I was stuck for several hours recently in a large American mall.
As I wandered through this soulless place, gazing at overpriced clothing and bored shop assistants, I stumbled across the Apple store. It was a hub of activity and staff outnumbered customers nearly two to one.
This was a problem because all I wanted to do was check my email on a display machine. So I planned to do this as quickly as possible and then escape like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible.
Alas, I’m no Hollywood movie star and with so many staff circulating I was cornered in 5 seconds.
I need not have worried.
Not only were the staff happy for me to use the internet, they also offered to help me find the best route to Santa Moncia when I asked how to get there by public transport.
As several staff Googled transport options, a round of cheering erupted. A staff member had been promoted. He was standing outside the store with his boss and given the news in full view of staff and customers. People’s enthusiasm for this man’s upgrade was so infectious that I started clapping and cheering with everyone else and felt genuinely happy for him.
When the cheering subsided we returned to our Google map search. I asked one of the sales people, a legally blind woman who used a special eyeglass to see the iPad, about the high number of staff. Apparently, they perform different functions. One group were Apple trainers who helped customers with their software. Another group were technicians who fixed hardware problems on the spot. A third group held general Q&A sessions on site. The rest were sales staff.
All this liveliness and talent in one store created a vibrant, intoxicating energy. I wanted to buy something. Anything. Fortunately, I already have an iPad and a Mac or I would have purchased a device and given high fives to the sales staff.
Once we’d all decided on the the best way to Santa Monica, I left the store with my wallet intact. The shopping mall now seemed friendlier and less dismal.
I wondered what it was about the Apple shop that had altered my mood. How could others learn from Apple’s customer service?
Here’s what I came up with:
Build a community
Apple staff made me feel welcome. They were happy for me to browse the internet knowing I wasn’t going to buy anything. Their only restriction for customers? No Facebook. They had to do this, they said, to stop all the teenagers coming in to chat online.
Employ a range of people
It was great that a legally blind woman was employed front of house in sales. There is so much workplace discrimination, but here was a woman who was helpful, enthusiastic and welcoming. It made me want to buy a product out of respect.
Promoting a salesperson in public so that everyone shares in their achievement is a fantastic way to motivate staff and customers. It’s also a surefire community builder.
Be attentive, but allow customers to browse
While several staff asked me at various times whether I needed help, they left me alone. I was not made to feel guilty for browsing, nor did they hint that I move on.
Use every opportunity
I liked the way informal workshops and technical Q&A sessions were being held in various parts of the room. These people knew how to make the most of their time and floor space.
Let the customer leave happier than when they came in
The staff’s laid back attitude was reassuring. Customers could relax. They could also feel like they belonged in this place.
Concentrate on what you do best
Apple make technology products. All the staff were were there to help customers use them.
Never catch public transport to Santa Monica
After a six hour round trip on buses and trains, I realised that no matter how helpful the Apple staff were, there is no easy way to get around LA