What’s the old movie adage, “If you build it, they will come.”?

Well, not exactly.

Entire product teams are built to create the best possible product. Which is great, except it’s an incomplete approach. Product Design is all well and good, but the better way to approach this is through Service Design. How many executives have you heard say, “I want to be like Apple.” but then you get stuck in the same product-centered ruts as before? Here’s a recent example from Apple that illustrates the customer-centric approach they take, along with your practical takeaways.

My wife’s aging MacBook Pro’s logic board was starting to go, and I sent it in for repairs. At the end of the estimated repair time, I called AppleCare to inquire about the “on hold” status. In this case Apple should have sent me an email or called to alert me the repair would take longer than the originally promised date. Instead, I had to call to find out what was going on. I mentioned this to the rep, who agreed with me and promised she’d alert the applicable team.

Takeaway: Keep your customers in the loop about work and projects statuses. If there’s an unanticipated delay, reach out to the customer to alert them to the problem, the proposed solution, and the anticipated update for delivery. Hire employees who exhibit true empathy, as they’re at the tip of your brand’s spear. Oh, and apologize when you could’ve done better. A little bit of corporate humility can go a long way.

I talked with a particular representative assigned to my case about the repair’s progress. The rep told me they were still waiting for the part to arrive but didn’t yet have an ETA. She changed my repair’s request status to “Expedited” in the meantime so it would be fixed first when the board came in, and further explained while she would be off the next couple of days, there’d be a seamless transition to a different rep who would handle my case.

Takeaway: If your customer contacts you about an issue that’s unresolvable on the spot, assign a specific person to shepherd the resolution until completion. If this person subsequently is off work, let the customer know. This keeps the customer from having to repeatedly explain the issue or ask the same questions of different people with no prior issue knowledge. Moreover, your organization loses some of its “faceless” character with the addition of a real “face”.

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Two days later, I received a call from the subsequent rep. He explained while they still did not have an ETA for the board, he had a potential expedited solution. Instead of repairing the laptop, Apple would send a refurbished machine of similar or better technical specifications as a replacement for the same flat rate as the repair’s cost. As I was driving at the time, he emailed the specs for me to review and accept when I next stopped.

Takeaway: If something goes wrong and you can’t keep your promise, offer your customer a better alternative, yet giving them a choice in the matter (even if the choice is obvious). And meet them where they are. Not only would I be distracted by trying to assimilate technical information audibly while driving, it would be easier for me to review the specs via email. Additionally, with a laptop I had purchased years earlier I couldn’t remember its specs off the top of my head, so having things in writing helped.

The specs for the proposed refurbished machine were impressive, given my wife’s laptop, at over four years old, was getting a little long in the tooth. The replacement was an essentially new machine–their latest available model. We talked details on the phone, and he noted the old machine had a CD/DVD drive and offered a free replacement SuperDrive as the new laptop didn’t have one. He asked if we had any FireWire-connected hard drives, and I told him we had some backups of some backups and would get an adapter later if need be. He insisted on including a Firewire-to-Thunderbolt adapter free as well so I wouldn’t have to mess with it later.

Lastly, he asked if I had a backup of the old laptop’s data. We have a Synology NAS in our office which also serves as a TimeMachine destination drive, but I mentioned I hadn’t verified the latest backup. He offered to have the hard drive of the old machine removed and FedEx’d to me separately, just in case we needed it. If we didn’t, he suggested getting an enclosure and using it as a spare hard drive.

Takeaway: Here’s the big one. Apple saw the issue not just as needing a laptop that worked (which a product team might have looked at as a solution in and of itself), but a process by which they could get us back to working order (a key part of the customer experience and an acknowledgement of our real need), and ensuring we had the physical tools necessary to make it as smooth of a transition as possible. They even anticipated future needs by inquiring about specific technologies and if we had peripherals requiring their use. This of course kept us from looking back, months from now with an immediate need and wondering why we (or Apple) hadn’t anticipated the issue. Lastly, they identified additional long-lasting value for something I may or may not immediately need.

So as you’re developing your product strategy, consider your experience strategy. This doesn’t happen by accident–customer experiences are purposefully designed. Otherwise, they may sometimes be good, sometimes bad, sometimes ugly, yet always subject to prevailing corporate winds. And with a repeat customer, the worst thing you can do is sow experience inconsistency–it’s one of the fastest way to lose a customer because they can’t tell if your product or service holds its proper value. Design for the experience now and keep the customer forever.

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