Apple’s story is one that has transcended that of retailer and manufacturer, and has embedded itself into the core of the modern business stratagem. The countless meetings I’ve been in and headquarters I’ve visited that lofted one of Steve [Job]’s core tenets as their lifeblood are too many to count. We all want to be like Apple, or at least as successful as Apple.
The problem is not just any organization can create culture and emotional connection that spans beyond its products. In today’s increasingly saturated marketplace, this separates the inspiring from the forgotten. How do you inspire a consumer to believe you are the best, regardless of how they feel about each individual product you produce? How do you instill that belief in all of your people? How do you measure that experience in every store, every moment of every day?
When Steve stood on-stage in 2007 and announced a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone and a breakthrough internet communications device, he wasn’t just announcing iPhone. Steve saw the opportunity to connect every innovation Apple had ever produced, and the industries they’d reinvented to do it, on a foundation that would support the empire we see today. The iPhone wasn’t just a technology innovation, it was a launching point for Steve’s real intention — a truly integrated ecosystem of products and services.
What made this launch truly exceptional was the localized support and evangelism Apple had been building at a retail level. Apple Retail was six years old by the launch of iPhone and was largely touted as a bad idea at its onset by industry analysts. But by late 2003, Apple Retail turned its first profit and never looked back. A face to the brand, a personal shopper experience, a service hub and a training center, Retail focused on shifting the focus from product sales to consumer support — and Apple Retail flourished.
In my mind and experience, there are three core lessons we can take away from their strategy at Retail and apply today for ensured results. As simple as these tenets may seem, approach each with a focused eye on change management and you too could begin to see the shift from retail vendor to valued consumer partner.
Your Associates Come First
The first major step towards cultural and revenue health at retail is ensuring that your people share your vision for future success. The reality is most retail managers are consumed with operational tasks and rarely have the ability to inspire the desire to be a part of the customer experience solution.
Apple’s strategy for associate experience is not a secret. They hire people with passion, they pay them well (and no commission — the focus should be on the interaction, not the sale itself) and they communicate with them daily around the what and the why. It’s really that simple.
Return of the Personal Shopper
An Accenture study showed that 83 percent of consumers prefer dealing with human beings — they want a personalized experience. But before you run out and invest in clienteling solutions and flush your marketing with messaging around a VIP experience, think about the root cause for this consumer demand. People want to feel valued. They want you to recognize their needs and make them a priority. Simply giving your associates access to their buying history doesn’t ensure a personalized experience — especially if your employee has no real ability or desire to use this information for the customer’s greater good.
What they really want is side-by-side assistance, and to do this the right way the associate needs access to the product knowledge necessary to guide their experience without leaving their side. Apple doesn’t lead with clienteling today — sure, they can pull up your device history at the Genius Bar, but they haven’t made this a focus on the sales floor. Instead, they train their people to get to know you and connect you to the store environment. Whether it’s your first or your 100th time at Apple, the experience should feel the same. Consistency builds trust and trust builds loyalty. Give them the tools to be confident with the customer and they’ll engage more readily and more often.
Services for the People
Your products can’t be your only offering. In an Amazon dominated marketplace, the consumer can and will find an alternative way to buy your products or replace them. They may even do it while standing in your retail store. Ask yourself this: why would a consumer visit our stores without any intention of making a purchase? If you’re coming up short for answers, this is an area I’d dedicate a lot of time to.
The simplest ideas are often the strongest. You want something that will offer a unique experience, specific to your brand, but if you need to explain it to the consumer, it’s not going to work. Technology retailers have been doing this for ages — Apple’s Genius Bar, Best Buy’s Geek Squad, and Staples Print Services. The rest of us have some catching up to do.
My time at Apple revealed to me these most core principals, and that's how I lead every retail experience deployment I design here at Bigtincan today. Associate-first is, and will, always be the way to combat the cost and convenience competition. It’s allowed Apple to introduce innovations no other company could and provide the local community a touch-point to help us all take full advantage of the evolution.
It’s not easy, but with partners like Bigtincan and a mindset for positive change, you too can look forward to higher valuations and more importantly, peace of mind that consumers believe that what you do is essential — today and into the future.