When 15 year old Austin decided he wanted to hook a TV monitor up to his Mac, he wanted to do it right. So he researched how to do it on the web. He knew just what connections had to be made and just the cables needed to do it right. Then he asked his Mom to take him to the mall – right to the Apple store so he could get the perfect connection between his Mac and his monitor.

It seemed like it would be a simple in/out transaction – here’s what I need, here’s Mom’s credit card and let’s go for a smoothie.

Then Mom suggested a very sensible thing, “Check with a sales person to make sure you’re getting the right stuff.” (Smart move since the mall is 25 miles from their home.)

That’s when the trouble began. The Apple salesperson told Austin he had made the wrong choices and he definitely needed something other than what he thought. Deferring to the ‘authority’ in the store known for its “Genius Bars,” Austin and his Mom took home the cables that the genius suggested and found out as soon as they got home that they were not a match with the monitor.

Frustration is too light a word to describe how most of us would feel at a moment like this. It’s not just a bad customer experience; it’s a deep lesson to be learned in listening to one’s intuition, even in the “face of authority.” It’s also a coming of age story, to be sure. All these poignant family moments arrived courtesy of Apple.

Now what? Probably obvious.

They go online and get a phone number for Customer Service (which like 60% of all people do with what has become our giant rolodex.)  But it turns out this customer service is only there to service the customers that buy online (Apparently the other people will have to go back to those who screwed it up in the first place – at the other Apple store – the one that has walls.)

The phone call just starts a discussion and a real “dead end” when it came to actually lodging a complaint – you have to really want to complain to work your way through their system. So of course, it was in the car, drive back to the mall, make a return to get the finally get the right stuff (the stuff they had in the first place.)

Did they get resolution, restitution or peace of mind anywhere in the process? Nope.

Did they get the appropriate level of empathy and technical knowledge they deserved when they finally made the 50 mile round trip to the store, again? Nope.

Did Apple – who has deeply loyal customers – neglect to remember that people may continue to buy your product – because it’s great, but no longer buy your brand because it’s not living up to its reputation? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Austin may continue to be a big Mac fan, but did the division between their web business and their brick and mortar business put a dent in the level of confidence he, his Mom, his Dad, his brother and his tenth grade class have in it? Yep. When you stop trusting those “geniuses” it means there’s a promise broken. Broken promises loosen the strength of relationships over time.

So now that Austin (and his Mom) knows that several of the connection cables are actually made by Belkin and they can find them at the Best Buy store down the way, maybe 2 miles down the road or so, how many special trips will they make to that Apple store?

Apple misses an opportunity to take a solid brand with a great following and make it even greater. There’s nothing today’s customer dislikes more than falling into the gap between a company’s on line and offline operations. For a brand like Apple it’s almost shameful. Their intensely loyal followers deserve more.

While the Apple brand is consistent, and its cutting edge products create strong brand loyalty, if you step away from the way they want you to do business, they’re are not very flexible, or so I’ve heard.

And companies in today’s world that don’t have the flexibility the customers demand will lose in the end, they will lose loyalty, mind share and eventually, market share.

Multiple channels mean multiple opportunities for engaging, involving and otherwise building strong “emotional bank accounts” with customers.

Every touch point – web, store, call center, fax, chat, social media – offers a chance to build the brand and create connection. As you look at your customer’s experience are you looking at the WHOLE one?

Until next time ~ all the best,


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