There is no question. Steve Jobs is a master of his craft. There is also no question that Apple makes some very fine products. That’s what makes iPhone 4 antenna issue so intriguing. There is no doubt that when you consistently release products that are perceived as high quality, expectations go up. I’m not sure just how big this ‘problem’ is. According to Apple’s own data, it’s very small. However, we can’t verify that information, and protected statistics are easily “massaged” to present a desired outcome. Given that Consumer Reports can’t recommend the iPhone4 without a case, I’ve got to think it’s something more than what Apple or AT&T are willing to admit. Whether the problem is truth or hype, there is a perceived problem, and that certainly will cause problems for Apple. The amount of publicity really gave Jobs no choice but to publicly address the issue. As we did with the earlier post on the Gulf spill we will take some lessons from this crazy drama.
After watching the press conference, I came away impressed with how Jobs is able to downplay the problem and turn his product’s ‘issue’ into an industry wide issue at the same time. This was something that was quickly countered by some of Apple’s competitors. Here is what we see in the handling of this issue from the launch of the phone to the 7/16/2010 press conference:
Let’s start with the good:
- Admitting you aren’t perfect. Getting companies (or people for that matter) to admit to anything not seen in a positive light is really tough these days. Apple coming out saying they aren’t perfect is a great move.
- Reacting quickly. Apple could have sat on this, denied it, or tried hard to bury it. They didn’t. They took it on and addressed it quickly. Bravo!
- Verbalizing your commitment to customer satisfaction. People need to hear this once and a while, but if they don’t see it lived out it can be thrown below in the fluff pile.
- Offering a solution to the problem that reaches beyond the minimum, regardless of whether or not it is a problem of perception or reality. Without this, number 3 above is useless. I think this really does a lot to diffuse the negative image ‘antennagate’ has given them. Giving away a case with each phone, refunding the purchase price of the bumper cases already purchased, and offering to purchase certain third party cases for customers because they can’t make enough of their own cases is the probably best thing they could do. Wiping restocking fees for unsatisfied customers was bonus. It’s really, really nice to see a company not stopping at the minimum to make their customers happy. This puts some teeth into saying they want all of their users happy. At the end of the day, it’s a very classy move.
Now, the bad:
- Mocking the problem / taking it lightly. Soon after the story broke about the iPhone 4 reception issues, Apple seemed very dismissive of the whole thing. It recommended holding the phone differently or buying one of their cases. Really? I don’t buy for a second that Jobs would accept that kind of response from a company that sold him a home theater system. How do you feel if you purchase a product that does not live up to requirements, and when you complain about it, you are told to purchase something additional to make it right? That’s insane! They didn’t let up either. The first thing we see in the press conference video is a music video blaming the problem on the media and generally making light of the issues. Is that really the juvenile image you want to start with?
- Coming off as arrogant when addressing the problem. As far as the recommendation to hold the phone differently, it really smacked of arrogance and provided ample fodder for Apple’s competitors. Nokia for one wasted no time jumping on the opportunity. Suppose I bought a car that sometimes wouldn’t turn left. Would Steve Jobs tell me to stop taking left turns? This is ridiculous.
- Trying to make your problem look acceptable by pointing to holes in your customer’s products. This isn’t about their phones. It’s about your phones. What are you doing about fixing your phones? Let the competition fall to the wolves on their own. Note: This includes fixing the algorithm to calculate the number of bars. My favorite line from the press conference is this “…some of these other phones might be being a little bit too liberal on their algorithms too.” How it sounds to me – “It’s OK that we lie, everyone else is doing it too.”
- Not admitting your product has a problem. Jobs admits that all phones have problems. That’s not the same thing, that’s dodging the bullet.
Finally, the fluff:
- They are working their butts off. Gee. That’s great. You are in a highly competitive market and you are working hard. If you ever read this Mr. Jobs, here’s a tip for you; “Your competitors are working their butts off too. Get used to it.” These days, working hard is expected. It doesn’t matter how good you are or how hard you are working. People don’t care. Right or wrong, the market rewards results. That’s the bottom line.
- You’ve got really expensive facilities and really smart people. If you are this good and your phone has a problem, that can make you look worse than you would if you had never brought it up in the first place.
The iPhone4 antenna issue will be a story for years to come. With a truly unique marketing machine and a history of delivering quality products, even the smallest issue will be magnified. When people love your products, they expect perfection. Apple seems to be a victim of it’s it’s own hype in this case. However, if handled properly, this problem for Apple could turn out to be a positive for them. We know that well handled customer problems actually increase the customer retention rate. Time will tell whether Jobs and his crew have handled this well enough.