Archive for the ‘Apple’ Tag

Maybe It’s Time to Smash Your iPod

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

Maybe you should take a hammer to your iPod.  OK, maybe not literally, but have you given any consideration to what the impact of the MP3 file (and Apples’s game changing iTunes business model) has been on the customer experience for recorded music?  Steven Wilson, the driving force behind the band Porcupine Tree has given it a great deal of consideration.   Wilson is clearly a minority in an industry transformed by technology and focused in selling three minutes of disposable entertainment at $.99 a pop. He sees the long form package as the best way to deliver a quality experience to the listener.  Like legendary artists that came before digital, Wilson still produces limited edition, high quality vinyl collector’s pressings and “Digi-Pacs” that contain both stereo and 5.1 mixes contained in packaging which is in itself a work of art with pages of glossy artwork.  Last month, Wilson released his first solo project to critical acclaim.  Insurgentes is about music and the album as art form, and applying the same aesthetic vision through the writing, performance, production, artwork, lyrics, videos and beyond.  It also reflects a theme which has been in Wilson’s most recent Porcupine Tree releases:

“My fear is that the current generation of kids who’re being born into this information revolution, growing up with the Internet, cell phones, iPods, this download culture, ‘American Idol,’ reality TV, prescription drugs, PlayStations – all of these things kind of distract people from what’s important about life, which is to develop a sense of curiosity about what’s out there.” (Steven Wilson, MTV News)

Later this year, Wilson and long-time film collaborator Lasse Hoile are expected to release a documentary film under the same title which looks into the issues of creating, packaging and marketing music in an era when iPods, Mp3’s and download culture are changing and eroding perceptions of exactly what an album is supposed to sound and look like.  In an extract from the documentary included with the DVD-Audio package, Wilson laments the loss of the rock album as an art form.

As a teenager, he would go to the local record store with enough money to buy one album.  He would explore the racks of titles and would make his decision on which one to buy based on, among other things, the look and feel of the cover artwork.  Once the decision was made, he would spend hours exploring and absorbing his investment from the first track to the last (as it was meant to be heard).

As a teenager in the 1970’s, this really resonated with me.  Think about a masterpiece like The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper.  It was never meant to be consumed in three minute chunks, but rather as a whole 48 minute composition, while exploring the extensive imagery and lyrics of the album cover.  A work of art like that could never deliver the same experience in digital download format with a single two inch square picture.  Sadly, most modern artists have abandoned the album format as a result of the available technology.

Nevertheless, we are in a different time and the technology has forever changed the customer experience.  Listening to Wilson describe why he does the things differently  made me wonder if we haven’t seen a familiar phenomenon with other types of customer experiences.  Have we made them superficial and disposable for the sake of technology and the need to do everything faster?  More importantly, are there ways to succeed by playing the game differently like Steven Wilson does?

I worked on a customer experience strategy project for a large retailer a few years ago.  One of the obvious insights gained from talking to customers was that they were (and still are) increasingly feeling starved for time.  They want and expect everything to happen instantly.  “Let me get in and out quickly” was the takeaway.  This is a common insight used by companies developing their customer experience strategies.  As a result, the approach many organizations have taken is to replace human interaction with technology.  We self-serve everything from money to gasoline.  It’s all very convenient, for the customer and cost efficient to the company, but does nothing to help build the brand by engaging customers through a smile, a greeting exchanged, a windshield washed (ok that’s a really old reference, but you get the point).

The point here is that while technology can be a great experience augmenter, it’s no substitute for building experiences based on the interactions of people. If you ask customers, they will tell you that that the brands they love and continue to be loyal to are the ones that deliver a great experience and a personal touch.  And, by the way, they are willing to pay more for it if it’s exceptional.  The good news is that so many organizations aren’t really focusing on or succeeding at making customer experiences a strategic differentiator.  If the customer experience you are delivering looks more like the iPod model than the ‘album as art form” model, maybe it really is time to smash your iPod.


Is part of Your Operation Not Living Up to Your Brand Image?

apple-bandaid.jpgLast Spring, I wrote about opportunities for improving your brand by focusing on the customers experience in areas that may not be directly under your control. The main point of the post was that what the customer sees as the total experience may be broader that what you think it is. It doesn’t matter if the customer encounters a problem outside of “your” area of responsibility; to them it’s still part of the overall experience and can reflect poorly on your brand. These experience extensions are often delivered by third parties who don’t necessarily have the same customer objectives as you, but sometimes, inconsistent customer experiences can be due to a problem internal to an organization. A recent personal experience with Apple makes for a good case study.

