No matter how well you set up service models and customer experience objectives, nothing beats creating a culture that empowers employees to truly be in the moment and react to the situation at hand. Recently, an Apple store employee made headlines when he helped a mother and her autistic son purchase an iPad. The entire transaction took place sitting on the floor after the boy accidentally ran into the glass wall of the store.

Upon hearing the impact of the boy hitting the wall, Apple employee Andrew Wall approached the mother and son and quietly sat on the floor with them. He asked if they were OK and offered to help. The boy was not seriously hurt, and soon he was distracted by watching shoppers pass outside the store window. His mother was shaken by the accident and didn’t want to upset her son any further so she asked Wall if they could complete their iPad purchase while sitting on the floor. The unflappable employee did just that, sitting on the floor with the boy and showing him how to use his new iPad.

“Just meet me right where I am,” said LynnMarie Rink, the boy’s mother. “Don’t make me stand up or stand out. We know we’re not normal but we try to be. And he just sat on the floor with us.”

Apple Employees Encouraged to Build Relationships

This customer interaction is an excellent example of Apple’s approach to service, which follows five-steps that use APPLE as an acronym to make it simple for employees. The five steps guide employees through a customer interaction while allowing enough freedom to be present and respond to a customer’s specific needs. Apple emphasizes the importance of building relationships and connecting with customers – from the moment a customer walks in the door and is greeted with a warm welcome to the end of the interaction that closes with a friendly farewell.

This service approach fully aligns with Apple’s brand promise of “Think different.” There are no specific scripts to follow – just a set of behaviors that guide employees while also requiring them to think about each customer and his or her specific needs. This gives employees the freedom to make it their own, which creates a service experience that’s authentic and genuine – not something that’s scripted or with formal and rigid steps.

Service Model is Flexible and Adaptable

Apple took a smart approach to its service model by keeping it flexible and adaptable. It can be tempting to build firm guardrails into a service model as a way of ensuring that the brand promise is fully delivered. This can result in a customer experience that’s inauthentic and robotic. The priority becomes fulfilling specific steps or reciting scripted phrases rather than responding to a customer’s needs. The Apple model offers steps to guide the experience without boxing in employees so firmly that they can’t respond personably to each customer. While I can’t imagine Apple’s service training specifically mentions sitting on the floor with customers, the company’s brand culture combined with a flexible service approach gave an employee the freedom to create the ideal experience for this mother and son.

The boy’s mother was so grateful for the way the Apple employee responded that she posted a thank-you note on her Facebook page. The note was picked up by a popular site called Love What Matters, which features good deeds and heartfelt stories. So far, the post has more than a million page views. A simple act of one employee delivering a brand-aligned customer experience has done more for building Apple’s brand than any slick ad campaign. By creating simple behaviors and a flexible framework that allows for personalization, Apple built a culture where employees can feel empowered to truly be in the moment with customers – creating a memorable experience and lasting brand impression, even while sitting on the floor.

My team at Kennedy Global has worked with numerous global brands on creating brand-aligned customer experiences using simple and memorable models that make it easy for employees to deliver. If we can offer guidance on creating a service model that fully aligns behind your brand, contact us today. We’d love to talk with you.

About Alice Wright

As Director of Content Strategy, Alice directs projects while also designing program strategy and instructional content. She has more than 22 years of experience managing integrated strategic marketing, communication and training programs for globally recognized brands. Some of her current and past clients include Nike, Sunglass Hut, Safeway, Banfield Pet Hospital, Office Depot, Unilever, LensCrafters, EMC, Intel, Microsoft, Dell, adidas, Joann Stores and others. Alice earned her bachelor’s degree from the School of Journalism and Communication at University of Oregon. She lives with her husband and teenage son in Portland, Oregon where she loves exploring the outdoors and being a soccer/band mom.