When you touch hearts, profits follow. In this Forbes column Carmine explains why the Apple Store was never a ‘store.’Read article on Forbes.com.
Apple opened its first retail locations in 2001 and did not hire cashiers. It hired concierges instead. Think about it. How many times have you seen a sign on a store or its website reading, “Cashiers wanted?” It should come as no surprise that Apple reportedly dropped the word “store” from its retail locations because they were never intended to look or feel like stores in the traditional sense.
When I wrote the first mass-market book on the Apple Retail model, the word “store” did not appear in the title or the jacket. I called it the Apple ”Experience” because, from its inception, Apple’s leaders chose to reimagine the customer experience. “People come to Apple for the experience, and they’re willing to pay a premium for it,” one Apple executive said.
During my year-long research it became clear that Apple retail locations owe their success to the fact that Steve Jobs, Ron Johnson and the retail team at Apple didn’t intend to build a computer retail store. Here are 10 reasons why the Apple Store was never a store, and what leaders in every industry can learn from the Apple approach to serving the emotional needs of its customers.
Ask better questions. Steve Jobs did not ask, “How can we build a store to increase the market share of our products?” Instead he asked, “How do we enrich lives?” and “Who offers the best customer service in the world?” Jobs believed that the computer retailers of the time (such as Gateway) had failed because they asked the wrong questions. Asking better questions lead to an innovative and unique experience.
Look outside your field for inspiration. Better questions prompted Apple leaders to study examples outside of the traditional retail industry. You see the Genius Bar at the back of Apple’s retail locations? Those are directly inspired by the bar in the lobby of a luxury hotel chain like The Ritz-Carlton and the Four Seasons. Instead of dispensing alcohol, it dispenses advice.
Hire magnetic personalities. With the exception of a few roles, Apple doesn’t hire for technical knowledge in its retail locations. It hires for personality. One manager told me he looks for 10% product knowledge and 90% personality. “You can’t teach friendly,” he said. Apple taught me that if you can touch hearts, profits will follow. No company can touch hearts with a heartless staff.
Seek out diverse backgrounds and experiences. Apple’s workforce reflects a diversity of experiences. Walk into an Apple Store and you’ll find employees who are former teachers, engineers, musicians, artists and people from a wide cross section of careers and experiences. A job in retail is no guarantee that you’ll be hired at an Apple Store. Apple prefers to hire a teacher who doesn’t know everything about its products over of an expert who can’t teach.
Focus on the greeting (and the exit). Walk into an Apple store and you’ll most likely be greeted by a smiling, friendly associate who is committed to creating a satisfying customer experience. Apple puts a lot of thought on who is the first person to greet a customer. Apple also trains employees to end each interaction with “a fond farewell and an invitation to return.” Research shows that how people feel when they enter the environment and how they feel when they leave significantly enhances (or damages) their likelihood to recommend the company.
Commit to steps of service. Apple trains its employees to follow the “5 steps of service,” which I explain in this video. Apple didn’t create the steps of service model; they adapted it from luxury hotel operators such as The Ritz-Carlton which trains to a similar model. In hospitality, retail and even health care, I’ve never come across a better customer service technique than training employees to a follow steps of service.
Pay attention to details. In Apple retail locations, nothing is taken for granted. The stone tiles in the store are made in the same Italian quarry. Fingerprints are wiped off the screens almost immediately. The laptops are titled at exactly the same angle. Most importantly, the wooden display tables have strategically placed holes so cables and cords are hidden. Several years ago a couple on vacation stumbled into counterfeit Apple stores and notified the company. The giveaway? The stores were messy. Details mattered to Jobs, and they still do.
Sell the benefit. Consumers don’t buy products; they buy solutions to problems. Steve Jobs understood this critical point that helped to differentiate the Apple store from its competitors. “People don’t just want to buy personal computers anymore. They want to know what they can do with them, and we’re going to show them just that,” Jobs said in the first video where he explained the mission behind the Apple store. Apple employees are coached to ask questions (“probe”) so they can communicate features and benefits that help customers solve specific problems. “The staff isn’t focused on selling stuff. It’s focused on building relationships and trying to make people’s lives better,” an Apple executive said. And by doing so they sell a ton of products, making Apple one of the most profitable retailers on the planet.
Educate your customers. Explaining the benefits of a product triggered Apple to create an innovation in retail—classes and workshops to help people understand what they can do with Apple devices. In 2007 Apple launched “one-to-one,” a $99 a year program that allowed customers to sign up for unlimited classes on a variety of subjects pertaining to its computers. Although fewer customers have been signing up over the past years, Apple continues its tradition of education with expanded free workshops and “Apple Camp” for students.
Instruction enhances the customer experience in nearly every category, in a retail setting or online via a webinar. The more your customers are familiar with your product, they more they appreciate it, the more likely they are to be loyal customers and—importantly—to recommend your product or service to others.
Dream bigger. An executive tasked with reinventing the Disney Store once turned to Disney’s largest shareholder at the time, Steve Jobs, for advice. Jobs offered two words: “Dream bigger.” Jobs told Disney the old stores lacked excitement. They didn’t represent Disney’s reputation for creativity and wonder.
Dream bigger: No better advice has ever been given for retailers or business leaders in any category.