you train your agents to take customer calls, focus on teaching the importance of using relational words to empathize and show care.
4. Use first-person singular pronouns
Studies show that even if your company is a team, it’s better for your representatives to use first-person singular pronouns (e.g., “I” rather than “we”).
For example, if someone calls your company and asks for a solution, don’t say, “We’re sorry. We’ll find a resolution.” Instead, say, “I’m sorry. I’ll find a resolution.”
To quantify how powerful this small switch can be, HBR reports one company analyzed over 1,000 email interactions and found switching to first-person singular pronouns could potentially increase sales by over 7%.
How to make customer conversations stand out
The next two letters in the A.P.P.L.E. steps of service are “P: Probe politely to understand all the customer’s needs” and “P: Present a solution for the customer to take home today.”
While you’re strategically probing to understand customer needs and presenting solutions, customers still want conversations to be authentic. Research shows that 71% of customers want natural, conversational experiences, according to Zendesk.
Here are some tips to help you authentically build the relationship by figuring out the customer’s pain points and thinking of potential solutions.
5. Gather information and build rapport
Every customer interaction is different, and it takes a skilled and well-trained customer service professional to capture the right information and build a bond with customers.
Natalie Baran-Chong, Customer Success Manager at OpenPhone, explains how she builds customer relationships and offers some unique examples of how to keep individual customer information organized.
💡Pro tip: “If it’s a brand new customer who you’ve never talked to, it’s really about building rapport and making sure that they see value in what you can bring to this relationship. The first call is a discovery. We try and figure out who we are talking to — are they a key decision maker? How are they using OpenPhone? From there, what are some milestones we can work on together?”
For example, if a customer says they send a lot of the same messages, Natalie notes that they could be a good candidate for bulk messaging via Zapier.
Not only does Natalie strive to understand customer pain points and show them how to leverage the full potential of OpenPhone to build their business, but she also pays attention to the personal details customers tell her.
To keep everything organized, Natalie has a Notion board where she saves meeting details, points of contact, and fun tidbits (e.g., when a customer is getting married, when their birthday is, etc.) This helps her connect with customers in more meaningful ways the next time they’re on a call.
6. Don’t skip the small talk
Natalie Baran-Chong isn’t the only professional who recommends building the relationship by going above and beyond capturing the essential details to resolve concerns.
Pam Abreu, Director of Client Relations at 5K.co offers the following advice:
“It’s harder for a client to break up with a business when you have a personal relationship with them. I like to make clients feel like I’m a friend — I don’t like to start the meeting diving right into it. I want to talk about their weekend. I want to talk about their family. It shows we have a vested interest, not just in their company and their business, but with themselves also.”
As you know, your customers are the lifeblood of your business. With every interaction, show them you care about them beyond transactional reasons.
Tips for handling difficult situations
The next letter in the A.P.P.L.E. service framework is “‘L: Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns.”
I had another experience when an airline representative rebooked my family on a new flight and put my two young children in middle seats — away from me.
When I explained the situation to the new phone agent, she didn’t understand that we’d paid to sit together and had been rebooked sitting away from each other. She also didn’t ask any probing questions to understand our issue and kept saying, “I can’t disclose what other customers paid for their seats.” Clearly, she had no written context to understand our problem and wasn’t listening, to boot.
No matter how hard you try, if you don’t have the right training and customer service tools, it’s easy to misunderstand customer concerns, get confused, and offer non-relevant solutions. Let’s get more tactical on how to help tune your representatives into customer problems more quickly and efficiently.
7. Work to understand the issue
Excellent communication boils down to one thing: information. The more context you can provide your service representatives with, the more equipped they will be to understand the problem and provide a satisfactory solution.
One way to do this is to ask your customers probing questions, such as, “What did the previous representative tell you?” and really listen to the answers.
“[Difficult customer interactions] usually come down to confusion, something not being thoroughly explained, and leaving room for misinterpretation. It’s best to never assume things as an agent. Ask clarifying questions, even if it takes an extra minute to ask and answer multiple questions — it’s worth it. Operate under the assumption that someone is brand new to the product,” Drew says.
While, ideally, your team can resolve most customer concerns with one interaction, as you know that’s not always the case. Excellent customer service doesn’t only mean one person listens — it means your whole team listens, collectively. To accomplish this, you need detailed records of previous calls — and make those records accessible to everyone on your team.
Thankfully, businesses can improve group listening with the help of built-in documentation tools, such as internal threads and transcripts in OpenPhone.
The OpenPhone threads feature allows anyone on your team to create a note on any message, call, call recording, or voicemail. Additionally, you can create action items — and anyone on your team can mark comments as resolved.
In addition to threads, Premium OpenPhone subscribers have access to auto-generated transcripts, summaries, and action items. With the click of a button, customers can see a summary of a previous phone call and get up to speed.
8. Escalate if needed
Customers get more frustrated with every hold and transfer. Salesforce found that 83% of customers expect complex conversations to be handled by one person, but 53% say most support interactions are fragmented.
The goal is to resolve customer concerns with the first interaction, but it’s not always possible. Sometimes, customers will need to speak to a manager or someone in another department. The most important thing is to have a process in place where someone higher up the chain can pick up where the last person left off.
💡Pro tip: “There has to be accountability — you can’t just have seven people on a phone call with a customer from seven different departments of your company trying to solve a problem. Someone ultimately has to own the problem, and maybe that’s support, or maybe that’s sales, and that owner is responsible for alignment and delegation on the call,” says Craig Stoss, the the Director of CX Transformation at PartnerHero.
