Business Monday

Lessons learned behind the velvet rope

Adam Snitzer
Adam Snitzer

Velvet ropes exude glamour. They evoke celebrities and swanky nightclubs. If you’re on the right side of a velvet rope, you’re important, part of the in-crowd, a somebody.

Which is how we all want our customers to feel.

And that’s how I felt at the Apple Store on Lincoln Road. It was launch day for the company’s newest iPhone, and they had set up red velvet ropes in front of the store.

“Nice party,” I thought. But it got even better. I had made an online appointment, so they ushered me near the front of the line, just behind a few people with an earlier appointment.

They offered me water and an umbrella to block the sun on a 90-plus degree day.

After a few minutes enjoying camaraderie among my fellow “appointment-makers,” I was ushered inside and greeted by what I needed most: the refreshing coolness of powerful air conditioning.

Inside, another “usher” welcomed me warmly, entered my name into a computer and conveyed me to Alex, my salesman.

Alex was well-trained. “Come,” he said, “let me show you where the cases are while I get your new iPhone.” His cross-selling pitch was masterful. He worked it into his first sentence and escorted me directly to additional purchase opportunities.

Alex gave me sufficient time to browse and then came back with my phone. “Will you be buying this outright?” he asked, “Or will you be using our new iPhone Upgrade Program?”

That’s right. With this iPhone launch, Apple introduced a new set of customer choices. In addition to two sizes of phones, three amounts of storage space and four colors, Apple is now offering an installment payment and trade-in plan. Their Upgrade Program is a modern take on an age-old pricing technique to broaden a company’s customer base. It goes back to the days of layaway and store credit cards.

Apple’s plan is enticing. It’s hard to fork over $800 all at once for a new phone and the extended warranty — which I need because I sometimes drop my phone when I’m juggling it with my sunglasses and car keys.

I could understand the appeal to customers who value a lower upfront cost and the chance to stand behind the velvet rope again in only 12 months. But I already have enough recurring payments in my life.

I told Alex to “ring me up,” and that’s when trouble began. Unbelievably, his technology failed. His scanner wouldn’t read the bar code on the iPhone box. So he disappeared to find a new scanner, which took 10 minutes. Then I pushed the wrong button after signing the credit card authorization. Oops, my fault, but it took my friend Alex 10 more minutes of futzing before he gave up and started the transaction again from scratch.

The bloom was off the velvet rope. I was frustrated. I should have done the transaction online, I thought. I should keep my old phone, I thought. I hear Samsung’s got a cool new phone, I thought.

But then Alex saved the day. “I’m sorry,” he said, “this shouldn’t have taken so long. We’re going to comp your case; it’s on us.”

“Cool,” I thought. That’s fair. This wasn’t anyone’s fault, probably just an overloaded server on opening day.

Apple had succeeded and in the process taught us all some valuable lessons:

Make your customers feel special. Create events around your products. Work in some cross-selling. Offer lots of choices, not just with product features, but with payment options as well. And when you make a mistake, make good on it.

Apple’s new phone set sales records. With these techniques, your business can too.

Adam Snitzer is a revenue strategy expert and president of Peak Revenue Performance. He can be reached at or via