Posted by: joannabrandi | August 25, 2009

He Fell Into the Gap

When 15 year old Austin decided he wanted to hook a TV monitor up to his Mac, he wanted to do it right. So he researched how to do it on the web. He knew just what connections had to be made and just the cables needed to do it right. Then he asked his Mom to take him to the mall – right to the Apple store so he could get the perfect connection between his Mac and his monitor.

It seemed like it would be a simple in/out transaction – here’s what I need, here’s Mom’s credit card and let’s go for a smoothie.  Then Mom suggested a very sensible thing, “Check with a sales person to make sure you’re getting the right stuff.” (Smart move since the mall is 25 miles from their home.)

That’s when the trouble began. The Apple salesperson told Austin he had made the wrong choices and  needed something other than what he thought. Deferring to the ‘authority’ in the store known for its “Genius Bars,” Austin took home the cables suggested and found they were not a match with the monitor.

Frustration is too light a word to describe how most of us would feel at a moment like this. It’s not just a bad customer experience; it’s a deep lesson to be learned in listening to one’s intuition, even in the “face of authority.” It’s also a coming of age story, to be sure. All these poignant family moments arrived courtesy of Apple.

So they go online and get a phone number for Customer Service, but it turns out this customer service is only there to service the customers that buy online (Apparently the other people will have to go back to those who screwed it up in the first place – at the other Apple store – the one that has walls.)

The phone call turns into a “dead end” when it came to actually lodging a complaint – you have to really want to complain to work your way through their system. So it was back to the mall.

Did they get resolution, restitution or peace of mind anywhere in the process? No

Did they get the appropriate level of empathy and technical knowledge they deserved when they finally made the 50 mile round trip to the store, again? No

Did Apple – who has deeply loyal customers – neglect to remember that people may continue to buy your product – because it’s great, but no longer buy your brand because it’s not living up to its reputation? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Austin may continue to be a Mac fan, but did the division between their web business and their brick and mortar business put a dent in the level of confidence he, his Mom, his Dad, his brother and his tenth grade class have in it? Yep. When you stop trusting those geniuses… it means there’s a promise broken. Broken promises loosen the strength of relationships over time.

Now that Austin (and his Mom) knows that several of the connection cables are actually made by Belkin and they can find them at the Best Buy store down the way, maybe 2 miles down the road or so, how many special trips will they make to that Apple store?

Apple misses an opportunity to take a solid brand with a great following and make it even greater.

There’s nothing today’s customer dislikes more than falling into the gap between a company’s on line and offline operations. For a brand like Apple it’s almost shameful. Their intensely loyal followers deserve more – more flexibility, more attention, more openness to feedback.

Multiple channels mean multiple opportunities for engaging, involving and otherwise building strong “emotional bank accounts” with customers. Every touch point – web, store, call center, fax, chat, social media – offers a chance to build the brand and create that emotional attachment called loyalty. How many companies miss that opportunity?

Plenty. Doing research for an article that will appear in the October issue of ROI magazine I talked to a lot of people. The first question I asked was “What companies do you do business with – across channels – that do a great job of delivering a great customer experience?”

There was quite a bit of silence to that question – the usual answer was. “I know companies that don’t do a good job at it”. There were people that could talk to me about some single great customer experiences (that was uplifting) and there were a few that actually saw some cross channel excellence. So perhaps we are on our way to realizing that the customer sees only ONE brand – not one on line and another off line – only ONE.

Over the next few weeks and maybe months – I’ll be sharing some of my finding here at the blog (the article was only 1200 words. So as I find and talk to companies who are doing a great job, and building the foundation to do a great job, I’ll share.

Thanks to all who participated in the conversation. Let’s keep it going.

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