Tipping over the Apple cart

Volume 11 Letter 6

The most success retailer in the world has a very serious sales training program that can be summed up with the acronym Apple:
A: Approach customer with a warm welcome
P: Probe to understand customer needs
P: Present a solution to their needs
L: Listen for any concerns
E: End with a sincere farewell and encourage to them come back again.

When Steve Jobs returned as CEO of Apple computer after an 11 year absence Apple’s retail strategy was in disarray. With soft sales in almost all product areas, retailers were starting to refuse to carry Apple product lines. Jobs knew that no matter what new products Apple would bring to market in the future all the innovations in the world would amount to little if there was no channel to the customer.

Apple first started to dabble in retail when they rented floor space in major electronic retail stores but soon discovered they couldn’t control the environment. Electronic stores resembled stark warehouses chock full of gadgets locked down with cables and bolted under glass counters. The stores were staffed by commissioned sales people eager to close the sale and blast product out the doors. This wasn’t the experience Mr. Jobs envisioned his clientele would relish. Instead he saw a store where customers could interact with the products and get a sense of the experience they would bring them in the future.

Apple opened its first store in 2000. The store was designed to stage the products and demonstrate to customers how they could be used. The technical support centre better known as the “genius bar” was staffed with well… geniuses who were well trained to manage technical issues on the spot. Importantly Geniuses (and all Apple employees) were taught how to communicate with customers rather than speak down to them as was so common in other such places. For example if a customer mispronounced a technical word the employee also mispronounced the word. Additionally floor sales reps were not commissioned. Sales staff was taught to probe customer needs and demonstrate how Apple could solve problems and enhance experiences with products on display in the store.

After a year of testing the concept Apple opened two additional stores and today operates over 350+ stores around the world. With an average income of $4500 per square foot they are by far the most success retail outlet beating out Tiffany’s and luxury bag maker Coach by over a $1000 and $2000 per square foot respectively. As brilliant as Apple products are it’s the attention to all the other details that impresses most. Mr. Jobs realized early on that innovative products don’t sell themselves. For every brilliant new product introduced to the market there must be an equally brilliant strategy to bring it to the market. Apple’s retail strategy bucked the trend to become the most success retail outlet by designing stores to enhance the product experience not to flog product. Additionally stores are always evolving. One noteworthy change of late has been the addition of briefing rooms where Apple staff can huddle with business customers to better demonstrate the productivity enhancements that Apple will bring their business.

What can Apple teach us?

  1. Design to enhance the product experience: Remember no one buys technology – they buy products that improve their lives
  2. Train your people: Like Disney performers, Apple knows their staff, both front line and Genius bar staff are a big part of the ultimate experience their customers will have with their products – train them well!
  3. Constantly evolve: Charles Darwin wrote, “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change”. Respond to customer changes

Ask yourself – “what do your products do for your customers?” Now map out each interaction point that your customers have with your product from introduction through purchase and after market service. Think of ways you can enhance that experience at each stage of that process. Never forget the most important lesson of any new product introductions ‘People don’t want new products they want to improve their lives – they want to know what your products can do for them’. Apple’s brilliance goes far beyond cool product designs! They manage the whole experience.

Ref: Technology Secrets from Apple’s Genius Bar – Full Loyalty – No Negativity Wall street Journal June 15 2011

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