That experience thing again . . . (and price)

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The Apple store in Chicago

I’ve been through the drill a few times. My ancient (four-year-old) Macbook Pro’s keys are coming loose. This may because I use the machine a lot, or it could be because I really pound on the keys (perhaps reflecting my age, and the fact I learned keyboarding — extremely well — on old manual typewriters).

The first time this stuff happened several years ago, I didn’t know where to go — ultimately discovering an Apple “authorized service centre”. Then, either in a move of genius, or perhaps arrogance, Apple ended its relationships with authorized service centres — and moved everything in-house into “Genius Bars” in the new and — certainly at the start — highly successful Apple stores.

This created my next challenge. When you go into a retail store, you expect to speak with someone and get answers, right away. When you go to a service centre/depot, you don’t generally expect a crowd of “lookers” — and you accept that there may be some delay in having the work completed. Apple sort of solved the problem with an online appointment system; if you complete the right online forms, you can set a specific time to meet someone to discuss the problem.

But there were two problems with this innovation:  One, you needed to know about it, and second, you often had extremely long delays (by consumer standards) for service/appointments. You could — and I did, once, pay an annual fee for priority service; I suppose okay, because every time you visited the place your brand purchase decision was validated by the absolutely large numbers of people in the place.

libreofficeNow, back to the keyboard. It took me a while, but after going through the process, the Apple Genius Bar employee made clear that keyboard key replacements are free. Nice touch. No need to buy a new keyboard.

Trouble is, I keep losing my keys. Last week, the “N” and “S” key went. Thankfully, (or perhaps ominously for Apple) wait times for Genius Bar service — even on peak weekend times — are not so long now — so I made an appointment for Sunday on Saturday night.

Because I know the store’s appointment system, I could minimize wait time, but there still is the luck of the draw. The service technician at the other end could make or break the experience. And I hit gold yesterday. As the technician looked at my screen, he asked:  “Why are you using Neooffice?” the open-source word processing, spreadsheet and productivity software that competes with much more expensive Microsoft products. “You really should look at LibreOffice.

Then he said: “Hmm, your cover hinges are loose. I’ll see if I can get someone in the back to fix this. We’ll put it through as ‘software’ so you won’t be charged, but it will take about forty-five minutes. Is that okay?” As this was happening at lunchtime and I was a bit hungry, and the shopping centre has a food court, I certainly didn’t mind the wait.

I received the computer, screen clean, and ready to go, as promised. And Libre Office indeed is much better than Neooffice — its fast, intuitive, and easy-to-use. The keys work and the old MacBook Pro chugs along.

Customer won for life?

We’ll, yes, I’m more predisposed to replace the old MacBook Pro with a new one, but Apple lost out to an Android-based HTC cellular phone a few months ago. Google has won my brand support with some extreme client/user recognition — the company is flying me and several hundred help forum Top Contributors (moderators) to California in a few weeks for three days of entertainment, education and brain-picking. So the IPhone has been trashed in favour of an Android product.

Loss — the seamless integration between my phone and computer. Bigger loss (for Apple), the magic thing called brand loyalty. My major influencer: My wife.  Biggest loss (long ago):  Microsoft. I don’t even think about paying for office productivity software these days; now the challenge is to discover the best truly free open-source product.

The point here is that I truly received “wow” wonderful service yesterday from an Apple techie, and indeed I like my computer — even more now.

However things are more complex and nuanced than that when it comes to marketing and purchasing decisions. We can think we have it right, but really are wrong; we can set expectations that elevate our standards of what is ‘normal’ and be disappointed when things don’t live up to the new, higher standard, we can repackage, re-present and (gulp) rebrand our products/services/identities, but we cannot change the fact that our perceptions are constantly evolving.

Clearly, delivering “great customer service” (and not saying it in your marketing materials, please) is a wonderful marketing strategy; absolutely, quality counts and relationships and reputation should never be underestimated.

But what happens when your competitor, sensing (I think correctly) that someone is a centre of influence and then proceeds to give stuff away rather than sell it, or when entropy, collaboration and open communication turned walled enclaves of business opportunity into free-for-all opportunities to obtain things (truly) for free? The rules change. Competition intensifies. And you need to be even further ahead of the game on quality, innovation, service and value-delivery to get your price.

It’s a hard world out there.

It’s a wonderful world, too.

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