Millions of shoppers are expected to visit the Apple Store in the coming weeks to see and touch the new Apple Watch as well as other products like an all-new MacBook. But even though products change and the store design is altered slightly to accommodate the new products, there’s one thing that never changes, and that’s the Apple Store’s secret sauce.
The Apple Store’s magic formula: Building relationships is the secret to selling more products.
Many brands try to imitate the Apple Store model and most fall woefully short because they fail to recognize this simple fact—the soul of Apple is not its products. The soul of the Apple Store is its people —how they are hired, trained, and taught to engage the brand’s customers.
The Apple Store relies on a very effective communication technique it adapted from The Ritz-Carlton: Steps of Service. Every employee is trained to walk a customer through five steps that spell out the acronym A-P-P-L-E (The Ritz-Carlton has three steps). I’ve described the steps of service in previous columns so I won’t go into detail here, but briefly the steps are:
A: Approach customers with a personalized, warm welcome
P: Probe politely to understand the customer’s needs
P: Present a solution for the customer to take home today
L: Listen for and resolve issues or concerns
E: End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return
The products may change, but the steps do not. For example, in a report published on the blog 9to5Mac, a memo sent to Apple Store employees reads: “Many customers have already decided they want an Apple Watch. With the right questions and the APPLE steps of service, you can make great Apple Watch recommendations that suit both personal style and lifestyle.”
The memo focuses primarily on step 4: Listen. Employees are trained to “Listen for cues that reveal what they care about. Then, highlight the ways Apple Watch will add value to their life.” Step 3 is also critical because a salesperson cannot listen for cues or make recommendations if they haven’t asked the right questions. “Probing” questions are along the lines of the following:
“What interests you most about Apple Watch?”
“Is this for you or someone else?”
“How do you see yourself using the Apple Watch?”
“Are you looking for a watch that is more casual or formal?”
After studying the Apple Store model and speaking to former Apple leaders, I believe the steps of service technique is an ideal model for any brand that wants to build customer loyalty. I’ve seen the steps work like magic for a wide range of companies in different categories. In my experience, when a company implements steps of service consistently with all customer-facing employees in each and every customer interaction, service scores improve dramatically.
The steps of service work because customers are not “consumers.” They are people and people want to buy from someone who makes them feel special, someone who takes the time to give them a unique and personalized experience.
“The most important component to the Apple experience is that the staff isn’t focused on selling stuff ,” said one Apple Store senior leader. “It’s focused on building relationships and trying to make people’s lives better.” It’s by focusing on building relationships that has made the Apple Store the most profitable retailer per square foot on the planet.
In my experience speaking with leaders of customer service brand champions (Virgin, Zappos, Starbucks, Apple Store), I hear very little about “selling” products because these leaders are students of human psychology. They understand that on an emotional level people don’t want to buy stuff. Customers want to build relationships with people they can trust and who either 1) offer solutions to their problems or 2) make their lives more enjoyable.
Language is important. The words Apple Store leaders use to train employees to talk about the Apple Watch avoids traditional sales lingo. For example, according to the Apple memo, when a customer makes an appointment to try the Apple Watch, an “expert” will take that customer on a personalized “journey.” Employees are coached on building relationships, not on moving the highest number of products. Remarkably, by doing so, they move a large number of products.
Leaders, keep in mind that the language you use with your employees makes a big difference in how they view their roles and, by extension, on the service they provide your customers. When I see a sign on a door that reads “Cashier Wanted,” it’s a red flag that the company doesn’t understand customer service. In 2001 the Apple Store purposely avoided the title “cashier.” They did, however, hire “concierges” and “geniuses.” Words have power. Steps of service have power. The sooner you understand the difference between ‘selling products’ and ‘building relationships,’ the sooner you’ll build a company that gets people talking and buying.
This article was written by Carmine Gallo from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.