Customer reality gaps can hurt a brand
My customer reality at Apple has been bad. Very bad. Recently I commented on a Facebook post in which someone was bemoaning the poor customer service he’d received at an Apple Store. I added my two-penny worth and had a cathartic rant.
The post reminded me just how much the Apple store staff had managed to hack me off.
It also made me think again about the power of staff to chase away customers and destroy a reputation by failing to deliver on the hyped business story they’ve so carefully created.
Hopefully this article will make you think about your business story and how you and your staff back it up.
Here’s a brief summary
I have given The Apple Store two opportunities to sell me high end products in the last two years and the same irritating thing happened on both occasions. I gave them two chances as I felt that, given their hype as paragons of customer service, the first time might be an exception rather than the norm. They dropped the ball again. Did I simply catch them at two bad times or is it because there is a systemic issue with the customer reality at Apple?
Twice I entered the Cardiff Apple Store with money in my pocket and every intention of buying a top end base station model and left the second time vowing never to buy a physical Apple product as long as I draw breath.
There I was browsing the expensive models yet I might as well have been invisible. On both occasions I was completely ignored by the embryos that pass for staff. I am not the shy retiring type as people who know me will testify but I couldn’t even make eye-contact. The ignorance felt deliberate and intentional. I got the impression that they actually wanted me out of the store. I felt like a penniless hobo. Guess I just didn’t fit the specified Apple client demographic.
Am I just too old and knackered to be an Apple customer?
I’m over 50 after all so maybe not the poster boy they’re after but I do have a healthy disposable income. In my opinion, and let’s be honest here as a potential customer my opinion should count for a lot, they’ve taken style over function right through to the look of their buying customers. Well dinosaur I may be, but what a way to treat and then lose a potentially valuable and loyal customer. Every time I hear people raving on about Apple and how cool they are I just shake my head and laugh.
What was I actually upset about you might ask. Annoyed at being ignored? Yes. Extremely irritated at being written off as an old fart by toddlers? Yes. Embarrassed? Yes. Would I go back there or to any other Apple store or recommend Apple? Absolutely not.
Fundamental customer reality errors
These are basic customer service issues and even a simple “Hello, can I help you?” would have done the trick. I might have engaged with them and would likely have bought the desired product there and then.
Thinking back with the luxury of hindsight, I can now see what an incredible fumble they made. The fumble is on a much deeper level than simply ignoring any potential customer who fell outside their demographic because it smacks of corporate indifference. Staff take their cues from their managers.
Too much hype can create a customer reality gap
Amongst other things, I work with businesses on their ability to tell good brand stories which means I pay attention to these kind of errors. If you have or want to create a corporate story then you’d better back up the promised customer experience with the actual customer reality. Apple are portrayed as the doyen of corporate storytelling and paragons of the buying and ownership experience. What they failed to do on these occasions was back up the story telling hype with physical action and a satisfying customer reality.
That’s a deep incongruence in my opinion. If people told me how good their experiences were and how good the products were, would I give them another chance? No. As far as I’m concerned, they lied. It’s hard to un-know something and because I know the lie is there and the Apple mask has fallen.
Ultimately, stories live on through the telling and the re-telling. It would be nice to think that my Apple customer reality story is one they wouldn’t want anyone telling or passing on but, because they believe themselves too big to fail, I suspect they won’t care at all.
I dodged a bullet
I believe, because I walked away, I dodged a long-term bullet. If that was the real buying experience, I can only imagine how poor the after sales service might be. Can you imagine the scene if I ever had the temerity to show up again asking for help or support. I’d be a real pain in the you know what. It may not be seen as true from Apple’s point of view. They could show me a tonne of statistics on customer service success because I’m sure they have had lots of success. There’s a key difference because my reality is true for me. I’m the customer and my customer reality in the Apple store was terrible. I get to choose who gets my disposable income and that gives me some importance.
I have to tell you, I’m now a loyal and lifelong non-fan of the Apple brand because they had their chance, two actually, and they blew it. My customer reality did not match the much-hyped expectation. Only one chance to make a good first impression and all that.
Make sure you walk the walk
If you’re going to tell a corporate story then make sure you can back it up in the real world. Don’t just talk the talk, make sure you walk the walk too.
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Here is a related article on Emotional Intelligence focused M&S versus Tesco which you may also enjoy and, just for the record, I do like some retail shops but not many.
Customer Experience Poor At M&S