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It’s Not All About the Technology. Ask Apple?

It’s Not All About the Technology. Ask Apple?

iModerate Author

May 23, 2011

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I recently read an AdAge article entitled, What Apple Can Teach You About PR. It talks about Apple’s “different” take on company communications and how in spite of that they are able to come off of any negative press, such as the firestorm surrounding collecting users’ location data, virtually unscathed. In fact, regardless of the headlines their brand seems virtually impervious. For a funny take on just how powerful the Apple brand is, check out this YouTube video (warning: the language is a bit racy).

So how do they do it? Unbelievable cutting-edge technology and products, right? Well, this article brought something else to light that perhaps plays an even a bigger role in how we perceive Apple – their customer service.  I don’t think that many of us associate Apple as being a Zappos-like model for service, but if you’ve ever spent any significant time in an Apple Store then you’ve surely noticed that the employees are welcoming, knowledgeable, proud, considerate and extremely helpful.

How in the world does this relate to market research you ask? Well it seems as if these days everyone in our industry is focused on creating new technologies that will surely define the next generation of market research (guilty as charged). While this is all well and good, what tends to get lost in this giant tech race are the people, the service and the customer experience.

I’m all for innovation, and I think some of the technology to come into the market research world lately is both sexy and valuable. However, at the end of the day I believe our clients still want the personal touch, the consultation and the experience that only great people can bring. Apple, the mother of everything cool and techy, gets this, and it’s something that we market research firms shouldn’t forget as we charge forward to create the latest app or widget or platform.

What do you think? Is this tremendous focus on technology eclipsing our people?

iModerate Author

  • Started reading Gary Vaynerchuk’s “The Thank You Economy,” which is 234 pages on how to love on your customers (“love on” © Matt Warta, 2011) as you describe above. It’s a good read, if a little … obvious?
    And… Apple? I mean I know they’re better than the weirdos at Dell, but every time I’m in the Apple Store I feel exactly the same way I feel when I go into bars in LoDo — uncomfortable. It’s kind of like a “nerd”/hipster hybrid meat market? Only for tech meat? And I did not appreciate the tone their smarmy little genius bar guy took with me when I showed him my charger — which spontaneously combusted, mind you. Obviously I have a lot of feelings. But I take UMBRAGE with the idea that Apple’s customer service is a gold standard. If you pay mad money for their Applecare then, yeah, it’s AWESOME, but it’s not free. I want free love, ADAM. FREE!

  • Elizabeth,

    Thanks for getting the discussion going! Clearly not everyone is going to have a positive view of Apple’s customer service. However, I know myself and many others who have been extremely impressed with their service – not just after a transaction, but before.

    Whether you agree or disagree with them being the gold standard, the point is really that despite having the coolest products in the world (again, disputable) they invest very heavily in their people and place a tremendous value on great service. This is the lesson that research service firms need to heed… Just because you have the best technology on the block, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest in having the best people also.

  • Jacqueline Woodward

    Adam,

    I agree that part of what makes Apple a great brand is its customer service. However, it is ultimately Apple’s secrecy while developing products that creates a lot of buzz and desire. It is also the fact that Apple excels at being first to market. In fact, I would say 70% of what makes Apple successful is being FTM and 30% is product design and function.

    Additionally, Microsoft’s customer service far exceeds that of Apple. But if you notice, Microsoft is rarely first-to-market. They do not control product design, so it’s a double hit as to why they are struggling to keep up with Apple in the consumer market. However, in the enterprise market, Microsoft is virtually untouachable. Again…why? First to market. Their customer support and security and guarantee are the best the market has to offer.

    Lastly, take a look at Google. They are popular because of low cost. They are first to market on some things. But their customer service? Virtually non-existent. But they are still doing better that Microsoft in the mobile phone and email and search markets.

    In reality, customer service has nothing to do with a brand’s success.

  • Jacqueline,

    I think you make some great points… Being first to market is HUGE, and Apple owes much of their success to that. However, I do believe that people and customer service are part of the equation for many brands’ success. I get the Google example, but their suite of products are essentially made to be DIY.

    Regardless, I just think Apple is a good example of a powerful, technology-driven brand who didn’t forget to make a serious investment in their people and service. If they found the latter had little to do with their ability to stay on top, I doubt they would put so much effort into it.

  • Brian

    I’ve been turning some pages of a book call ‘Start With Why’ (not terribly new, but interesting). The general theme, if you haven’t guessed, is about companies and how they’ve managed to create brand loyalty becasue of their clear business motives to consumers. The author’s argument is simple… start with a clear sense of ‘why’ and people will follow.

    He showcases several companies as examples, Apple being one of them. Out of his thoughts it seems that people and their creativity are the catalyst for innovation. If the technology people create is from a truly genuine place for a higher purpose than money or ego, (though $$ is important) then the idea is people will follow.

    The Musician Jack White’s take on it is that technology limits our natural creativity. Yet another guitar player, The Edge from U2, feels technology helps him release the creative sounds that would otherwise be trapped in his head (watch ‘It Might Get Loud’ if you’re a music fan). In either case the person is most imporant. I like the theory that the technology that may help push the industry forward resides in people who have a clear sense of WHY when they’re creating it, not progress for sake of progress, but purpose. The folks at Apple seem to understand consumer wants and needs very well before creating new toys for all of us.

  • Jacqueline, I think it’s a bit of a misnomer to say that Apple is first to market. The iPod was very late to the MP3 player market, the iPhone was a late entrant to the smartphone market, the iPad came in years after tabletPCs, etc, etc.

    Apple is not usually first to market, but they make sure that when they enter a market, it’s with a product that sets the new standards. “MP3 players” and “smartphones” were annoying technologies until Apple redefined these marketplaces. Apple doesn’t rush to deliver half-baked tech, but they are usually the first to get it right.

    What do we call that? Right-to-Market?

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