There’s a lot that gets said about customer loyalty or brand loyalty these days. On this subject I would like to offer one thought.
A company has true customer loyalty when, rather than get enraged, their customers will make excuses for the company when the company or its products screw up.
Case in point. I love Apple. I love the company. I love the products. I love the ads. I’m one of those people who says “you can have my Mac, when you pull it away from my cold, dead hands.” I’ve been using a Mac since 1987 when I started working for Apple during business school. When I bought my G5 last summer at the local Apple store, more things could not have gone wrong. The first thing that went wrong is that when I went to pick up my new computer after I had left my old Mac with them to transfer the data to the new Mac, they sent me home with someone else’s computer. This I discovered when I carefully unwrapped that huge box and set up the Mac in its new home, only to find out that someone else’s files where on the desktop. Oops! The Apple store had also forgotten to give me my old computer back, and in my delirious excitement over the new one, I had forgotten too.
The next thing that went wrong is that when I went to pick up my computer the second time, the Apple store copied the files from one hard drive on the old machine to the new, but not the other hard drive. So I had to wait 4 hours while they did the file transfer (there was a lot of data on that second drive.) Finally, the HP wireless printer they sold me took 8 hours of troubleshooting and phone calls with several Apple reps to finally realize that we couldn’t get it to work wirelessly.
Debbie, the manager of the Apple store, appears to be in her forties, around my age. Everyone else there seems right out of high school. (Pretty much anyone under 25 looks like they are right out of high school to me.) Debbie was chagrined and apologetic. She approved immediately that I should at least get my Apple ProCare card for free, given all of the hassle I went through.
Throughout this farcical transaction, I never got annoyed at Apple. “Those kids at the Apple Store, they’re so young! They don’t know what they’re doing. They’ll learn, eventually,” I mused to myself. How many days of lost productivity did this entail? I forget, but it was several. I have since gone back to the store many times, and continued to buy products there. Debbie is terrific, a real asset to Apple. She always recognizes me and says hello. The younger ones don’t. I think they are hired more for their geek skills than sales skills, but that’s okay with me. The geniuses at the Genius bar have helped me in a jam and I forgive them in advance if they don’t remember me when I haven’t been by for 6 months.
How does a company get to this state of grace with its customers? Apple has done it through over 20 years of product design that cares about how I actually use a computer. Apple hires great people. Even though I don’t work there any more (I did for several years), and probably none of the people I used to work with are still there, I know that they have extraordinary, committed employees. And finally, 9 times out of 10, when I call Apple’s tech support line, they listen patiently, spend whatever time is needed to help me fix my problem, and don’t make me feel like a complete idiot in the process.