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I’m loyal to Apple, but is Apple loyal to me?

I was in my car driving to a meeting, speaking on my phone through my car’s Bluetooth when suddenly and unexpectedly my iPhone 6 fades to black.* It was 100% charged. I didn’t drop it. I was just cruising down the street and boom! it’s dead — ripped from my hands and my heart.

After cycling unsuccessfully through blogs and chat rooms for recommendations about things that could resuscitate my precious iPhone, I made an appointment at my local Genius Bar. Fearing the worst but hoping for the best, I showed up at the Apple Store at 6:40 for my 6:45 pm appointment. The check-in host tells me that my appointment is actually at 7:00 and to come back in 10 minutes. I arrive 10 minutes later and find myself waiting in line for another 10 minutes before being directed to go sit at a table with a group of strangers with cracked spider-web screens and other issues. Slightly annoyed but not a big deal, I take a seat and wait patiently.

Thirty minutes later the Genius — in this case we’ll call him the iPhone Doctor — tells me what I already know: my phone is dead. Doc can’t tell me what happened and there’s nothing they could do to fix it. Planned obsolescence? Poor foreign manufacturing? Bad luck? At this point it didn’t matter because I’m leaving on a business trip in less than 18 hours and I need a phone.

Doc gives me my options: buy a “non-retail” iPhone 6 for $299 which only has a 3-month warranty and, while it’s not refurbished, some of the parts may be second hand; get a new 6S for $550; upgrade to a new iPhone 7 for $700; or I can take my phone to another establishment and see if they can fix it. He also pointed out that I could likely sell my bricked phone for parts since it was seemingly in perfect shape except for – well, the fact that it was dead.

I asked Doc if he had a way to view a summary of the Apple products that I’ve purchased for my household and business. When I had arrived 45 minutes earlier, the check-in host had a list about 12 products long (that didn’t include any monitors, accessories, or any of the products that I buy for my company, which is significant). Doc tells me that he didn’t have a way to view my account information, that Apple didn’t do anything to recognize or treat customers differently, and something about security concerns. He was very pleasant and handled the situation well. I wasn’t trying to bust his chops but I was curious (considering I run a loyalty company that specializes in creating meaningful customer experiences and providing best-in-class service issue resolution).

Here was a moment that matters, a moment of truth for Apple, and the potential for either a very poor customer experience or for customer recovery and retention. Apple requires my Apple ID for virtually every single behavior that I make with their products, yet here I am in their own store, at their mercy in a time of need — and at this particular moment, to them I’m anonymous.

Loyalty is part art, part applied science. At Kobie, we talk a lot about the behavioral and emotional aspects of loyalty. Behavioral aspects focus on driving desired behaviors, such as purchasing a new phone. Emotional drivers are tied to status, habit and reciprocity, or in this case how I feel about Apple. Here’s where this gets interesting to me: Apple is an emotive brand. Apple customers are passionate about its products at a level that almost any brand would kill to achieve. And for the past 11 years, I’ve been an extremely loyal customer. Every computer, media player, phone, and tablet I’ve bought has been Apple. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to know how much money I’ve spent on their products, and here I am with an $800 Apple iPhone that had failed in less than 3 years.

I ended up paying the $299 plus tax for the non-retail phone. This last piece left an especially bitter taste in my mouth: they required that I give them back my broken phone, the same phone that the Doc told me I could sell for parts, the same phone that they couldn’t explain why it died of natural causes in less than 3 years, the same phone that they can probably fix and resell or reuse parts.

Behaviorally speaking, I’m still loyal to Apple — but I’m left wondering, does Apple still have the most loyal following? Is this an example where moments don’t really matter and neither does personalization? Or is Apple becoming a victim of its own success where these types of moments no longer matter to them as a corporation, that they’re all about the new shiny product and less about the experience?

It’s a slippery slope and Apple needs to take notice. Amazon once thought they were an untouchable brand with so much customer affinity they didn’t have to work to keep it. But time and sales told otherwise and Amazon Prime needed to be released to keep their customers glued. Apple too feels it doesn’t need a rewards program to keep their cultish following. Was this a one-off experience? One that can be blamed on poor associate training? Or was it lack of shared-data at the point of sale (where Doc Genius didn’t have access to the same information as the check-in associate did)? If so, the world’s largest tech company ought to solve that immediately.

In summary, loyalty doesn’t have to be represented with points/rewards/discounts – those are solely focused on the behavioral axis. It can be achieved through excellent customer interactions — the emotional axis. Moments that matter. That’s where Apple needs to turn its attention – to link all customer data for one seamless experience. To engage and recognize and show appreciation for the loyal fans who so blindingly show that level of appreciation for their brand. It’s what we at Kobie do best, and we’d love to take a bite out of that apple. Whenever you’re ready, so are we.

*Author’s note: I’m a model or two behind because I’m waiting for the iPhone 8 (or whatever it will be called) scheduled for release later this year.

Author: Bram Hechtkopf

Bram leads the “marketing of Kobie Marketing”. He consults with current and prospective clients on new business opportunities, helping to develop customer retention and loyalty marketing strategies and solutions that drive increased retention and spend. Following in the footsteps of his father, Kobie’s founder, Bram is eager to continue Kobie’s vision of technology and data analytics as enablers of leading-edge marketing executions for world-class customer loyalty initiatives. Bram has consulted with a wide array of leading brands including AMC Entertainment, TGI Friday’s, BJ’s Restaurants, Verizon, Bank of America, RBC, Flagstar Bank, JPMC, Sagicor, Coca Cola, Cox Enterprises, Ruby Tuesday, Hawaiian Airlines, and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. Prior to Kobie, Bram worked with the Human Capital Transaction Advisory Services practice for Ernst & Young, LLP, where he developed and presented analyses and recommendations on executive incentive and equity plan design and due diligence findings to senior management and the Board of Directors of Fortune 1000 clients. Prior to Ernst & Young, Bram worked with Towers Perrin in Manhattan as a consultant specializing in incentive plan design for executives and sales forces. Bram received his Bachelor of Business Administration degree with honors from the Goizueta Business School at Emory University with a concentration in Marketing and Information Technology.

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