Employee Engagement Case Study

A Retail Case Study in Engagement at Apple

Look at Apple for an example of employee and customer engagement. Customers tend to love their experiences with engaged employees in Apple stores. An article in the New York Times: Apple’s Retail Army, Long on Loyalty but Short on Pay provides great insight into Apple’s retail model.

Last year, the company’s 327 global stores took in more money per square foot than any other United States retailer — wireless or otherwise — and almost double that of Tiffany, which was No. 2 on the list, according to the research firm RetailSails. Worldwide, its stores sold $16 billion in merchandise. Divide revenue by total number of employees and you find that last year, each Apple store employee — that includes non-sales staff like technicians and people stocking shelves — brought in $473,000. Electronics and appliance stores typically post $206,000 in revenue per employee, according to the latest figures from the National Retail Federation.

The brand is built on an army of hourly workers. Apple’s brand may be drawn-up and envisioned in Cupertino, but it comes to life through tens of thousands of relatively low-paid 20-year-olds.

About 30,000 of the 43,000 Apple employees in this country work in Apple Stores, as members of the service economy, and many of them earn about $25,000 a year. The company also offers very good benefits for a retailer, including health care, 401(k)contributions and the chance to buy company stock, as well as Apple products, at a discount.

People seek out a higher purpose.Apple hires people who love the Apple brand and provides them with a vision for their work that goes beyond selling products to “enriching people’s lives.” Companies need to identify this purpose and communicate it to employees. What would your store look like if you hired engaged customers who already love your brand?

But Apple’s success, it turns out, rests on a set of intangibles; foremost among them is a built-in fan base that ensures a steady supply of eager applicants and an employee culture that tries to turn every job into an exalted mission. One manager said it was common for people offered jobs to burst into tears. But if the newly hired arrive as devotees, Apple’s training course, which can range from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the job and locale, turns them into disciples. The phrase that trainees hear time and again, which echoes once they arrive at the stores, is “enriching people’s lives.” The idea is to instill in employees the notion that they are doing something far grander than just selling or fixing products. If there is a secret to Apple’s sauce, this is it: the company ennobles employees.

Train for key customer moments. Apple examines the experience of customers and trains employees how to deal with these critical interactions. Companies need to understand interactions from the customer’s perspective.

Training commences with what is known as a “warm welcome.” As new employees enter the room, Apple managers and trainers give them a standing ovation. The clapping often bewilders the trainees, at least at first, but when the applause goes on for several lengthy minutes they eventually join in. There is more role-playing, this time with pointers on the elaborate etiquette of interacting with customers. One rule: ask for permission before touching anyone’s iPhone.

Apple established an environment for good customer experience. You can’t just push people to deliver good customer experience, you need to create an environment that encourages them to do so; people typically conform to their environment. Employees do what is measured, incentivized, and celebrated.

At Apple, the decision not to offer commissions was made before a store had opened. The idea was that such incentives would work against the company’s primary goals — finding customers the right products, rather than the most expensive ones, and establishing long-term rapport with the brand. Commissions, it was also thought, would foster employee competition, which would undermine camaraderie.