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.
But those cheapass flashdrive-type players which simply show up as another drive on the computer, do. Samsung's Yepp player also has software that can autosync, along with the option of seeing it as another drive, and performing file modifications on Explorer, simultaneously. The changes reflect automatically on the Yepp software.
As for the manual music management option, it was while doing this switch that the songs disappeared. You can try it with your iPod as well: Make a backup of all your songs. Keep the iPod on autosync mode. Fill the iPod with some songs through iTunes. Get out of iTunes, delete the songs from the directory in which it resides, re-open iTunes. Connect the iPod. Enable manual file management. Poof, all songs disappear with no warning whatsoever.
When I put files back into the iPod after this stage, and deleted some of them through iTunes, it gave that warning window again. So I'm quite sure I hadn't checked that warning-disable feature.
Granted this is not a really critical issue, but I was only trying to bring about an illustration.
Actually, I just tried it. The songs didn’t disappear.
You’re using Windows, aren’t you?
Yes, this happened with Windows, but through iTunes. Ideally, iTunes shouldn’t have removed the filed from the iPod without warning. I can’t see why Windows is at fault here. I also have a Mac, with my sister’s iPod hooked to it. I’ll try it sometime.
I’d like to clarify that you need to delete songs from the computer from outside of iTunes for what I described, to happen.
Besides, how does one go about retrieving files from the iPod back to a new computer without resorting to dubious third-party hacks? This feature is basic in those MP3 players I mentioned. iTunes had this feature early on, but they removed it in future upgrades. This sucks too.
Actually, the iPod never had it as a supported feature (thanks to the RIAA). You can still do it, all the music is in a hidden folder on the iPod, which has never changed. It’s a little harder to find now, though - they just changed the name to something less obvious than “Music”.
The cheapie MP3 players allow you to do that because they’re not paired with a store. None of the store-linked players allow you to copy back files from the player to another computer in the same form. The store linked ones have to abide by agreements with the major labels, so no “official” copyback.
Oh, okay. Thanks for the information!
But iTunes did have a feature to do the same, which they disabled subsequently. Here is a link I just found:
Back up your ITunes library (and anything else important) to an external hard drive. They're cheap.
Don’t confuse marketing with excellence.
Thanks to legal maneuvering that got Microsoft inserted into the government computers at an early stage. Whence goest the government requirements for computing, so goest their contractors, and a large chunk of the business community.
That doesn't mean they have to like it.
Because you can talk into the mouse.
i disable the auto feature.... almost happened to me.
I back up my songs on a extra backup drive. I’ve had one of the kids lose her songs when an iPod went nuts. She didn’t back up the music and she lost all 50 songs. I would have gone nuts with the loss of about 3800 songs. So I back them up on CD’s and on backup hard drive..
I did back up, that was not the problem. I had made some customisations on the ID tags, etc. I lost those.
Besides, it is a pain to restore about 45 GB of songs onto an iPod. Won’t take too long, but it isn’t that fast either, and that too for no reason! That was what annoyed me.
And it is slower for one more reason. When the songs “disappear” they are actually just hidden in the HDD of the iPod. So a new restoration is slower as the iPod has to reallocate space for the songs that will replace the “hidden” files.
“iPod Download” was not an Apple application and it didn’t come with iTunes. So, no, it didn’t have that as an official feature, and per the contract with the labels, they disabled the *third-party* application that added it.
If you want to bitch about it, talk to the RIAA and the labels. Fortunately, it seems that EMI is coming to their senses and won’t be requiring that sort of thing any more; lets hope the rest of the industry follows suit.
This was known a long time ago. There was even an old USENET joke comparing HP computer sales to an overly-complicated, interconnected menu in the lunch line.
The biggest slap in the face for this is seen between the Apple and Dell sites. The Mac Pro has a simple list of options that make for a very powerful and full-featured computer. The Dell has a few pages of options (including trying to sell you printers and other stuff) that will even cause warnings that you have chosen incompatible options -- then you have to go back and fix your incompatibilities.
Oops, my bad.
You underestimate the power of IBM's earlier monopoly, Microsoft's later monopoly, and market inertia.
There's another example of how we learned the hard way to do what should be done automatically. You shouldn't have to care that your song is a file on your system. You should just know the song, and delete it through the application you use to manage your songs.
Nor would the redundancy of storing the same files once in the computers drive and also in the iPod.
One, this way you don't lose your songs when you destroy or lose your iPod. Two, the smaller iPods can't handle most song libraries. Three, synch times would be much longer if songs removed from the iPod had to be copied back to the computer, unless you're actually wanting to delete your music. And then it would be confusing -- did I want to just take the song off the iPod and put it back on my computer to make room on the iPod, or did I really want to delete the song forever?
Besides, iTunes isn't meant to just manage your iPod. You can listen to songs on the computer or stream them to other computers in your house.
I think you can get the MacBook up to something like $1,800 with the right options, so there’s not that huge a gap.
I agreed with you when the old iBook had nothing better than a mediocre 1024x768 display, but since the new MacBook changed to a lovely glossy display with pretty decent resolution, I think the gap’s now reasonable, especially since a lot of people want the small computer that requires a smaller screen.
Irv, it’s sad but a lot of people would rather grumble and complain than change. Being entrenched in the business world is a huge consideration as well. And of course many people will go for the cheapest product even if it’s lousy.
That being said, I think most companies would rather have happy customers than unhappy ones. We’re definitely seeing increasing interest in the Mac and that’s because of the high levels of customer satisfaction Mac users enjoy.
Even if the actual market share change is only a few percentage points, you can guarantee this is giving Steve Ballmer heartburn, no matter what he says in public.
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