Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Apple Customer Service Rocks!

I've been reading about the importance of customer service lately. Patricia Seybold makes the case in "The Customer Service Revolution" that we're currently undergoing a business revolution that is more profound and long-lasting than even the rise of ubiquitous internet access, and this is the rising influence of the customer on businesses. 

In these days of instant world-wide communication using Twitter and Facebook, one customer's bad experience suddenly becomes known by millions of people around the world. Last year United Airlines experienced the bite of bad customer service when its baggage handlers broke a passenger's $3000 Taylor guitar, and United arrogantly refused to replace. (Google "United Breaks Guitars" for the YouTube video record of United customer service nightmare.) Estimates of the cost of United's customer service FAIL are in the hundred's a millions of dollars. All over a $3000 guitar that their employees smashed.

Despite decades of corporate blowhards telling us how customer service is "job one", now it really is becoming true. I'm currently reading "Flip the Funnel" by e-marketing whizkid Joseph Jaffe (http://www.amazon.com/Flip-Funnel-Existing-Customers-Gain/dp/0470487852). In it, Jaffe makes the point that companies have been doing marketing "wrong" for years -- instead of sweeping in mass quantities of consumers by making them aware of your product, they ought to be using those who have actually used the product to market it for them to their friends, relatives and associates. 

Which brings me to Apple and my iPhone. I think Apple has been on to this marketing secret for years. Over the past several years, their market share has grown steadily from people who first bought an iPod, then moved on to bigger and more expensive products like the iPhone and now iPad. Apple's customers almost invariably become "Apple fanboys" or fanatically supportive of the company and its products.

I oughta know, since prior to the purchase of my first iPod I'd never owned anything made by Apple -- despite being an avid technology buff and a former IT professional. My first iPod Shuffle, led to my buying an Apple Mini, followed closely by an Apple MacBook and finally last Christmas, the iPhone 3GS. Within the space of just about 3 or 4 years, I've moved from someone who was completely indifferent to Apple's products, to a fanatic. I love the company and I love their products. 

Today, I dropped my beloved iPhone. (Really -- these things are the greatest inventions I've ever used. No kidding.) Although I didn't notice it right away, later I noticed that the touch screen was making an almost imperceptible click when I pressed it. A closer inspection revealed that the case had separated just slightly from the phone's bezel.

Stricken, I immediately called my local Apple Store and made an appointment to have them look at my phone -- within the hour. Upon arriving, the Apple Genius (that's what they call their support staff) looked at it and said, "I can try to put it back together, or I can replace it. Which would you prefer?" Honestly, I hadn't even considered that they might replace the thing. Having quickly realized that my phone was backed up only 3 hours earlier, I chose the "replacement" option. Literally 5 minutes later, I walked out of the Apple Store with a brand-spankin' new iPhone 32 GB 3GS phone. Cost: zero. Took it home, plugged it in to my MacBook and restored the entire phone -- apps, music, settings and all. No problem.

As a gadget nerd, I have to say that I've seen the HTC Droid Incredible phone (the latest in a long string of putative "iPhone-killers") and it's nice. Shiny, even. But customer service is the reason that these "iPhone-killers" will never succeed.

Apple, you definitely rock!

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