Truth Is Just Perception

Leave Absolute To Vodka

Apple provides a great example that promising the absolute perfection is the most powerful – but also the most risky – positioning for a brand.

Apple has made the headlines this week by achieving, at 623.5 billion dollars, the highest market capitalization of all time – without taking inflation into account. In the same time, my relationship with Apple has reached its historic low.

Upon my return from vacation, I wanted to download the new version of the Mac operating system OSX 10.8 – also known as Mountain Lion – on my iMac desktop computer. I had duly checked on the Apple website that my iMac was eligible for this update. This operation turned my iMac into a slow monster and led Apple software applications to freeze one after the other when I was using them, eventually freezing the whole computer. At each restart of the iMac, the process happened again much to my surprise and annoyance.

But I was only at the beginning of my troubles. After consulting Apple’s technical support on the phone, I performed a complete reinstallation (“clean install”) of my computer: Erasing the entire hard drive, downloading and installing Mountain Lion, and recovering my data from my Time Machine back-up drive.

This is when I really enjoyed the fact that Apple no longer offers physical versions (DVD or USB key) of its operating system, probably thinking that all their customers live in the heart of the Silicon Valley and enjoy an ultra-fast Internet connection. As a matter of fact, installing Mountain Lion requires the download of a file weighing more than 4 Gb, which, in the woods where I live, takes more than 7 hours! This is wonderful, especially when you must perform this download several times. I must admit that I came to regret that Apple does not borrow sometimes a little more from the French rail public service’s philosophy – “progress only exists if it is shared by all.”

Once I had downloaded Mountain Lion for the second time – which, unfortunately, would not be the last -, I launched the recovery process of my Time Machine data. It was then that another problem occurred: After recovering 0.5% of my data, the process got blocked repeatedly. So I called Apple’s technical support again; they advised me to use another method.

When I told them that I had only been using the method that I had agreed upon with their colleague the previous day and that is officially recommended by Apple, the Apple representative answered that, in IT, we can’t always understand what is happening and that we have to use a new way – with no guarantee of success – when the one we are using is not working. The quintessential Apple message!

So here I go again for a third download of Mountain Lion and its 4 Gb. Yes, the beauty of this new method is that I needed to restart from scratch. That’s why I am writing this article on my laptop on which, you guessed it, I haven’t downloaded Mountain Lion…

(CC) steveritchie

However, my patience had not yet been sufficiently tested. When I wanted to make an appointment with an Apple Store “genius” to deepen my understanding of my technical problem – I like to understand things -, it turned out that the “Apple Store” app on my iPhone and my iPad didn’t allow temporarily to make such appointments. Finally, when I called an Apple Store to ask a product-related question, I waited for 25 minutes before speaking to a representative from Apple who hung up in my face before I could ask him any question. I had to call back and wait for another 10 minutes before finally getting the information I wanted.

Obviously, there are more serious problems in life. Fortunately. But my experience with Apple made me reflect on the impossible mission taken by brands that promise the absolute perfection. They create expectations as absolute as their promises, expectations that the slightest inconvenience – and a fortiori a repeat of setbacks such as those I have known for four days – upsets. In this case, the disappointment is greater because the expectation was huge. And no brand is infallible.

Apple embodies a two-fold promise of absolute ease of use of its products and flawless customer service. Both promises were successively broken in my relationship with the brand this week. And I’m even more disappointed and angry since my perception of Apple is governed by its promise and the perfect realization of this promise in my relationship with the brand for years. I would have been less disappointed and less irritated if this incident had occurred with a less ambitious brand in its positioning and/or less perfect in the implementation of its promise, i.e. a brand from which I expected least.

This is the lesson to remember from this experience in terms of communications: A brand is first and foremost a guarantee. A guarantee of a benefit that can relate to several aspects: Price, innovation, support and customer relations, quality… When you purchase a product or service from a particular brand, you buy first, often unconsciously, the warranty contract that this brand embodies.

This is the contract that Apple has broken with me this week.

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