How Does Apple Get Away With It?


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Last week, Apple revealed what’s new and different about the iPhone 7. It’s water resistant, which is a plus. But it doesn’t have a headphone jack.

Come again?

That’s right. Apple just pulled another Crazy Ivan—a bold, surprising move the average retailer wouldn’t dare make. The company did what it always does, without fear or apology: It went full speed ahead, despite the temporary pain, because it sees something better for Apple users on the horizon.

As usual, the critics are weighing in. One called the removal of the headphone jack “user-hostile and stupid.”

But is there any doubt whose products many of them will continue to buy and use?

“Apple devotees are used to this sort of thing.” –Jordan Novet, VentureBeat

It seems that no matter what Apple does, its customer base stays put. The early adopters stand in line for hours or days. Even the most resistant customers resign themselves to the need to replace products and accessories that are now obsolete.

Despite all the grumbling, they know the company will be there for them, helping them navigate change.

In fact, Apple loyalists believe everything the company does is in their best interest, even if it doesn’t seem that way at first. Apple’s sole objective, after all—its reason for being—is to make people’s lives better.

So how does Apple get away with these big, controversial moves, and emerge unscathed? It all boils down to these three strengths.

Emotional Branding

In appealing to our basic need to belong to something greater, Apple competes on a different plane than most retailers. Its brand story is compelling: Apple led the movement to democratize computing power, and it continues to change the world.

Years ago, Steve Jobs spoke admiringly of the Nike brand:

Nike sells a commodity; they sell shoes. And yet when you think of Nike, you feel something different than a shoe company. In their ads, as you know, they don’t ever talk about the product, they don’t ever talk about their air soles, how they’re better than Reebok’s air soles. What’s Nike do in their advertising? They honor great athletes and they honor great athletics. That is what they are about.

Like Nike, the Apple brand is aspirational. Products aren’t just products; they’re the means by which a community of users create and enjoy a better future. This perception drives demand, and it colors the entire multichannel experience.

Take the Apple Store, for example. When it first debuted in 2001, many questioned whether it would succeed. Today, it’s a premier destination—a multisensory playground that draws more traffic and generates more sales per square foot than any other retailer.

The Apple brand’s greatest advantage? Its resilience. The Apple brand is so deep-seated, it’s impervious to the temporary confusion and irritation that result from sweeping product changes. And it easily overpowers a less-than-satisfying customer experience in a third-party reseller environment—something that’s largely out of Apple’s control.

Simple, Powerful Messaging

Steve Jobs had a gift for conveying the unique value of a product in a potent, easy-to-digest, very repeatable way—for example, the “world’s thinnest notebook,” the MacBook Air. At product launches, he always described benefits (faster, lighter, etc.) in groups of three, and he repeated them over and over so attendees could absorb, retain, and spread his message with ease.

Simplicity is key to Apple’s appeal. From advertising, copy, and visual design to the in-store and online customer experience, there’s no flash or hype that could get in the way. Everything is designed to promote ease of understanding, ease of use, and ease of getting answers—in other words, with the customer squarely in mind.

Hiring, Training, and Empowering Great People

The Apple Store invites shoppers to see, touch, feel, and play with Apple products. In this setting, the products sell themselves. But the customer experience wouldn’t be complete (and the brand promise couldn’t be fulfilled) without Apple’s signature service and support.

Recently, I visited the Apple Store to find a standalone monitor for my MacBook. The Apple employee I spoke with recommended I not buy the product, as it hadn’t been updated in nearly three years. “You can go to Best Buy,” he told me, “and for a third of the price, get everything that’s here.”

He actually encouraged me to go elsewhere to solve my problem. Either he wanted to save me the dissatisfaction of buying an outdated, overpriced monitor, or he wanted to save Apple’s service and support people the trouble down the road.

Either way, this employee was caring, competent, responsive, and empowered to do the right thing. These are the hallmarks of a unified, confident, client-centric brand.

From Ordinary to Extraordinary: How Any Retailer Can Achieve Greatness

If your mission is to design a consistently exceptional customer experience—in terms of both messaging and engagement—staying connected with customers and attuned to their needs should be priority one.

  • Map the customer journey to include the emotional impact of each touchpoint.
  • Establish a continuous feedback loop via customer satisfaction surveys and customer intercepts.
  • Use in-store customer experience data (mystery shopping) to gauge associate performance and update associate training programs as needed.

By using these tools in sync, you can begin to carve new paths to excellence, earning and rewarding your customers’ loyalty and becoming a trusted, beloved brand.

What other lessons can retailers take from Apple’s success? Which brands guide your approach to managing the customer experience?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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This article was originally posted to our blog where you can find more posts like this at ICC/Decision Services Blog.

Kevin Leifer
Kevin and his team at StellaService help their clients build solutions that optimize front-line team performance and improve customer experiences across contact centers and stores.


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