Apple: Living Up to Brand Expectations

Frustrating service experiences can impact customers’ perceptions of your brand. No kidding.  On Friday, this came home to me in a very real way. I’m selling my iPad. My MacBook Air does more, weighs the same and is just as portable. I just wasn’t using the iPad. So, I’m selling a good friend my iPad.

Now I need to transfer the ownership and change the Apple App Store account on the iPad. As I have no idea how to do either, I phoned the 1-800 number for Canada, at about 7:30 Friday morning. This lovely automated voice comes on and asks me a whole bunch of questions, which I answer. After I answer, the lovely automated voice announces that the office is not open and there are no operators to take my call, and to please call back during office hours. But, wait… it doesn’t tell me when office hours start or end.

Silly me. I wonder why they couldn’t have noted at the beginning of the automated voice script that the office was closed, not at the end? Even better, tell me when the office might be open, so I can call back at the right time and not waste my time? And poor Apple users in Atlantic Canada. They are an hour behind my time, so at 8:30 in the morning, they still don’t have any support service.

Design is an important aspect of Apple’s brand identity. They are known for obsessing about design, anticipating consumer desires and carefully designing the simplest way to meet those needs. But this obsession does not seem to have translated into the support and service function. The brand identity and related folklore about Jobs are major contributors to the Apple brand. Anything that weakens this perception of design excellence weakens the brand.

Service design is one of the hot topics at both business schools and design schools. Roger Martin wrote a great book called Design Thinking tackling the importance of design in business. While Apple is great at designing technology and virtual interfaces with technology, service design appears to be severely lacking. In the end, customers are people, and they need help from other people.

Apple isn’t the only transgressor in the technology industry, or even the worst. My experience with the Apple support line wasn’t particularly bad. The problem is that my expectations of Apple are so high because it promises great design. So now I am disappointed – in a product that is still demonstrably better than the alternatives. The lesson of this story? It isn’t the absolute quality of an experience, but the quality of the experience relative to a consumer’s expectations of that brand. My suspicion is that the folks at Apple don’t necessarily think that the support function needs design thinking.

Do you know what your customer expects of your brand? Have you thought about unexpected points where customers might interact with key aspects of your brand identity? Have you audited your organization recently to make sure that every aspect of your operation is consistent with your brand? If not, it’s time.


2 replies »

  1. Service is the dark side to Apple. As you write, it’s not awful, but it’s not great. Your point is spot on…if feels as though Apple cares a lot more about people buying their product than using it. Even the face to face in their stores isn’t great. The first thing they ask for is your number…

  2. That is the interesting thing about Apple. They don’t get that service IS design. I guess every company has their blind spot.

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