Big can often be much better

This is a guest post from Mitch Joel — President, Mirum and author of “Six Pixels of Separation” and “CTRL ALT Delete.” See the original post this is adapted from and more like it on his blog.

How many times a day do you read about a brand messing up?

It’s a sport at this point. Some people make a living by showing brands just how much other businesses are screwing up, as some kind of warning/lesson. A bad customer experience is about as prevalent in the online feeds of the world as selfies and what people are eating for dinner. It has become so commonplace, that most of us read it, shake our heads and continue buying from the same brands, in the hopes that what happened to our friend won’t happen to us.

My friend, Jay Baer, is in the middle of promoting his new talk and soon-to-be book, Hug Your Haters. My other buddy, Scott Stratten, offers an endless supply of case stories that act as real warnings, along with brands that have turned a challenge into an opportunity that they later leveraged to tell a better brand narrative.

We have not tired on the topic of better customer service, and continue to demonstrate how the Internet allows brands to understand the issues, overcome them, and even come out of the other side being in a much better place.

It feels like this is always a challenge for the bigger brands.

We often hear the phrase, “bigger is better,” but don’t believe it when it comes to corporations. Take a brand like Apple. Putting aside their market capitalization, their stunning technology tools and retail environments, there are many people who struggle with their products and services. The Internet is littered with issues (and, I have had my own… just like anybody else). Still, when it works, it is something to marvel.

How Apple gets it so right. (Warning: this is a “market of one” story.)

The other day, I noticed that the letter “I” on my MacBook Air keypad was getting loose. By the following day, it had lifted. The key still worked, but the last thing I needed was to loose that letter in some random airport. I figured I would book a Genius Bar appointment, and pray that I would not have to relinquish the computer for a bunch of days to get one single, dorky key replaced or repaired.

I went to the Apple website, clicked the link for a customer support rep to call me, and took a deep, meditative breath. It took about five seconds before my phone rang with a message that the average wait time would be fifteen minutes due to the high volume of traffic. I was at my desk, so I switched over to speaker phone and got back to work. Within two minutes, someone was on the other line, we went through the issue, and I got booked into a meeting the next day, at the exact time I needed it.

I went over to the store, thinking that this would take about an hour, and that there was a high possibility that I would leave the store frustrated and without my laptop for a bunch of days (either that or the “I” button would be replaced with “Z” or something like that). I was served, it was replaced on the spot, and the Apple employee even changed other keys that were worn. Yes, I have AppleCare, so there was zero charge. I was thanked, and asked if there was anything else that they could help me with.

I was stunned.

It seems simple enough, but knowing the business, there is so much elegance going on behind the scenes to make what seems like an easy fix… easy to fix. They set the expectations that the phone call might take a while, but it did not. They made the reservation at the store happen in a quick and efficient manner.

I was not left waiting for days to get an appointment. The in-store experience over-delivered, because they did not make me sit around and they had the pieces in stock. They were able to solve it at that moment, and not push the computer over to a conveyer belt of technical support that the consumer could not see. They didn’t just resolve the current problem, but looked to fix other problem spots as a precaution.

It wasn’t a big deal.

…And that’s the point. Most of the customer complaints are not big deals, but because of process, the size of the organization, supply chains and more, the littlest of issues are often the ones that create a proverbial “pebble in the shoe” for the big organizations. For all of their foibles and fall-downs, Apple never felt like a bunch of silos between customer support on the phone, the digital experience and the in-store experience. It all felt like one connected channel (the true omni-channel experience).

Again, this is a market of one tale (and I’ve had unresolved and frustrating experiences at Apple as well), but this experience did demonstrate that big organizations can make things happen, if they’re willing to take these complex circumstances and design for elegance and simplicity. No one tossed my problem over to another department. No one complained that my issue wasn’t their problem. And, a smile, handshake, kind voice and a willingness to try to make everything right still goes a long way.

Big can be much better.

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About Mitch Joel

Mitch Joel is President of Mirum — an award-winning Digital Marketing and Communications agency. He is also a blogger, podcaster, journalist, speaker, and the author of "Six Pixels of Separation" and "CTRL ALT Delete." Mitch is frequently called upon to be a subject matter expert for BusinessWeek, Fast Company, Marketing Magazine, Profit, Strategy, Money, The Globe & Mail, and many other media outlets.

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