APPLE: My Key to Success

March 4, 2013

No, not the company or the fruit. APPLE is an acronym ingrained into every Apple store employee before they ever even step on the retail floor. And it has continued to guide me ever since.

APPLE:

• Approach customers with a personalized warm welcome
• Probe politely to understand all the customer’s needs
• Present a solution for the customer to take home today
• Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns
• End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return

To date, I've had three successful side projects. I attribute a large portion of each of their successes to APPLE.

My first successful side project turned into a healthy passive income business which I later sold to self-fund HashiCorp. The second side project was Vagrant, a popular tool used by thousands of companies and also now my full time job. The third project, IRCRelay, was a weekend project I worked on with Jack Pearkes over the course of two months. It launched in November 2012, and was profitable in less than 6 weeks.

While much more than just APPLE is required to be successful, I can confidently say that without APPLE, each of the aforementioned projects would have failed.

When doing anything, there is nothing more important than being respectful to your customer or user. Take the time to be welcoming, polite, and attentive. Present a real solution to their problem. Invite them back if they need anything more. Maybe they'll help you by continuing to support your work, but maybe they won't. It doesn't matter. All that matters is being a good, caring person.

As a single concrete example, let's look at a real email conversation from IRCRelay support, anonymized to protect the customer's identity. An IRCRelay user, Brian, sends this email only 20 minutes after signing up:

Brian writes:

At this point I could've quickly responded to Brian, pointing out we have a "cancel my account" link directly on the page shown after logging in. Similarly, when someone comes into an Apple store wanting a MacBook, the specialist could easily just point to the MacBooks and say "there they are." They don't do this. Likewise, instead of pointing to the "cancel my account" link, I responded:

Mitchell writes:

Brian,

Of course! I went ahead and deleted your account. Just so you're comfortable, I want to remind you that you won't be billed.

Also, thanks for giving IRCRelay a try, we really appreciate it. Do you mind sharing why you were unhappy with the service?

Approach and Probe. Brian responds:

Brian writes:

Thanks! I appreciate that being so easy. I had trouble with my IRC nickname. Whenever I connected it would be "brian_" instead of "brian." Initially, I was already connected to IRC from my old client, so I disconnected. But the nick wouldn't change itself back to "brian." Contacting help is a bit too much trouble, so I just gave up.

I respond, Presenting a solution:

Mitchell writes:

Brian,

We just deployed a change to our system so that it automatically tries to regain your desired nickname if it wasn't able to upon connection. This will avoid this issue for all future users. Thanks so much for pointing it out.

If you ever feel like giving IRCRelay another try, I'd be happy to give you an extra month free on top of the 30 day trial, as thanks for pointing out this issue. And please don't hesitate to contact me directly should you need any more help.

It is important to note here that when working at an Apple store, a solution isn't just something that solves the customer's problem, it is the solution that solves the customer's problem best.

I could've easily responded to Brian by educating him on how he could've used the /nick command to change his nick. Or I could've just offered to fix this for his specific IRCRelay account. Instead, the best solution was clearly to implement and deploy a system to automatically avoid the issue altogether.

The solution took extra time and effort, and maybe Brian won't even sign up again. But it doesn't matter. It was the right thing to do, and I genuinely do care about making the experience the best it can be for every customer.

At the end of the email, I End with a fond farewell, and invite Brian to contact me again if he needs anything. Brian has not yet signed up again, but I'm confident he will.

A little bit of APPLE goes a long way.