Skip to comments.Behind the scenes: why Apple's customer base is so loyal and enthusiastic
Posted on 04/10/2007 9:37:14 PM PDT by Swordmaker
Pundits often refer to them as "zealots" or "fanboys." The more polite references include "Mac loyalists." I am, of course, talking about Apple's more vocal customers, those who will defend the company and its products in any debate going on around them. What is it that drives their passion for most things Apple? Is it a deluded mind, warped by the Reality Distortion Field that Steve Jobs so successfully wraps every new product in? In short, the answer is no.
The truth behind the scenes is not that Apple has a large group of customers that are too dedicated and passionate about their products, or the company as a whole. The reality is far more simple and obvious: Apple simply has a large group of very satisfied customers and that's the secret ingredient left out of nearly every analysis or op-ed piece that mentions these "zealots."
The obvious side to Apple's customer satisfaction lies in their attention to detail in every facet of product development. All their products are designed, at every stage, with the customer clearly in mind and each product is tailored to make it as easy to use as possible for the customer, regardless of how technically savvy or not they may be.
The less obvious side involves two keywords: freedom and choice.
In The Tyranny of Too Much, we explain how too much choice is a problem, a significant problem even. Recapitulating, too many options to choose from will increase our expectations and decrease our satisfaction with the choice we've made. Barry Schwartz's book, The Paradox of Choice, explains it in great detail and is well worth a read.
This presents a problem for businesses, because it means that to satisfy customers they ought to give them less to choose from; however, our western society is so focused on offering choice that this almost certainly seems like a poor business decision. After all, choice is for better or worse transparently linked to freedom, and freedom is what today's society is all about. But the fact of the matter is that less choice, and consequently less freedom, is what actually liberates us as customers because it gives us greater satisfaction.
Apple is one of the very few companies that get this and yet, they get chided for it much more so than praised.
When the iPod first came out, it was written off as a failure-to-be because it didn't offer various features. It was a choice-limited product and therefore it couldn't possibly succeed in a market that was all about choice. Rob Glaser, CEO of RealNetworks, even used its choice-limited characteristics as an argument to predict its downfall "five years" later. Funny, that: it's five years later, and iPods have just passed 100 million sales.
The biggest mistake many technology companies make, whether they're hardware or software-oriented, is thinking that consumers want choice, because choice equals freedom. However, what consumers want is satisfaction, and as explained above, too much choice leads to less satisfaction.
If you compare Apple's iPod offerings to those of, say, SanDisk or Creative, the one thing that really stands out is that Apple essentially offers only three music players: the iPod shuffle, the iPod nano, and the regular iPod. What do their competitors offer? Ten and sixteen players, respectively. That's a lot of choice too much choice.
When a consumer has to choose between the Zen Vision W, Zen Vision, Zen Vision:M, Zen Neeon, Zen Neeon 2, Zen V, Zen V Plus, Zen Nano Plus and so forth, what are the chances they'll actually figure out which one is right for them? Their names are as differentiating as their feature sets are, with sometimes only miniscule differences between the various players.
This leads to less customer satisfaction, because if you buy the Zen Neeon, it's not hard to imagine that the Zen Neeon 2 might have been a better player for you. This is not the case with Apple's iPod offerings. Its three iPod types are clearly distinguished from each other, making it less likely that you'll think a different model was more suitable than the one you bought.
Apple's limited choice creates more satisfaction. Less time is spent trying to find the right player, less time (if any at all) is spent wondering if the chosen player was actually the right one, and as a result, more time is spent simply enjoying the purchase.
This is exactly why, when Apple releases a new type of iPod now, it replaces an existing line, so as to keep the number of choices to a bare minimum. The iPod nano easily could have lived next to the iPod mini, one being flash-based while the other still uses hard drives. Instead, the mini was replaced because both products fit the same rough customer desire: an extra small music player that still had a decent amount of storage space (and a screen).
The same scenario plays out with the Macs on offer. Go to Dell or HP and you can find an absurdly large number of computers to choose from, most all of which differ from one another in only the slightest details. With a Mac, these small differences in CPU speeds or screen size are "hidden" from the consumer by being placed after the choice stage, not in the middle of it. When you get to choose between a 17", a 20" and a 24" iMac, you've actually already made the choice that really matters: you've chosen an iMac. That screen size is only an afterthought in the process, a personal customization step that seemingly has nothing to do with your choice of machine.
All this leads to the obvious but often overlooked fact that it makes the customer happy when they've finally purchased their product. Product quality, while important, is only a part of what makes a customer satisfied; the other part lies in knowing that you made the right purchase to begin with.
Apple's "loyalists" are no more than very happy, deeply satisfied customers, and their competitors should learn from that.
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I suppose there is some truth in this. I still don’t think it would kill them to make a laptop that fit somewhere between a 1300 dollar MacBook and the 2000 dollar MacBook Pro. To me that is the area where they actually don’t have enough choice.
You know, on the iPod, if after filling it with songs, you go to the computer in which the songs are backed-up, and delete them to free up some space, and then change the auto-update feature on iTunes, all the songs on the iPod disappear without warning.
Apple may be “easy-to-use” and this aspect appeals to a lot of users, coupled with the delibrate hiding of advanced settings, but there are some aspects of it that will drive one mad. Processes that don’t ask for user confirmations, for instance. For others that annoying box that Windows keeps popping up for every tiny system change, is appreciable.
:’) “You’re a zealot.” “No, you are.” “I said it first.” “So, I said it better.” ...
My first Apple was Mac+, purchased new. I latter added an external Jasmine 20MB HD. I started doing repair for Whole Earth Access, then Computerware, back when the Quadra 700 was hot stuff.
Now I do technical support for a newspaper running almost all Macs.
The existence of Microsoft completely repudiates this statement.
The vast majority of users complaining about Microsoft products are very unhappy, deeply unsatisfied customers...
My dearest is lucky she got the 13” iBook G4, because it’s too small for me to see.
If she had the 15”, I’d be all over that puppy.
As it is, my Dell and my desktop are outfitted with an aqua knockoff. Expose, Dock, icons, etc.
My point exactly. They are deeply dissatisfied (for good reason, in my opinion) yet there are many, many more of them. Apparently, customer satssfaction ain't all it's cracked up to be.
It isn't a cult. No way.
Funny, I’ve done exactly that and my iPod didn’t auto-delete all the songs on it.
By the way, iTunes *does* ask you if you are sure on major decisions like deleting files. If you check the box that says “don’t ask me this again” it doesn’t (unlike MS). My guess? You checked the box and don’t remember doing it.
I'd say that that's enough warning.
Ahh. Now delete the songs from outside of iTunes. Then try it. It’ll show no such warning.
When deleting files on a computer to free up space, one normally wouldn’t tend to go into each specific program alloted to the files to do so.
An explorer-type program is used usually, and using this is when those wonderful warnings don’t show up.
If the iPod’s interface had been a simple drag-and-drop, this process wouldn’t be necessary. Nor would the redundancy of storing the same files once in the computer’s drive and also in the iPod. When song archives go 40GB to 60GB, this is a real PITA to waste such large amounts of space. Especially on a laptop.
Here's another hint, on the screen that comes up automatically when you plug in an iPod:
Guess which option above is the important one.
Yup, “Manage music manually” lets you change the iPod from an autosyncer to a manual “drag and drop” loader, as you desire.
Oh, and this isn’t new. That’s my *original* 5GB iPod, still in heavy use, still running its original battery.
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