Lessons from Apple on Customer Service

Apple’s customer service shines through where too many others have failed. They approach customer service not as an afterthought, but as part of the whole package so you get a seamless experience from purchase to after sales.

Apple’s customer service shines through where too many others have failed. They approach customer service not as an afterthought, but as part of the whole package so you get a seamless experience from purchase to after sales.

As a belated Christmas present, I bought myself an iPod Touch in January 2009. It wasn’t an easy purchase, as I went through many product comparisons and came up with a whole list of justifications on why I should buy it, and why I didn’t need it.

After ordering it, I had a bit of a hassle in getting the order through because Apple wanted some sort of proof that I actually owned the credit card I used. At first, I was unable to contact the company because it was a holiday, but a call routed from Hong Kong to Singapore quickly solved the issue.

It arrived almost a week early, as I had told them that I would be flying from Hong Kong soon and since I needed to sign for it, wanted it to arrive before then. In my mind, Apple scored another point for actually making a customer request happen.

The iPod Touch was a pleasure to use, and the interface proved to be intuitive and simple. Firing up iTunes, I loaded up music, movies and started relying on the iPod as a PDA and portable internet device.

The first seven days it was good. Then the Touch completely died on the 8th day.

No amount of cajoling would convince the iPod Touch to turn on. I checked all the forums, official support areas, Google, and it seems that no one else seemed to have that problem. It had happened so suddenly and so strangely that even the folks at Apple tech support were bewildered by it, and told me to take it in directly to the Apple Service Center for repair.

At this point in time, I was already in Bangkok. Luckily, the iPod Touch came with an international warranty right off the bat, which is great when you consider the tendency for computer makers to only offer local or regional warranties, with global warranties subject to an additional fee.

After taking it into the service center, which was centrally located in Siam Discovery Center (a major, high class shopping mall in the middle of everything), I was told that there was no problem, that they would repair or replace it with a refurbished model and that it would take around 3 days.

I was rather surprised. I went in there ready for an epic battle to get it repaired, given my past experience with electronics customer service. Many times they make it feel as if you were being interrogated to see whether the smallest thing you did could have lead to the problem, as if trying to shift the blame to you.

The difference with Apple service is that they don’t make you feel guilty for going in. They try out a few basic troubleshooting steps, and once they’ve identified that it would require additional work, they just tell you with a smile and ensure that you know something will be done within a certain timeframe.

Apple also keeps its promises. My aging Acer laptop has a big sticker underneath the Intel Inside sign saying “2 hours service”. When I actually brought it in twice for service, I was told I needed to leave it for 3 or more days before they got it diagnosed and fixed. It ended up taking 4 days, which is quite annoying since I rely on my laptop for work. Apple on the other hand managed to get a replacement product to me within 2 days: well below the 3-4 day time period they initially mentioned.

Another major aspect that Apple understands is location. When I bought in my LG CD-ROM drive and monitor for repair multiple times back in 2004, I noticed that the only practical way to reach the repair center was by taxi. It was in the city, but hidden inside a lane somewhere so that you could either take a 10 minute walk in, take a motorcycle taxi or a normal taxi. Obviously the first two are out if you’re lugging around a large CRT monitor. In other words, location, location, location. Customer service is useless if it’s a pain to get to their offices. Having it located in a convenient location, like a major mall also helps: being able to drop off your device or receive service, then being able to head directly for shopping beats having to schedule a specific chunk of time just getting there, and getting back.

And what surprised me the most was that Apple took full use of technology and SMSed me a message telling me that I could pick up my iPod. I know you usually get a phone call, but this was so unusual it stood out in a good way.

Was I initially annoyed at Apple for giving me a defective product? Yes. But did their customer service rectify that? Yes. Apple needs to put more attention into the quality of their product, but when it comes to customer service, they did everything right.

Apple has shown us that good customer service involves:

  • Under promise and over deliver: Apple told me 3-4 days, but managed to get it done in less that time, which was a pleasant surprise because I didn’t expect it to be done so soon.
  • Accepting the product as defective, without arguing with the customer or making them feel if you are cross-examining them.
  • Have conveniently located offices, and design them well to make sure your customer feels comfortable.
  • Listen to your customers: if you say something will happen or you will do something, make it happen.
  • Smile.



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K Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead: Lessons from Apple on Customer Service
Lessons from Apple on Customer Service
Apple’s customer service shines through where too many others have failed. They approach customer service not as an afterthought, but as part of the whole package so you get a seamless experience from purchase to after sales.
K Bulsuk: Full Speed Ahead
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