The Golden Trifecta: Design, User Interface, and Customer Service
Apple is universally applauded for three things: design, user interface, and customer service. I remember clearly the moment when I switched to Apple in my first year of college, with the purchase of the then-new Macbook Pro (incidentally, the computer I am currently typing this story on). Purchasing it was an entirely pleasurable experience — friendly, knowledgeable customer service representatives, and even a student discount. Learning how to use the computer took less than an hour, despite it being an entirely different interface from the computers I was accustomed to. Not to mention, its lightness and sleekness were both convenient.
This is not a eulogy to Apple. Rather, I want to examine how these three aspects of the company transformed me into an incredibly loyal customer (and I mean loyal — At this point I would go without a phone before I would use a non-iPhone).
Let’s start at the beginning. If you’re a new customer, you need things to be explained. I didn’t understand the mac operating system, and I wasn’t aware of policies like AppleCare insurance, or the Genius Bar, etc. However, I was onboarded in three crucial ways: the first, was with an incredibly knowledgeable, patient, and polite young sales rep. He was phenomenal at picking up on what I knew and what I didn’t, explaining things accordingly. This just comes down to good hiring practices and diligent training on the part of Apple.
The second, though, was once I was interacting with the operating system. Apple very clearly walks through each step; getting started with your new product, giving you options at every step to opt out of the tutorial (for the non-noobs among us). Even back in 2010, Apple had already realized the power of virtual customer service, and allowed me to onboard myself in a matter of minutes. This eliminated the stress and anxiety that I would have inevitably experienced had I been shown how to do things by some pushy sales rep.
The third, was through a wealth of online support communities. When I did run into problems or have a question about the device, finding answers to my questions online was incredibly simple.
I’m not alone in my lauding of Apple’s customer service. Ranked #3 in USA Today’s 2015 Customer Service Hall of Fame (Amazon was #1), the company is known for having both very happy customers, and exceptionally happy employees (they have a 4 out of 5 score for employee satisfaction on Glass Door– an unusually high rating). As Shep Hyken, customer service expert, noted, customer care is not just a department, “it’s a company-wide philosophy.”
User Interface (UI)
User Interface is closely related to customer service. Both have to do with making the customer experience as simple, easy, and seamless as possible. 30 years ago, Apple introduced a UI system of layered windows and calligraphy-inspired fonts, that made the original Mac incredibly accessible. Later, when Steve Jobs was appointed interim CEO, the company’s UI changed to “Aqua”－ the glossy buttons, blue-tinted scroll bars, and translucent menus that we still see today. Apple was revolutionary in, first, its menu button on the iPods, and now, the Home button that we’re familiar with on iPhones.
This brief history is simply to illustrate that Apple has focused on user interface and ease of use since its inception. The home button makes using an iPhone for the first time intuitive because there’s only a single option to navigate back to the home screen. Similarly, Apple does an amazing job of creating a consistent UI experience across devices. Its growing a user base from building a familiar UI that its loyal fans expect. Now, when I’m using an app with chat capabilities I expect to see the blue bubble with 3 dots to indicate there’s a human on the other side. The simplicity of iMessage UI has been established as my new standard for chat.
Having an intuitive, beautiful user interface makes your product easy and pleasurable to use
Now for the fun part: status. Apple’s products come with a certain cache, much of which (I believe) is due to the fact that they look opulent. They are light, sleek, and futuristic. Even the old Apple desktops were largely pure white. To boot, Apple has a distinctive logo that users actually want to display; it’s a status symbol.
1984 : Apple releases first Macintosh computer, featuring bitmap graphics.
To have a great design that users are proud to use habitually, you must put yourself in the minds of your customers and what they value: convenience, simplicity, and consistency. I am, in part, such a loyal customer because I am completely accustomed to both the UI and hardware design of Apple products. Although they frequently release new iterations of old products, the basic design elements stay more or less the same. This ensures customers won’t jump ship because the product’s look, feel and overall experience is too far deviated from the original UI.
At its core, these three elements come down to the product itself, and customer service is part of that. Too often, companies fail in one category or the other; either they’re too focused on making a product with perfect design and UI and don’t offer enough support, or they offer fantastic support but don’t emphasize the customer’s experience with the product enough. But to have a truly loyal customer, you need the trifecta: design, user interface, and customer service.