Friday, 22 October 2010


Anyone who knows me understands that I have a passion for Apple products. I’m writing this on an Apple Macbook, next to me sits a Mac desktop computer that the kids use, my wife and I both use an iPhone, there’s an iPod in the kitchen on a set of speakers and there is even an iPad charging on the desk as I write.

Yes, of course I can’t deny that part of it is just how cute Apple products look. Most laptops are ugly lumps of grey plastic with all the appeal of an ugly lump of grey plastic. My laptop is a sleek piece of brushed aluminium that looks adorable. The same goes for all other Apple devices. I don’t think there’s anything shameful in wanting a functional device like a laptop or a phone to look appealing, do you?

But it’s more than just good looks, there’s a much more fundamental difference between Apple Products than all the rest. It’s not just that Apple consistently score better than every other company in the IT industry when they measure customer satisfaction. Nor is it that Apple’s stock-market value is now higher than that of Microsoft and second only to an oil firm.

The real difference is in their philosophy. Like all technology innovators they are obviously concerned with what their devices can do but the difference with Apple is that they seem genuinely to be more interested in HOW their products do things. On my laptop, if I want to zoom in or out of a picture, all I do is make a pinching gesture with two fingers on the mousepad. To rotate a picture I just rotate two fingers on the mousepad. To go forwards and backwards in a sequence of web pages I swipe right and left with three fingers. After doing these things just a couple of times they become as natural as clicking my fingers or scratching my head. It’s the How that matters.

The same goes for customer service. Any fool can stand behind a counter and say No, that’s out of stock, you’re not entitled to a refund because you broke it or the warranty has expired. Any moron, and there are so many of them, can say your plane has been delayed or cancelled, that your car repair will take another week or that it’s store policy to check your bags for stolen property as you leave.

The issue is HOW any of these things are said. I can imagine ways in which any of these pieces of bad news can be broken to a customer in a way that will obviously disappoint them but won’t completely piss them off. Most of them involve the magic word (“sorry”), the secret customer service solution (something free to say sorry) and, above all, that most challenging of things, sincerity. Say sorry to the customer, give the impression you mean it and then offer them a free drink and almost every customer will turn around and give you the chance to recover fully. It really is HOW you do it that matters.

A person who shall remain nameless arrived back home in Botswana yesterday after a pair of South African Airways flights from hell. Some of it was genuinely beyond the airline’s control, a mixture of weather and safety concerns. Nobody can really complain about these issues. Nobody wants to get on a plane that is likely to be unsafe. I’ve been there often enough, it’s frustrating but you understand it’s nobody’s fault. However she was then told that it WAS her fault that she didn’t make her connecting flight in time as a result, that she possessed an illegal boarding pass and that she should cough up an additional R600 just to get on the next flight home.

At no point during her exhausting, stressful and frustrating journey home did anyone take the time to apologise, or even express regret and understanding at how frustrated she must be. Yes, of course the airline can’t go around saying they take responsibility for things beyond their control but that doesn’t mean they can’t look as if they care and do their best to make you happy.

The danger of course is they run the risk of completely alienating their customers. However I don’t think that SAA care about their customers. I suspect that they rely on three things. Firstly the understandable loyalty of our South African cousins who prefer to fly with them, secondly the advantage they have when making connecting flights throughout South Africa and finally the currently abysmal state of OUR national airline. I know it’s not fair to beat someone when they’re down but Air Botswana is becoming or perhaps has already become a laughing stock. It’s expensive, unreliable and, dare I say it, risky? I don’t think you need to be an expert in the airline industry to understand that Air Botswana no longer being fully affiliated with IATA is a bad thing. Are customers meant to ignore this and just assume the airline is still safe? Are they meant to ignore the numerous technical failures that the press have reported in the last couple of months? Are they meant to ignore the fact that even Air Botswana can’t rely on it’s own planes and prefers to charter hugely expensive planes instead? Are they meant to ignore the fact that their CEO has just stomped off in a huff?

Are they also meant to ignore the astonishing amounts of money that you and I are throwing into a massive hole called Air Botswana?

So HOW do we get to Joburg if SAA treat us with contempt and our own airline can’t be trusted? We adopt the Apple approach and take control ourselves. Drive.

No comments: