Customer Loyalty – A Case Study


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.

5 thoughts on “Customer Loyalty – A Case Study

  1. Elise,

    Great story and case study. I’m sure we all have examples of customer loyalty. One of my favorite books on the topics is “Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service” by Zemke and Anderson. It applies to both products and services. I like your litmus test of making excuses on behalf of the company. If I look at when I’ve done this myself I come up with this list: Toyota Sienna (we had 2 recalls in one year), Sprint PCS (screwed up some billings but went out of their way to retain my business), Joe DaRosa (realtor who bought/sold 4 homes for us and delivered amazing results despite snafus).

    What stands out in my mind from all these product/service businesses are:

    1) people who connect with me as an individual, and want to please
    2) businesses that see that I’m a lifelong customer not one transaction
    3) products that are extremely usable and friendly.

    It would be great if more companies took this to heart.


  2. I agree, Apple has outstanding customer service for the most part. Except for a certain employee at the Emeryville, CA store.

    There is a known issue with the bank that issues my Visa card and Apple stores. Apple stores card readers have some odd problem reading the cards, and the transaction is declined. According to the bank, this has been identified “as a vendor issue”. Several customer service reps at the bank told me the same story, saying there was an email to them regarding the issue. The workaround is to run the card manually.

    The Emeryville store flatly refused to do so (specifically, one of the managers). He refusued to call the bank, refused to even TRY the transaction manually. He was rude and condescending. Totally opposite of all of my past experiences with Apple. I went to the San Francisco store, and while they were skeptical, they tried it, and it worked, just like the bank said it would.

    I’ve been on the phone with Apple and my bank, and I am having a very difficult time contacting somebody who can sort this out. I am going to be spending money at Apple stores, and I want to use that card (I get points, and it has a super low rate).

    Does anybody out there have any contacts at Apple that can start to sort this out?

  3. What astounds me is that HP surpassed Apple in Customer Service on the Consumer Reports site. I have 2 HP printers which have had issues the last one that I brought was a pricey PSC2110 All-In-One and it has so many problems with printing and scanning that I have vowed never to purchase another HP product again. It’s tech support is outsource and the personnel was reading from a script. Ditto for Dell.

  4. Ah yes…I’m am one of the most recent to fall under the Apple spell. Unlike you have been a faithful PC user but my powerbook complete with isight, ipod and verizon wireless card are my new best friends. I went from the most expensive and advanced PC laptop to this powerbook and this thing is generations beyond what I was using before.

    Before I thought this Macimaniah was illogical and underserved customer loyalty but no longer. They deserve every bit of customer loyalty they get and continue to prove and improve the value of their brand with each passing day.

    Great case study…

  5. This is a great entry, and a great point as well! My ipod has been acting up like crazy lately, but I constantly make excuses for it…maybe I did something wrong to it, or it was a one time deal…I’m sure it will never happen again :) Maybe we are being brainwashed…but I still love apple products!

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