I've always been a Windows guy. Which means, naturally, that I've also always been a non-Apple guy. Tribal psychology at its finest.
"Get a MacBook!? No way. I hate Apple!"
That was my common refrain anytime one of my more tech savvy friends or colleagues challenged me on my supposed loyalty to all things PC and Android and my stubborn disdain for Apple.
Then a few weeks ago, I found myself in the market for a new laptop. Thankfully, my commitment to reason and science pushed me to at least consider going with a Mac. As any good scientist does, I weighed the evidence. I read product reviews. I watched videos. I researched all the pros and cons of all the similar products out there. I even went into different physical retail locations to talk to sales reps.
Then it was time for my last stop: the Apple store.
The Church of Apple
Going in, I had pretty strong expectations. I wanted to be dazzled by the in-store experience, to be distracted from the lockdown events of the past year. While brick and mortar stores continue to fight an uphill battle with increased cost cutting, I believe that retail players can't afford to forget the human side of the equation. After all, customers are itching to get out of their house and away from their computer.
So, I wondered, would the IRL Apple dazzle?
I walked up to the store. The incandescent apple logo brightly beckoned me in. Within seconds of crossing over, it became clear to me that this was going to be a totally different experience than what I'd had so far. My psychologist's spidey sense was tingling. The reps successfully hit on a number of important elements of persuasion that we know underpin effective customer experience. Two in particular.
First, they reduced friction at every touch point
Nothing about the experience was effortful, arduous, or awkward. Even though the store was packed, I was put on a list to see someone, and within two minutes I was warmly greeted by an Apple employee. The mask didn't matter, I could sense the smile underneath. For the sake of the story, we'll refer to this employee as Jess.
All of my questions were answered with directness and refreshing transparency. There wasn't a whiff of salesmanship at all.
I was also able to test out some of the features right there on the machine in front of us. Everything was done in a single location in the store, including the point of sale. I didn't have to part with Jess to stand in a different queue for payment or pickup. The goods were brought right to me. And with a couple easy movements, Jess's phone doubled as a nifty POS terminal that took my payment.
Second, they established a sense of trust and authenticity.
I'm deathly allergic to inauthenticity. I'm not alone. Psychology research shows a clear link between perceived authenticity and persuasive appeal.
For me, when a person "tells it like it is," they are giving me subtle but powerful cues to trust them and the brand they represent. Jess did this -- and more. She could have easily pushed a number of upsells. I needed a few additional items, including an adapter for my different connectors and plug-ins. Jess pointed me to the one they had available in-store, but quickly followed with "Honestly, I'd go down to this other store as you'll basically get the same product for half the price."
I also told Jess that my wife is a teacher and I asked about the promo, a free set of AirPods with the purchase of any MacBook. My wife was in a different store down the way, so I asked Jess if my wife needed to come by and show her educator's card for proof. Jess said, "No, no. It's all good."
I don't know if this is against their policy. But the mental calculus sells itself from a customer loyalty view: Jess trusted me, I trusted her; therefore, I now trust Apple as a brand.
You're not Apple, but you can still think about the human
Apple is among the best. They have one of the highest net promoter scores of all time. Part of the reason for that, as my own personal story highlights, is because frontline employees are damn good at their job. It's known in the industry that "it's easier to get into Stanford than to get hired by Apple."
For brands coming into their own, or looking to revamp their own experience management strategy, you can still take away some of these lessons in human psychology. You don't need to become Apple or even try to compete against Apple. It's important to be your own brand. Just be sure that you factor in some of these psychological insights. Your customer is a human first. And humans, we know, are driven by a shared set of fundamental needs and desires.
Hone in on the human element and be sure that every decision you make with respect to your people -- customers and employees -- is in service of the human side of the equation.
As for me, I'm officially now an "Apple guy." It's amazing what one good customer experience can do.