What the World Needs Now


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When I dropped my iPhone recently, with cracked screen the only damage, I went online and scheduled a consultation at the “genius bar” at a local Apple Store for later that day.

Now, it’s a confident retailer that calls its front-line customer-service agents “geniuses,” and wants them to interact with customers face-to-face so everyone can see if they are or aren’t. Geniuses, that is. More than simply a confident retailer, however, it’s a retailer that loves its customers.

“Love?” you ask, “In business? It’s just not a proper business topic. Too ‘warm and fuzzy’ for most corporate types.”

It’s too bad businesspeople are so uncomfortable talking about the “L” word, because otherwise we might be able to see that many barriers to customer loyalty stem from a lack of it. I encountered no such barriers in the Apple Store, where I’d expected to hand over my iPhone to a lengthy and expensive repair despite the fact that it still worked fine. The technician behind the genius bar studied the out-of-warranty device, glanced at my account info on his hi-def flat-screen, smiled at me and said, “Mr. Sullivan, let’s just replace this one and get you on your way. No charge.”

As simple as that. Almost as quickly, he transferred data from the cracked iPhone to the new one and sent me “on my way”—except I didn’t leave just then. I asked the store manager why they were treating me so well. He laughed and explained that, while they can’t replace every broken device tossed at them, they have discretion to take actions to satisfy customers.

Very likely, they knew I was a loyal, high-value iNut. I also own an iPod, an iPad, a Mac mini, and a Macbook Pro notebook. That’s it. I think—the Apple tech at the genius bar can confirm that, because the fullness of my account information told him all he needed to know to simply replace rather than repair the device. Apple is practicing what we at COLLOQUY call Enterprise Loyalty, using customer data to integrate marketing, merchandising, and pricing decisions across channels to deliver a superior experience. Because they love me.

When I speak of love in a business context, I mean cheerful service to others. One fascinating aspect of the service brand experience is that it rests on intangible and often emotional factors. Cues, clues, and their influence on our senses often determine the final consumer perception of quality as much or more than the tangible aspects of the delivered service. Also interesting is that the provider and the consumer of services must work together for the service to be delivered. The relationship, and the way it makes the customer feel, are of central importance to the overall experience. Talk about warm and fuzzy.

What can loyalty programs, which are pure services performed in conjunction with your best customers, learn from the “love lessons” Apple employs?

Insights: Best customers want you to make the first move, caring enough to take the time and the care to know who they are and what they do and don’t like, and to respond appropriately and considerately. Use that treasure trove of loyalty data to inform all actions to support your beloved customers and let them know you care.

Involvement: No one feels loved in a one-way relationship. If your only conversation with customers is telling them what you want them to do for you, a painful break-up surely looms. It’s a partnership—so shut up, open up, and bring your best customers in to share how they want to be treated. Let them in on your plans and dreams. Maybe they’d be more loyal if they felt a degree of ownership of your new ideas and innovations. Speaking of which…

Innovation: Woody Allen famously said in the movie Annie Hall, “A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.” Keep propelling your program forward. New ideas keep interest alive and prevent your loyal customers from looking for more excitement elsewhere.

That’s what the business world needs now, as underscored by my recent lovefest at the Apple Store. Loyal before, and an advocate after.

Jim Sullivan
Jim directs the advancement of enterprise loyalty at COLLOQUY, an endeavor guided by his almost 30 years of managing in marketing, strategic planning, business development, innovation, and communications. Jim also assists with COLLOQUY's loyalty workshops, seminars and conferences, and serves as an academic liaison for colleges, universities and thinking institutions performing research on Enterprise Loyalty.


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