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Wright Words: Is your brand as valuable as Apple's?

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 28 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

The logo says it all.

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My office sits on Main Street in Woodstock, Va. It's a small space, but at street level it gives me a great view through a massive window that’s as wide as the office. The consequence of the constantly shifting scenery is that I easily become distracted gazing at passersby.

A few nights ago my chronic people-watching paid off.

I was working late when I noticed a couple walking hand in hand. They had the look of tourists, smiling and looking in every direction as if they’d never seen the sights and might never again.

The man’s name flashed in my mind: Omar.

I hadn't seen him in a long time and I knew he didn't live or work within 100 miles of microscopic Woodstock. And yet there he was at 8 p.m. strolling through our historic downtown.

I hopped up from my chair, stepped outside, noticed he was already halfway down the block and called out his name as a question: “Omar?”

He spun around with a combo-platter look of surprise, confusion and a side of fear. I am, after all, a very imposing physical specimen.

I walked toward him smiling and said, “That sure looks like Omar.”

Hold that thought; we'll get back to him.

No doubt like many of you, I'm an Apple junkie: not the fruit — though I don't mind a sliced Granny Smith with a fat glob of peanut butter now and then — but the gadgets that fill my pockets and cover my desktop.

Gadgets emblazoned with the ubiquitous Apple logo dominate many parts of my life. I wrote the first draft of this column on my iPad and edited it on a MacBook Pro, and I'm always listening to music on my iPhone.

The kids have smaller iPods and one of my old laptops. My wife runs the household and edits photos for her business on an iMac. If Apple launched iCologne, I just might try it.

All of these products and users mean I’ve been a regular at the Apple Store. And that takes us back to Omar.

Years ago I was working and living in northern Virginia when I met Omar Ghafoori and one of his managers, Lori Bechtel, at the Apple Store in the Fair Oaks Mall. Omar and Lori always took great care of me when I needed to buy some new gadget or had an issue with something I already owned. When the problem was user error, which, of course, it never was, they always broke it to me softly and walked me through the fix.

In Lori’s case, I was impressed at how many customers she knew by name and what good rapport they shared. When I came in with my kids, she didn’t ask them what was on their shopping list; she asked what grade they were in and how they were enjoying school.

As for Omar, he was the model of customer service. I found him trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous and kind. For all I know, he probably lives the rest of the Scout law, too.

It’s no mystery why the American Customer Satisfaction Index routinely rates the Apple brand first, a full stratosphere above the competition. That's what happens when one of their employees, someone I haven't seen in eons and never seen outside the context of a fluorescent-lit retail store in a shopping mall, walks past my office window two counties away and is instantly recognized.

I invited Omar and his delightful date — whom I learned was his fiancée — into my office. We chatted about his sightseeing trip to town and how much they’d enjoyed dinner at the local steakhouse. We even called his old manager, Lori, just to laugh together about the crazy coincidence.

I was not surprised that she asked about my family, and she was not surprised to hear that before he left, Omar offered to troubleshoot a few issues on my laptop, just like the good old days. Talk about a long-distance service call.

I marveled at the success and influence of the Apple brand as Omar and his fiancée disappeared down the street.

Then I pondered about how this experience relates to individuals: whether we’re in business or not, don’t we all have a brand? It’s what people think of when they see us pass their windows. Are we service-minded? Are we kind? Are we generous with our time? Are we memorable miles away for the right reasons?

He didn’t mean to, but Omar’s visit made me think of the thousands of people I’ve met in the past few years in social and professional settings. What sort of impact have I had, and where would I rank on the American Customer Service Index?

How about you? Is your own personal brand reminiscent of Apple and its employees or something else?

Frankly, I can’t wait for Omar to pass by my window again. I’m having new computer issues, and this time I'm sure it’s almost definitely maybe not user error.

Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of eight books, including "Christmas Jars" and "The Wednesday Letters." His latest, "The 13th Day of Christmas," will be released on Oct 9. He can be reached at feedback@jasonfwright.com.

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