Oh how Apple retail store employees care about their customers -- well, they're carefully scripted to pretend to, at least.  (Source: Lights. Camera. Drama.)

Apple makes more money per square foot than any other retailer. It grabbed over $11B USD in revenue from only 326 retail stores in 2010.  (Source: Acer)

Someone else will have to maintain the script, though, now that Apple retail chief Ron Johnson is jumping ship for a leading role and J.C. Penney.  (Source: Kate Geraghty/Sydney Morning Herald.)
Apple employees ordered to stick to a careful script to avoid making sensitive customers feel inferior or sad

Apple, Inc. (AAPL) has a unique problem on its hands -- it gets scores more applicants at its retail stores than it wants to hire, all with virtually no job advertising.  A recent Wall Street Journal piece describes how Apple is "flooded with applicants" and thus can be very particular about who it hires.

The company typically subjects applicants to multiple interviews, which is a common practice in the professional setting, but a rarity in retail.  The lucky few who get hired must shadow experienced employees for weeks.  During this preparatory period, the employees are forbidden to speak with customers.

Overall the wages of the employees are competitive, falling between $9 to $15 USD per hour.  "Geniuses" -- Apple's tech support specialists -- make up to $30 USD per hour.  However, there's little room for advancement -- few employees move up into Apple's corporate management, unlike many retail firms.

There's also little room for independent thought, the WSJ article suggests.  It says that Apple employees are forced to speak to customers in code.  For example they are trained to say "as it turns out", rather than "unfortunately", when explaining to customers why a problem couldn't be solved.

Employees are also forbidden to discuss known technical glitches -- be they hardware or software.  And should they dare write anything -- good, bad, or indifferent -- about their employer online, that's grounds for instant termination.  Arriving six minutes late in three shifts in six months is also grounds for termination.  

The tightly codified of employee-customer interactions effectively transforms the employees into carefully preened robotic sentinels whose sole goal is to engage the customer while avoiding upsetting them or making them feel inferior.  Employees are prepared by memorizing responses to give to "emotional" customers.  And employees are strictly forbidden to correct customers if they mispronounce product names, for fear the customers might feel patronized.

But the heart of Apple's scripted show is in its "Steps of Service", given by the acronym "APPLE".  It writes:

Approach customers with a personalized warm welcome.
Probe politely to understand all the customer's needs.
Present a solution for the customer to take home today.
Listen for and resolve any issues or concerns.
End with a fond farewell and an invitation to return.

The approach sounds somewhat cold and lifeless, but it appears to work amazingly well.  While the retail market slumped 2.4 percent, Apple's retail sales grew 70 percent.  Retail now accounts for 15 percent of the company's revenue --$11.7B USD.  Compare that to Best Buy Comp., Inc. (BBY) which in 2011 posted sales revenue of $50.3B USD.  The difference?  Best Buy required over 12 times the stores for less than 5 times the profit (Best Buy has over 4,000 stores, Apple has only 326).

Ron Johnson largely drove Apple’s retail success. Johnson, however, will depart on November 1 to serve as president and chief executive officer at retailer J.C. Penney (JCP).  Mr. Johnson started as a Target Corp. (TGT) merchandising executive, where he worked for 15 years.  Apple chief executive and co-founder Steven P. Jobs reportedly personally convinced Mr. Johnson to come to Apple.  Now he's likely going to be sorely regretting his departure.

While he leaves much of the planning to others, Mr. Jobs reportedly is obsessed with the success of Apple retail.  Describes the report, "When the CEO grappled with a liver transplant two years ago, a person who visited him at the time said Mr. Jobs was poring over blueprints for future Apple stores." 

The report also comes at a time when Apple's employees are reportedly fighting to be allowed to unionize.

"It seems as though my state-funded math degree has failed me. Let the lashings commence." -- DailyTech Editor-in-Chief Kristopher Kubicki

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