Customer communication tools like OpenPhone make it possible to provide a cohesive experience — even when you have to escalate a call. With threads and transcripts, any representative can quickly understand the problem without having to ask the customer to repeat themselves over and over.
How to end the conversation on a positive note
The final letter in A.P.P.L.E. is “E: End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.” In this phase of the conversation, you want the customer to walk away feeling like the representative was attentive and confidently solved their issue.
For Craig Stoss, the very fabric of customer experience is about providing people with help.
“You always tell the truth. You always provide help, even if that help is being honest about what you can’t do. You do your best to make sure the customer goes away at least perceiving that you’ve tried to give them the help they’ve wanted,” Craig says.
Let’s dive deeper into how you can train your customer service representatives to leave customers feeling cared for and like their problem was resolved.
9. Express gratitude
Your parents were right. “Thank you” goes a long way in any setting, whether a social situation or a business call. Make it part of your company policy to thank your customers for their time and patience — especially if the call or situation has been frustrating for the customer.
How you express gratitude will depend on your call and the customer interaction. But here are some examples of phrases that drive the point home for customers:
- I’m so glad you called today. Thanks for your patience as we found a solution.
- Thank you for being a long-term customer. We look forward to working with you again.
- Thank you for taking the time to meet with us today. Your insights were invaluable.
- I appreciate your patience while we troubleshoot this issue. Thanks for sticking with us.
- Thanks for your honest feedback. It helps us improve and serve you better.
Get in the habit of thanking your customers. Test different phrases. See what customers respond to best.
10. Create a plan for following up
It’s common for it to take a few calls and emails to resolve a problem for a customer. In the event you need to schedule additional follow-ups, make sure to communicate to your customer exactly what you’ve done so far, what you’ll do while you’re off the phone, and when you’ll get back to them.
Natalie says the worst thing you can do is end a meeting without having a next step or another call booked.
“It’s important to be able to assess how customers are using the product and what pain points they’re trying to solve. Then you can develop those firm next steps or milestones you can work toward. We try to get something in our calendar or decide on a milestone,” Natalie says.
For example, let’s say a customer called in frustrated that their payments weren’t going through, which led to delays in their orders. Let’s assume the rep could see where the problem was in the system, but they would have to talk to someone in the billing and shipping departments to resolve the problem.
To set clear expectations, the agent would implement a follow-up plan. In other words, the customer service rep would communicate their plan to speak with the other departments and then schedule a specific time to call the customer back with the full resolution.
11. Invite customer feedback
Another way to end with a fond farewell is to ask customers for feedback. Here are some examples of when you can ask for customer feedback on a call and what to say:
- After resolving a specific issue: “Now that we’ve resolved the problem, can you please share how satisfied you are with the solution?”
- End of a customer service call: “Before we end this call, may I ask for your feedback on how well your concerns were addressed today?”
- After a purchase: “Thank you for your purchase. Could you take a moment to provide feedback on your shopping experience?”
- During the call: “How are we doing so far? Your feedback helps us offer the best service possible.”
- In a follow-up email after an event: “We hope you enjoyed the event. Could you please fill out this quick survey to help us make future events even better?”
These are all specific questions to gather qualitative responses. Many companies experience success with capturing quantitative feedback as well. Here’s how Pam Abreu does this with a Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey:
“We do NPS surveys with our clients to start gauging where clients are at early on and to troubleshoot with any people who might not be incredibly happy. If we get an NPS that’s lower than eight, we have a member of our team reach out and ask some general questions about what could bring their score up.”
Not only does this practice give customers an opportunity to express their needs, but it also provides invaluable insight into how you can improve future customer interactions.
The basics: Communication strategies for every conversation
While we’re confident you’re already familiar with basic communication strategies, it never hurts to revisit these essential tips for talking to customers. These fundamentals can serve as a solid foundation and enhance any other techniques you use.
- Use positive language and tone. Shift away from negative language and focus on presenting issues in a more positive light. The goal is to help the customer understand you’re making progress, or at least an honest effort, on their concern.
- Mirror the customer’s language. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Using the same terminology the customer uses can build trust. For instance, if a customer refers to Sales Development Representatives as SDRs instead of BDRs (Business Development Representatives), mirror that language. Studies have shown using similar verbiage creates a sense of familiarity and helps build trust.
- Be human. Following a script can be helpful, but there are times when going off-script offers a more authentic and effective experience. Show empathy, try to understand the emotions behind the customer’s words, and ask them how they’re doing. Personal touches like these can make a world of difference in resolving issues and scaling customer relations.
Let OpenPhone help you improve customer communication
Steve Jobs was a visionary. He had it right when he said, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around.”
Given that Apple remains one of the most impressive companies — with millions of loyal global customers — it makes sense to commit to Jobs’s philosophy and follow the A.P.P.L.E. customer service framework.
To do this, companies need to train customer service representatives to listen, personalize phone calls, and communicate expectations. But that’s not all. It also requires equipping customer service teams with communication tools (like OpenPhone) that make it possible.
Start a free, seven-day trial of OpenPhone to see for yourself how you can optimize customer communications with a virtual business phone system.
Ashley R. Cummings is a professional freelance writer specializing in SaaS, marketing, and e-commerce. She also writes Content Connect, the newsletter that helps you grow your freelance writing and content marketing muscles. And she co-hosts the podcast and video series Freelance Bitters.