Microsoft & Apple Customer Service Personality Types
Before talking about their use of language, a brief note about personality type. Without a doubt, Apple folks come across as the cool, affable young men whom I imagined all wearing a solid color t-shirt and jeans. All five people with whom I spoke, I could visualize sitting in Seattle or Portland popping from work to go see a funk band at a local café.
They are young, friendly and seem like the kind of guy you’d want your friend to date. But don’t always get New York humor.
For example, the Mac senior manager with whom I spoke last night explained,
“What you seem to have is an emerging problem. This means a problem that we have only just started to notice and work on.”
I replied, “Well, that’s no surprise to me as I have always been on the cutting edge.”
He didn’t laugh.
I didn’t try being funny with Microsoft folks. I worked with a man and woman, both from India. Perfect English and perfect manners. They just seemed as far away as they actually were. I could not imagine their lives. I figured my humor would be lost.
More fascinating than the personality differences between the two companies was the use of language to manage customer upset.
When Apple service folks begin talking to you they always say something like, “First, before I begin, I want to say that I can understand why this is frustrating. I mean, you buy this product, and it isn’t working…”
This sentence will be said slightly differently each time. Yesterday I heard these iterations:
If you have ever read any books on conflict in love or work relationships you’ll see most recommend this kind of “mirroring” of your problem.
The premise is that people will chill out if they feel understood and heard.
Over time, however, I found the mirroring kind of silly and preferred their more spontaneous speech.
I decided to trying the “I understand” technique right back to the Apple guy.
Without a note of sarcasm I said something like, “Gosh, I imagine it’s really frustrating to spend hours on this problem only to realize there is no answer to this issue. You have to leave a client with a broken machine.”
He didn’t respond. So, I guess it doesn’t work both ways.
Microsoft Reassures, "I am here!"
Because my computer had been erased, I apparently needed a very easy to remember 25 digit product key from Microsoft sent to me in 2012.
After thirty minutes of explaining to Microsoft, no I didn’t keep a box for three years…I assumed technology was beyond this, etc. etc.
He kept saying, “Sarah, do not worry I am here. I will do everything I can to solve your problem.”
He didn’t solve the problem, but I have got to admit the, “I am here” kind of worked.
The woman he passed me to also kept reminding me, “I am here. It is ok. We will solve this problem.”
While she almost sold me another $150 of the same software, she did eventually solve my problem and I felt most reassured by her constant reminder that I would not be abandoned.
Apple or Microsoft: Whose Customer Service Language is Better?
I would have thought being understood and mirrored by Apple would have been soothing. But it felt too programmed, like they were trying to appease me.
Ironically, though Microsoft also used a script to calm me down, it WORKED!
Something about hearing, “I’m here. Don’t worry.” Calmed me down.
These phrases might impact people differently. Folks who spent their lives feeling misunderstood might love Apple's approach. I'm more sensitive to abandonment so Microsoft's style reached me.
Which works on you?
My stepfather read this and added an additional category" "Comcast friendliness" which he described this way...
"At several points doing my conversations with Comcast we had to wait 5 minutes or more for Digital HD Cable Box to reboot--during these time-outs the agents attempted to engage me in conversation about the weather, the "game" last night, or something about the city they were working out of. It certainly took any tension out of the situation and made the time fly by! Thanks for sending you blog along."
Using "Customer Service Speak" In Your Life
If you are in customer service or manage a customer service team, think about how these companies use language differently. Then try both approaches and see what works better with your clients.
When folks are in distress, I think you ultimately need to do both. First, reassure the person that you are not going to abandon them and then clearly state that you understand the problem.
The next step (which both companies miss) is stating the goal for the end of the session. Something like, “By the end of this call, we both want you to be able to use all the features of iMovie.”
When you move about this week, notice what phrases calm you and try using the Microsoft Reassurance Vs. the Apple Understand approaches with children, colleagues and spouses to see how each style impacts the discussion and you.