Apple excels at designing great technology experiences. They completely dominate the portable media player market. They have redefined what a cell phone is and sales of Mac computers is growing faster than any other brand in the US driven by a highly effective and popular ad campaign.

Apple has also done an amazing job expanding from a technology manufacturer to a retail powerhouse. On average, Apple stores generate over $4000 per square foot per year. That more than four times what Best Buy produces. Apple has invested heavily in creating a retail shopping experience which is both innovative and compelling.

This Christmas, I was compelled to purchase a MacBook as a present for my daughter. The sales experience was simple and fast and I walked out feeling really good about the purchase. My daughter, who loves to create and publish videos, was thrilled with her new computer. That is until it died five days after Christmas.

I was a little surprised. This was after all, a Mac. They’re better than PCs; they just work, right? In fairness, all technology products have their share of defects and from my research, Apple makes some of the most reliable computers on the market, so I don’t think this failure is indicative of a general quality problem. My first response was to go to Apple’s website to see if it held any information about the series of beeps that we got trying to boot. Surprisingly, I didn’t find any there. I then checked Google and quickly discovered that the beeps indicated that the RAM wasn’t being detected.

I spent the next hour and a half on the phone with about an hour of that time being on hold. The tech that I was working with could not diagnose the problem and kept putting me on hold to consult with product managers. He eventually sent me to one of those project managers who, after twenty more minutes on hold, told me that I had (surprise) a memory problem. I’m no “genius”, but 90 minutes to tell me what I already knew doesn’t seem very smart. The product manager then told me that he would give me an address where I could ship the computer to be repaired. That came as an unexpected and downright irritating surprise….

WHAT!?!? It’s only five days old, it’s dead and you want me to ship my daughter’s new Christmas present off for a couple of weeks to be repaired?? I’m thinking, “How does this experience support the Apple brand?”

OK I didn’t say any of that, but I did ask if I couldn’t simply take it back to the store. The product manager responded (and I’m not making this up) “Yeah, you could try that. They might have some extra memory laying around”.

I told him that I wanted to try that option first. Having previously dealt with a defective iPhone, I knew that I would have to make an appointment or risk waiting at the store for a few hours on standby. With my iPhone, AppleCare made the appointment for me so I asked the product manager if he could schedule an appointment for the computer. He responded by telling me that I could only schedule appointments for the current day since I had not paid the $99 fee that gives me the right to preferential treatment. Apparently my $250 extended warranty doesn’t get me any preferential treatment like it does at other CE retailers. Given that it was after store hours on Sunday, he told me that I would have to try to make the appointment myself early the next day.

On Monday morning, I went to Apple’s website at 7:30 am only to be informed that my store didn’t have any availability. At 10:00, I called the store to see if I could get an appointment, but the recorded message told me that they are unable to schedule appointments over the phone. The only option for tech support was to transfer me back to AppleCare. I did that hoping that they could possibly schedule stand-by appointments. No such luck as the AppleCare people could only see the same screen that I saw.

Finally after investing over two hours in this process, I got in the car and drove to the store with the dead MacBook. Entering the store, I was immediately approached by a very helpful employee who was able to get me scheduled with a genius in about 20 minutes. I told her about the problems I was having trying to schedule the appointment and she told me I “could have just pressed 5 when I called the store and they could have scheduled me over the phone.” (Doh…) I started to explain that the recorded message said otherwise, but just let it go.

Thirty minutes later, the problem had been diagnosed as both bad memory and a bad disk drive. I ended up getting all the personal data and software loaded to a new machine.

So here’s how I perceive the Apple brand based on this experience:

  • The user experience design for Apple’s technology is excellent.
  • Apple’s in-store retail customer experience both before and during the sale was excellent.
  • The AppleCare phone support experience was terrible on several counts.
  • Apple Retail’s in-store tech team was highly responsive and deserves the credit for salvaging a bad experience.

Apple, like many organizations, operates a number of divisions who each contribute to the success of the business. When all of those divisions are equally focused on delivering great customer experiences, the brand image is enhanced. But when one or more don’t deliver a great experience, the brand is diminished.

Make a point to regularly examine all of your customer experience touchpoints to ensure that they are consistently deliver experiences that enhance your brand.   Then act quickly to turn those deficiencies into opportunities for enhancing your brand image.

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