Sustaining the energy and vitality in your brand through your people

Yesterday I had a rather disappointing experience with Apple. After pleading that I was a small business startup that really didn’t have the money to outlay on new equipment, the Mac technical support couldn’t help me with my iCloud configuration on my 4-year old Mac and suggested I make do with what I had until I could afford a new one. Patronising. Degrading even. And a nice slap in the face for being loyal. I’ve used a mac since they came out, for work and personal use, had a .mac account since MobileMe started and purchased iPods, iPhones, Apple TV and countless accessories. Couldn’t go back to PC if I tried. Loyalist. Love the brand. Love the products. Love the user experience. Love the customer experience in-store.

Then it started a few weeks ago, when iCloud went down, one week without emails for a small business isn’t really viable. But a lovely lady in customer service did everything she could to get me back online, helping me to redirect emails to another account in the meantime. When my phone, iCloud and mail weren’t talking to each other, she helped fix the problem. And when I lost some of my sent emails, she tirelessly followed through. For 3 weeks. A best practice example of problem resolution – every time asking for the details on the problem, then advising what she would do, how long it would take, arranging a time to call me back that would suit me, actually calling me back at that time with the update etc etc etc. Until with my final problem, she had to pass me onto another part of the business. The young fellow who basically told me to suck it up until I had enough disposable income to spend his way. 

I refused for the problem to be unresolvable, it seemed so simple. So I let my fingers do the walking on trusty google and lo-and-behold, there was the solution online. Guided by google, I fixed for myself what one of my lovemarks (ref: Saatchi & Saatchi) couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. 

The worst of the experience was not being slapped in the face by the young customer service fellow, but now the questions that are going through my mind about my loyalty towards the Apple brand – do they just want my money, do they really care about my custom, are they so big now that they’re resting on their laurels, or is this guy just the bad apple in the barrel? Apple is renowned for delivering a consistently positive brand experience across all their touch-points, aligning their external and internal brands, so the people reflect the same values and behaviours as the products, the stores, the advertising. Up until now, the people in the stores have been consistently outstanding, whether in Sydney, Singapore or London; and the lady in iCloud tech support infallible. Is one really disappointing experience enough to mar my perception of the brand for life and inspire me to seek an alternative? Will it just temper my love for the brand into impartiality? Or will I get over it as soon as the sun is shining and I’m happily jogging along the water in the fresh spring air, accompanied by my favourite iTunes (iPhone on silent!)?  

For now, I’m waiting to see what happens. I let the lovely iCloud lady know about my bad experience and thanked her for her excellence, in an email that she assures me is being passed onto her supervisor. Nothing yet.

As a brand and business, having a customer question whether or not they’re valued, is not a healthy situation to be in. And yet, Apple is one of the healthiest brands around. Lesson learnt: Aligning internal and external brands is not a one-off thing. It needs to be pulled through all of your processes and constantly reinforced with your people to consistently deliver your promised brand experience across all of your touch-points. But it shouldn’t be a chore. 

Internal communications on brand engagement and pulling the brand experience through to people’s objectives, capabilities and performance development criteria are effective ways to support this. 

I’m a fan of the real and tangible, action and interaction, bringing the brand to life for your people, engaging them in the brand like you do your customers. Regularly running fun, unique, interactive workshops – brand experience, customer immersions, competitor war-rooms, trend and parallel market perspectives – to induct the newbies, remind the oldies, address issues and find solutions and even uncover a refreshing new idea or two. Motivating your people, getting them excited by, involved in, owning and living the brand. Wrap this up as a programme with best practice case studies and awards, and keep it going throughout the year, and from year to year.

There’s really nothing better than seeing your people excited by the brand and generating ideas about how to apply it to their everyday jobs (that’s when you know your customers will love it too). I just think we sometimes forget that, like everything else, work can become passive and routine. So taking a bit of time out (and budget) to reinvigorate the brand through your people regularly should be prioritised – to keep your people, brand and business consistently delivering with energy and vitality. That’s healthy.


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