How Apple Turned Lemons Into Passion Fruit

Fixing one bad customer experience is more valuable than providing 1,000 good ones.

Thank you Apple, for maintaining your stellar reputation in customer service. I knew you could do it! A couple of weeks ago I shared a rambling tale about how my local laundromat had taken Apple to the cleaners in the customer service department. While my laundromat’s sterling reputation remains intact, I’m happy to say that Apple has reversed their temporary shortfall, at least in my world. And in the process done something I’m always talking about regarding service.

I’ve always argued that simply “doing it right” is not actually the way to build the strongest customer engagement. Most of us EXPECT it to be done right; after all, if someone goes into business to do something, why would they do anything else? I learned this while in restaurant management years ago. Most happy customers say little more than hello and goodbye, and even when you leave comment cards on the table, the most detailed feedback comes from those who had a PROBLEM, not those who had a reliable and positive experience.

The pro-active and positive strategy obviously then is to try to make things EXCEPTIONAL for the customer. Kind of a no-brainer, but also a real challenge to maintain on a day-to-day basis. But if you’ve been in business awhile, you know that the most devoted customers you have are those who actually had a BAD experience, but then had it resolved. It’s a huge trust-builder, and the customer really develops emotional anchors around the experience that make them more like an ally than a customer. This isn’t mere speculation; the idea is backed up by research.

Apple seems to focus very well on that “exceptional” notion from the get-go, by creating remarkable, must-have products that people didn’t even know they needed. And their products are so darn reliable that you really don’t hear much about how they handle problem resolution, you just assume that the one-to-one “genius to customer” ratio you see at any random Apple Store just means it’s all being taken care of. Which is why my little problem was such a shocker, and why – after our little bump – Apple has a new long-term convert.

The short version of the story is that I was slowly becoming an Apple convert thanks to my beloved black MacBook, and just as I was preparing to make some major hardware purchases – which probably all would have been Apple products – I had a major snag with the most basic level of customer service surrounding a known issue with the battery in my MacBook. The service failure was simple in one way, but frankly epic in another. I already outlined it in the previous piece.

But Apple fixed it. How? Well, first I emailed the Apple Store team, Cc-ing Tim Cook, the CEO. I didn’t get a heartfelt response from Mr. Cook or anything, in fact I didn’t get ANYTHING for nearly a week. But then I got an email from the store’s team leader, asking for my phone number so he could call to address the problem. And then we spoke the next day. I joked about not hearing back from the CEO, but he quipped “well I sure did”, and from there he did a fantastic job of addressing my concerns in a genuine, non-patronizing fashion. Which happened to involve replacing the problem battery, and offering to do some quick diagnostics to make sure it hadn’t caused any damage.

Suddenly, this cold and cocky corporation that I loathed was HUMAN again, and I was happy as a clam. How hard was that? Not very, and Apple did it just right. So right that I’m preparing to make nearly ten grand in hardware purchases with them, purchases which could just as easily have gone to the less-expensive, and less prestigious competitor. And almost did. What do I mean by “doing it right”? They addressed the problem thoroughly and directly, with people-driven earnestness, and without making the frustrated customer jump through hoops.

How many times have you had the experience of a waitperson or clerk feeling compelled to make excuses, elaborate explanations, or perhaps even questioning your honesty when you have a simple, legitimate gripe? Probably a lot. What a lot of business owners overlook is the short term cost of making one customer happy vs making that customer unhappy. Maybe you’ve heard of Pete Blackshaw’s book Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000. Or maybe not, but those in the know realize that the one giveaway that seems like a losing move is actually the WINNINGEST move you can make. The damage that can be done by that one negative voice has a much more tremendous ripple effect than any positive voice, mostly because that angry person screams and rants, and often STAYS angry,

That’s where Apple came through; they acknowledged the problem, and FIXED it, with no fuss, and no platitudes. In this case giving me a free replacement battery for a device that was well out of warranty. A very generous gesture on one hand, but at the probable cost of about 60 bucks versus the outcome of losing thousands in revenue later, a sensible “investment”.

Apple gets the added benefit that I’m not the kind of person who only rants about negative stuff, I rant even MORE about positive stuff.

Thank you Apple, you rock.

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