Apple’s Customer Experience Geniuses: Finding New Ways to Facilitate Empathy?

by Colin Shaw on May 22, 2014

apple-300Apple is considering taking their empathy approach to customer experience to the next level with a patent on an application that would read your facial expression and heart rate while you are online before choosing which ad to show you. While certainly a little unsettling in concept for some people, it could have excellent ramifications for delivering a better customer experience.

They patented the idea, No. 13/556023, which “describes a system that would determine a sort of baseline mood for a given user by collecting and analyzing a mixture of physical, behavioral and contextual data. “ This is, in many ways, a natural next step from their former strategy of reading body language and facial expressions from their customers that they were already doing and training their employees to use as a basis for their interactions with them. These physical clues can take that empathetic approach to the next level by giving them an idea of how you are feeling as well.

If you go to Apple’s website to read about the genius bar, they describe it as “the best place to get support for Apple products. It’s where you can get “friendly, expert help.” And they do all this as they “work with you face to face to provide technical support and troubleshoot any problems.”

Part of the reason that the geniuses are able to do this is because they are experts in reading customers and using the three F approach, as in Feel, Felt, Found that Apple taught them. “I can see how you feel frustrated with the iGadget. I have felt frustrated when I had the same problem. But I have found that when I updated to the new OS, my iGadget was far more responsive and less prone to this kind of issue.” This approach has both a calming effect to a customer that might be upset as well as a tone of expertise and experience that makes customers feel more safe and calm because they are in knowledgeable and understanding hands.

In addition to these three Fs, the geniuses are trained in all kinds of physical clues that help them deliver a better experience for you. For example, they are taught in the manual that “smiling” means a customer is open, while customers with “hands on hips” are considered aggressive. They in turn are taught to stroke their chin to communicate that they are listening and thoughtful over the information the customer has given them.  They use all of this information and physical clues to help you solve your problems, and yes, to sell you things. And to those of you who might find this sort of behavior manipulative or insincere, I would argue that none of these tactics keeps a customer from exercising his or her free will. The use of this kind of customer reading is hardly sinister.

But all of this interpretation and presentation take place in person so they can sell you something. So to use technology to read certain physical clues like facial expression and heart rate online before they sell show you an ad to sell you something seems to me like a logical next step.

Manuals that take into account how a customer is feeling are a great way to train employees on how to manage customer experiences. We often create these types of manuals to help our clients better manage the customer experience moving forward. We are as likely to get down to the details of how an employee should stand, what exactly they should say, and how to interpret the customer’s response. These types of considerations are essential to creating a better emotional signature, in any organization’s experience.

Time will tell as to whether they will actually develop this. Industry insiders say that every patent on an idea like this one isn’t automatically made into a new application. If it is, I can see that selling something to you online based on your mood may have been the original aim of the patented idea, but using the information they can discern from this application to facilitate even more empathy for a customer interaction will be the way that it pays off the most. An application that could do that would be, simply put, genius.

How well do you focus on being empathic with Customers?

Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin has been recognized by LinkedIn as one of the top 150 Business Influencers in the world.  He is an international author of four best-selling books on Customer Experience. Colin’s company, Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialised research & training from our Global Headquarters in Tampa, Florida, USA.

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Colin ShawApple’s Customer Experience Geniuses: Finding New Ways to Facilitate Empathy?