June 25, 2012

Sales Lessons from an Apple Store like Experience at the Emergency Room

Within a 24-hour period from Thursday to Friday evening, I made unexpected trips to both the Apple Store and the Emergency Room. Surprisingly, the experiences were way more similar than you’d expect.

My two-year-old Macbook Pro had been running slowly, locking up causing me to have to “force quit” apps, and then an hour after giving a speech to 100 people, it crashed. You can imagine the sick feeling as I pondered the consequences had it crapped out on me just before or during my talk. A few minutes later I was online booking an appointment for my sick Macbook at the Genius Bar.

The visit to the store surpassed even my high expectations. I was promptly greeted and checked-in. Then Johnny, my assigned Genius, shook my hand and assured me he read my appointment notes and could help me. Within seconds we both realized that he had worked on my machine before and he pulled up a detailed history of previous service.

Johnny listened to my story and asked clarifying questions as he began examining the computer. Even though I knew I was driving him crazy with my paranoia, he remained calm and continued his professional discovery work. After a few minutes, he shared his diagnosis and a recommended course of action. I was a difficult and skeptical customer, still reeling from the emotion of the day. But Johnny the Genius persisted and explained why his plan made the most sense. His confidence, his demeanor and the little white Apple logo on his blue t-shirt convinced me that he knew best and had my best interest in mind.

Friday evening my 12-year-old son had a baseball game. It was a gorgeous, dry, warm, perfect night for baseball. Kurt’s team took the field and he trotted out to his normal spot at second base. The leadoff batter hit a hard two-hopper toward Kurt who was coming off his best game of the season where he made five plays in the field including a double play. But on Friday, the field was rock hard from days without rain and the ball took a wicked hop. So wicked that the ball jumped about eight inches above his glove and nailed him in the left eye. Kurt crumpled to the ground and the ballpark fell silent. I ran from the stands and was about 20 seconds behind the coach who was kneeling and praying over Kurt when I got there. His eye was already swollen shut and he was in agony and scared. Parents were running for ice, others asking if they should call 9-1-1. It was a memory that won’t easily fade away.

Kurt was able to walk off the field with help and we got him to the car. We are blessed with an abundance of top-tier hospitals in St. Louis and we made the call to head to Missouri Baptist Medical Center where they have a dedicated Children’s ER Unit. My wife had made Kurt’s previous trips to the ER (stitches in his shin from a escalator trip and fall the most noteworthy) and she made the call to take him to Missouri Baptist. And a great call that was.

The ER was as packed as you’d expect on a Friday summer evening. But within seconds of approaching the desk (think Apple store greeter), the receptionist directed us to the Children’s check-in. A young gentleman took our names, and because Kurt was already in their system, in less than a minute, he was given a wristband and ride in a wheelchair back to the Children’s Unit. I was shocked by the speed, professionalism, sensitivity, and service. Kurt sensed he was safe and in good hands which immediately calmed him down. Before I could even call my wife to tell her what room we were in, Kurt was being examined by an ER nurse and medical student. They were sweet and gentle, but on a mission looking for evidence of a serious eye injury or concussion. They must have asked him 30 questions and somehow got his eye opened enough to make him read to them. It was impressive. Two minutes later the doctor entered to repeat the entire examination. By this point, Kurt, his mom (who managed to find us) and I were all figuring out that while incredibly painful and scary, his injury was nowhere near as serious as it could have been.

The doctor wanted to do a CT Scan, and, of course, as the skeptical customer with a very high-deductible health plan, I inquired about the necessity of the procedure. She was gracious with me, but after conferring with her specialist colleagues at Children’s Hospital downtown, firmly stated that the nature of the injury indicated the need for the scan to ensure there were no fractures. I appreciated her push back and deferred to her expertise and the reputation of their fine institution. Thankfully, the scan showed there was no damage to the eye socket. After they gave Kurt some graham crackers and a Powerade, and had us sign the papers, we were free to go home.

Who would’ve thought a trip to the ER could be so much like a visit to the Apple Store. The parallels were incredible.

Sales Lessons?

  • When prospects or clients visit your business, how are they greeted? Does the receptionist understand what “reception” means?
  • How good are your “records” of previous experience with customers? Part of my great experience at the store and the ER had to do with their rapid response and ability to retrieve key information.
  • How thorough and how effective is your “discovery process” to assess your customer’s situation and diagnose their true needs?
  • Are you prepared to respond when prospects push back or put up resistance to your recommended solution? I challenged the Apple Genius and the ER Doc, but both handily overcame my objections with a calm, measured, professional response.

By the way, I’m posting this late on Sunday night and Kurt is doing great. The swelling is going down and he is out of pain. He looks like Muhammad Ali pounded him for 15 rounds, but we’ll take that instead of what it could have been!