Apple Enjoys the Fruits of its Labor

This is not another prophetic or proselytizing iPad post. This isn’t another indulgent rave about my favorite brand on the planet. This is, rather, an examination of what a sustained brand loyalty effort can foster – before and after purchase. (Coincidentally, there are few more shining examples than Apple.)

Brand loyalty put to the iTest
In November, I bought a new 27-inch iMac. It’s a glorious thing. After lusting over it since its release, the Computer Gods worked in mysterious ways by finally killing my previous 20-inch iMac. I said a quick eulogy and raced to the Apple store to buy the new model.

Within minutes of booting up the glorious new machine, the screen experienced intermittent flickering and strange display performance. As it persisted over the course of the next few days, I confirmed on the support forums that, indeed, the 27-inch model’s display was plagued by some unforeseen technical issues. Over the course of weeks, an online furor gathered steam. If you’ve ever witnessed a tech support issue blossom from its infancy in real time, it’s quite the spectacle. When the problem concerns a brand new problem, the clock ticks fast and loud.

Apple gurus offered suggestions. They relayed Apple’s list of suggested corrections. This was followed by waves of people unsuccessfully trying the fixes. Then the resulting ebb and flow of spec confirmation, tales of visiting the Genius Bar, anecdotes of bizarre ritualistic things that appeared to resolve the issues. Mounting frustration.

Within about three or four weeks, the technical issue was still publicly unresolved with no hope in sight. As with any major support issue, you could see the battle lines quickly being drawn – the factions joining camps. As it is with any company, and people in general, there are those born to rant and bitch, those who wait and see, and those who remain calm and supportive. And, from my experience, the vast majority of Apple users fall into the final category.

So a qualification here. Some people hate Apple regardless of what they do or say. Some people hate Microsoft. Some people hate WalMart. Some people never went to their prom and think that we should all live on communal farms and abolish money, too. That being said, most people who buy into the Apple way of life (either via the iPod, iPhone or computer lineup) revel in the immersive brand experience. The romance of the pre-purchase courtship is one thing. What I’m interested in is how Apple maintains the post-honeymoon afterglow.

The brand battle for hearts and minds
With my iMac display issue, I joined the unsettled masses and finally called Apple Care. Scheduling a technical support call on is fairly impressive. (I do it so infrequently, I was taken aback.) If you are scheduling during attended support hours, and you click “Call Me”…literally, the phone rings two seconds after you hit “Submit”. So out of the gate, they appear responsive. The tech support system they’ve deployed is first-rate and is a major reflection of their customer commitment.

My Apple specialist was extremely polite. He spoke clearly (in perfect English) and was very knowledgeable. We went through about 20 minutes of possible fixes. I shared with him that I had tried everything he was going to tell me to do. And it was at this point that I noticed two things:

  1. The tech actually listened. He was never dismissive, condescending or tried to immediately pass the buck when he knew he was in for another potentially untenable complaint. I’m sure he was also instructed to avoid suggesting that the problem was, indeed, unfixable.
  2. I was extremely cooperative with the tech. Yes, I am predisposed to be a nice guy. I know that yelling or trying to demean a tech’s intelligence won’t get me anywhere. I was actually trying to help HIM, figuring that Apple was on the horns of a potentially huge issue. And that’s when I understood how my brand affinity was paying back Apple. Not only did I not feel inclined to spew venom publicly about my dissatisfaction with the glitch, but I also tried to actively resolve it for Apple. I didn’t feel like grinding that rep into paste. It was a respectful dialogue. And happier support reps means less churn for Apple.

After we determined that the machine was indeed not fixable, he set me up for a Genius Bar appointment the following weekend (I couldn’t go sooner.)

Here’s the kicker: about three days later, Apple announced a video card firmware patch. Notified me via email. All is now fixed and my state of Apple rapture is renewed. And that’s the crazy cycle of faith that exists when a brand does right by its customers. I knew, deep down, that Apple would fix the issue. That faith inspired me to do right by them. It’s the Golden Rule of brand loyalty: Do unto customers as you would have customers do unto you.

It’s cheaper to retain customers than it is to find new ones
So that’s my small anecdote of why I continue to support and trumpet the Apple brand. There are myriad reasons, but that was a shining example of how, in the face of a potentially damaging experience, they came through with flying colors.

Customer and brand loyalty is clearly a cyclical concern. It pays off before and after purchase. And it should never break. Yes, I was (and am) interested in everything iPad. And, yes, I am a brand advocate for everything Apple. But I’m certainly not alone. I found it extremely telling that, days before the iPad was announced, 18% of PC buyers in a January ChangeWave survey said they would buy Apple’s new product even without knowing its features or cost.

And that alone demonstrates the irrefutable ROI of putting customers first.

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