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Articles are continuously being written in hopes of dissecting and duplicating the Apple Store experience for other businesses. I’ve even seen sessions at industry conferences that revolve around how to duplicate this in car dealerships. While I agree that it should be every dealership’s goal to achieve the level of loyalty that Apple has, an interesting thought occurred to me as I read about the legendary Apple “Five Steps of Service.” I thought about it, and car dealerships already use these steps and have since long before Apple Stores even existed. You might ask, “Why is Apple so successful at creating the customer experience that they do while car dealerships fall short?” Let’s examine why I believe dealers already have these steps in place, how they use them and where I believe they’re falling short.
Apple’s 5 Steps of Service are ensconced in the same-named acronym, A.P.P.L.E.
“Approach customer with a personalized, warm welcome.” Car dealerships have done this forever. It’s called the “Meet and Greet.” Just as Apple trains its employees to approach customers individually when they enter with a warm welcome, car dealers train their staff to welcome guests to the dealership.
“Probe politely to understand all the customer’s needs.” In this step, Apple employees are trained to determine what the purpose of the customer’s visit is and assist them in finding a solution to their need or problem. Every front-line person at a car dealership already does this. If you’re a salesperson, you’re asking questions that will help you better advise a customer on which vehicle will be best suited for them. If you’re a service advisor, you’re identifying potential issues and setting up the proper inspections and/or making recommendations to the customer.
“Present a solution for the customer to take home today.” Apple isn’t necessarily talking about making a sale in this case but I’m sure it’s not far from their mind. No matter which department we’re talking about at your dealership, everyone is trained to “make the sale.” Whether that’s identifying a service need and offering a solution, or landing them on a vehicle that fits their wants and needs and asking for the sale.
“Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns.” In this step, Apple is including finding any “unexpressed” wishes or concerns. They train employees to ask questions to identify and address these unexpressed items. The same training is given to your dealership staff. Both your salespeople and service advisors are trained to listen to a customer’s objections to identify obstacles and remove them, if possible.
“End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.” Apple Store employees are trained to end each transaction by finding a way in which they can invite the customer back to the store. According to the article’s author, “How a person feels when they end a transaction significantly impacts how they perceive the brand and whether they are likely to recommend the brand to others.” Making sure that the transaction from start to finish is great is something that Apple recognizes as important. Dealerships should remember that it’s just as important for customers to leave the finance department, and ultimately your dealership, with the same excitement and happiness that conveyed when they first arrived.
The Apple Store mainly sells computers, phones and music players. Car dealerships sell cars. Everyone is just as, if not more, excited to get a new car as they are to get a new computer. If the Apple Store’s success secrets are being modeled by businesses nationally, and car dealerships have always been using similar steps, why is there such a distinction between the perceived experience of shopping at an Apple Store and that of a car dealership?
I believe that Apple has refined the art of selling the experience or what they call “enriching lives.” People don’t perceive Apple Store employees as salespeople but rather as consultants. They’re not expecting, nor do they usually receive, a hard sell. Yet few people make it out of an Apple Store without spending money. The key to transforming the customer experience at your dealership to one similar to that of an Apple Store has to do with perception. That perception can only be changed by ensuring that you have the right people working at your store who are genuinely interested in your customer’s wants and needs. The right employees are willing to listen and truly assist the customer in presenting a solution for their problem.
You already have the same steps in place to be successful that every Apple Store has. Make sure that you have the right people taking those steps. If you do, you’ll be able to transform your customer experience without changing a single process.