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Retail Customer Experience Pro Microsoft Shows Apple How Its Done

Published February 15, 2015

Any technology consumer (actually, businesses too) knows the answer to this question: Who delivers a better customer experience–Apple or Microsoft?

Not so fast. Because this perception may be (slowly) changing–if the Microsoft store experience is a bellwether for how the company is approaching customer experience, they’re trying really hard to upgrade their customer service, and their reputation.mcorpcx-blog_021515_apple-customer-experience

At the same time, it looks like Apple is letting success go to its head.

As with all customer experiences, perception makes reality. And during the last six months, they’ve consistently shown my wife they don’t care about her. Once a raving fan, she’s fallen out of love with the brand. In fact, that’s why she suggested I write this.

Now that Apple appears to be failing with the suburban Northern California, creative-class, kick-boxing moms, can global dissatisfaction be far behind? Apparently not: In the UK, unhappy shoppers pushed Apple into 13th place from first in a survey of the nation’s favorite retailers–in just a year. And Customer Service scoreboard now ranks Apple’s customer service and customer support “disappointing” with an overall score of 48.34 out of a possible 200.

Sadly for Apple, it looks like my wife's bad experiences are shared by millions. Now the big boys on the block, maybe Apple really doesn’t care about or is too busy elsewhere (China?) to focus on its customers quite so much. But they’d better.

Where Apple went wrong: Because a good customer service experience means giving your customers good service.

My wife has always been an Apple user. Like most U.S. consumers, we have a drawer of now-obsolete iPods, iPads, and iPhones hanging around. And while I’m the only PC holdout in my family, it looks like the tide is turning. Her words? “I have loved Apple for years… but times change; they’re just too darn busy for their customers nowadays.”

She was so passionate, she wrote four long paragraphs on her experiences – which I’ve edited down to a few sentences. But you’ll get the idea–any one of us who has called Comcast or read a heartfelt customer complaint knows how customers respond when they feel they’ve been wronged. It’s not pretty.

When you have a non-functional Apple computer and Apple’s paid online support can’t help... multiple in-store appointments take weeks each to get... new computers aren’t in stock... and your trainer (also paid, thank you) is too busy looking at his watch to actually focus on your questions... the customer experience pain just keeps piling up.

With many big companies, this experience, sadly, isn’t that surprising. But Apple? We thought we knew you.

Nearly two months after her first call to Apple service, my wife’s new computer (and iPad and iPhone and iCloud) all work together pretty well. But she’ll be happy if she never has to talk to anyone at Apple again. Her love for the company-formerly-known-as-a-customer-experience-leader is gone baby, gone.

What Microsoft got right: Everything.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago, when my wife went to the Microsoft store to buy a Surface Pro for me while I was on the road (thanks again!). The bottom line is that–store design and location aside–the Microsoft customer experience could not have been more different.

Not only did they have everything in stock, but “team member Chris, the nicest young man on the planet” set it up, got things working, and took the time she needed to walk and talk her through everything.

Again in her words: “I fell in love with Microsoft yesterday–if I had not just bought Mac I would switch tomorrow. I will definitely think twice when one of my Apple products needs to be replaced in the future–thank you Microsoft for making me see the light!”

Full disclosure: yes, Microsoft is a client of ours, but that’s irrelevant. This story is of a universal customer experience truth–that the customer defines the quality of the experience, based on his or her expectations of it. Perhaps her expectations of Apple were higher, and dashed. And lower expectations at Microsoft were radically exceeded. Regardless, her perception of the Apple brand has forever been altered.

Lessons for current, former, and aspiring customer experience leaders

The lesson for Apple is one that many companies have learned to their detriment. As successful as you may be today, if you stop caring about your customers’ experience, sooner or later they’re going to stop caring about you too. When it comes to Apple vs. Microsoft, the irony shouldn’t be lost on anyone.

This isn’t just a retail experience story. It’s an important lesson for any executive to learn, and one that Apple may or may not notice in time to prevent its accelerating downward slide in the customer experience rankings. After all, they’re still a universally loved brand. But when it comes to customer experience, history does–and will–repeat itself. When established companies get complacent and don’t focus enough resources on understanding and better serving their customers, bad things will happen.

Ironically, Microsoft is the underdog these days. And when it comes to the experience economy and outside-in customer listening, they clearly have a long ways to go. But, they appear to be catching up–one Microsoft store at a time.

And my wife, for one, is rooting for them.

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