I was just about to leave for the Apple retail store, when my wife explained to me that I can’t just walk in and receive service on the spot. No, instead (like thousands of others) I had to set an appointment, online via my Apple account. When she told me this, my first thought was, “What a royal pain in the butt.” I complained to my wife that I didn’t want to deal with any retailer that has gotten this big and bureaucratic; I started having visions of what it’s like to deal with cable and phone company service and that just didn’t make me happy.My complaints really didn’t make a difference once my son gave me that sad look, which often leads to a few tears. So, I conceded, went online and made an appointment to see a service representative at 11am, on a Saturday morning, two days later.
Anyone who has been in an Apple store understands the branding experience that customers receive there. (I won’t provide the obvious explanation about that.) What was interesting about my experience was just how service oriented the entire process was. I checked in with a lead customer service representative. He asked me to sit anywhere I wanted and within a few minutes, a personalized technician (named Bill) would be at my service. And, that’s exactly what happened. After explaining the problem and walking the technician through my warranty, I asked him if this tiny little problem could be fixed. He smiled and told me no. The iPod was ruined because no charger or device to download tunes on it, could be attached. Then, he told me that my warranty only covers “problems that Apple is responsible for. Not those that a 10 year old boy created himself.’
I was just a second or two away from trying my used car salesman pitch (and then groveling if necessary) to get some relief on this product, when Bill surprised me. He explained that Apple wants to do right by its customers and he has no problem replacing it with a new iPod Touch. I would just need to pay the $20 warranty fee. I was completely psyched and appreciative. The next few words out of my mouth were “Thank you. Really appreciate it. You’re a great guy, Bill.”Apple came through in a major way for me. Clearly, the company is devoted to ensuring that customers experience that brand promise (ease of use, innovation and being customer friendly) that is so heavily marketed every day. The irony here (though) is that Apple creates these products knowing that most will break down and die within a 12-18 month period. Most iPods are not fixable. That’s a very smart go-to-market strategy for Apple. The company hopes (or in this case knows) that its customers will just keep coming back to purchase the next latest (and trendier) model. It works because most customers never really ever question why these products aren’t built to last longer. And, to my earlier point, consumers (like me) are even willing to make appointments two days in advance to have their products serviced.
Very few brands have this type of powerful impact and control over consumers everywhere. Over the last decade, Apple has become the de facto standard in how to build a mainstream brand. It has worked so well that many consumers don’t even wait until their current model is broken. They just want the next greatest version as soon as it is released. The next big question for Apple is how long can the company stay on top. Most leaders typically fall from grace after any number of years because it’s so difficult to maintain that same level of innovation, quality and service (think of Dell, HP, Sony, etc.). But, I continue to marvel at Apple because it seems to keep getting better and better, each and every year.