I was in the Penn Square Mall in Oklahoma City on a beautiful summer Sunday. The mall was reasonably busy, probably just right for a Sunday afternoon during a non-holiday shopping season. I was headed to the Apple Store, but on the way there, I passed by the Microsoft Store. Microsoft has attempted to duplicate the Apple Store in look and feel; plus, they have a natural draw to bring in younger shoppers, one that Apple does not have: the Xbox. There was a huge monitor and multiple player stations with Xbox game audio blasting into the mall—a virtual pied piper strategically placed to lure in Millennials.
Except, it wasn’t working. Excluding the six Microsoft store employees, there were two other people in the Microsoft Store. Two. It could not have looked more like the “dead party” I often reference when speaking, where you enter a place that just makes you think, How long do I have to stay here? I continued on to Apple, just four stores down. Looking into their space, it was as I always experience at the Apple Store—a human car wash. So many people jammed shoulder to shoulder, that if you needed to get to the back of the store, you would have to agitate your way through the wash of humanity.
And it made me wonder. Here were two consumer electronics retailers in the same mall on the same day at the same time. One was virtually empty and the other was slammed. What is it that Apple has done that no one else seems to be able to duplicate? After all, by some estimates, there are 1.32 billion Office/Office 365 users. Apple claims only 588 million worldwide customers. Windows is on 75% of the world’s computers, compared to Apple’s iOS, which is on about 20%. The point is, it’s not like Apple is a much larger company in terms of individuals and businesses that would have a reason to go visit their store rather than Microsoft. So why the difference?
I don’t know, but I do have a couple of observations. First, the Apple Store has a lot more employees available. Maybe it’s not cause and effect, but I believe there is a direct correlation between the busyness of the store and the fact that they have a lot of sales and technical support. Even though the store is crowded, you know you will get prompt attention. Most businesses, particularly in financial services, are moving to reduce the number of customer-facing staff. I think this is a mistake.
Secondly, Apple has trained their associates to be masters at consultative selling. They ask probing and intelligent questions to ascertain which Apple product would be the best fit for you and your unique situation. Some argue this cannot be replicated in other verticals, such as financial services; I heartily disagree. Any business can adopt a consultative selling culture, but you cannot play at it; you must go all in culturally.
For example, this visit to the Apple Store was for a Genius Bar appointment for my wife Samantha. She has an older model iPad and it was running very slowly. I figured it just needed to be replaced but wanted to make sure first. While we were waiting for our appointment, a very gracious Apple employee, Megan, was asking Samantha consultative selling questions regarding her iPad usage. She showed Samantha two newer iPad’s that would match her usage. Then the Apple technician came over and did an examination of the iPad. Sure enough, it was too old to come up to the expectations that Samantha had, and she decided to purchase the iPad Air. Then they transferred over all of her data and applications to the new iPad, did a mini-class on how to use the pencil, and answered all of her questions. Plus, they did something to repair the old iPad so that it would still be usable for Samantha to share with her grandchildren. Samantha is just like millions of other Apple customers: they are not technology experts but appreciate that Apple has experts who will take the time to work through issues, answer questions, and never make them feel dumb.
With very rare exceptions, Apple’s in-store support and product assistance is unmatched. They care as much (perhaps more) about properly getting your information transferred from the old device to the new. And as I recently learned, sometimes that does not work out smoothly. But they stay with you and work through the problem to eventually get it resolved. I don’t care if you are a bank or a dry cleaner—how is it we cannot duplicate that level of problem solving?
We have to get serious about innovating around the customer experience. If you have never been to an Apple store, make a field trip and go experience it. Then ask yourself, How can I duplicate the consultative selling, education, and problem solving that occurs at the Apple Store in a way appropriate for my business?