Editor's Note: Tales From Behind the Red Zone
As I write this, the Apple buzz has reached fever pitch. Apple launched a bevy of new products and services in a star-studded event earlier this month, including the iPhone 6, the iPhone 6 Plus, the Apple Watch and Apple Pay. While the gadgets are cool, a program I listened to on my local public radio station (WNYC) the day of the launch is what really struck me. A reporter for the show New Tech City interviewed a few Apple ex-employees (called specialists), who had worked in the "red zone" section of Apple retail stores in New York City and Minnesota. The red zone is the area in Apple stores where specialists are trained to help customers buy and set up their devices.
While the focus of the program was really about how Apple employees deal with people waiting in line for hours (even days!) to get their hands on Apple's latest products, the most interesting parts for me were the explanations of how Apple trains its in-store employees and how those employees feel about working with the brand's customers.
What I learned was that when Apple seeks out new employees, it doesn't initially look for technical know-how. Instead, new hires need to show how well they treat others — i.e., their human side. Here are some statements from the ex-employees that illustrate Apple's approach:
- "When I first joined the company, I knew almost nothing about iPhones," said Jeremy (he only gave his first name). "When we were hired and trained, it wasn't approached as a retail job. It was approached as hospitality."
- "Training can go on for weeks, and a lot of it's how to empathize with the customer," said Peter Harmlen, one of the ex-employees interviewed. "[We were trained on the importance of] asking permission for certain things. For example, asking customers if you could hold their iPhones before grabbing them out of their hands."
- "The customers were amazing," said Jeremy. "We couldn't wait to help people. The most rewarding part of the job was getting to work one-to-one with people. There were no dumb questions; we enjoyed working with them for as long as it took."
These statements show Apple isn't just about cool new gadgets. It recognizes the importance of training employees — whether they're in the corporate office or the corner store — on how to treat customers. Apple is intent on forming relationships with every customer, whether they're buying a new device, getting one fixed or just asking questions. Being customer focused is part of Apple's brand messaging. Apple can teach us a lot about how to communicate that brand message so effectively.