Apr 15

Apple & the customer’s shoes

Those who get what made Steve Jobs tick understand his devotion to the customer experience.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it was his highest priority — and it went far beyond the products.

Steve believed that everything a customer sees, feels or touches is an opportunity to connect them more deeply to the brand. Absolutely everything. When he reviewed a piece that would run in a magazine, for example, he cared as much about the quality of the paper as he did the message of the ad.

Even if it was something that didn’t register with a customer consciously, he knew it was having an effect.

In all my advertising life, I’d never seen the CEO of a major company focus on so many aspects of the customer experience — from ads to packaging to retail design to tech support.

His technique was pretty darn simple: he put himself in the customer’s shoes.

Of course, Steve didn’t invent this way of thinking. It’s been a basic part of business for as long as there have been businesses. The difference between Steve and many other leaders was the intensity of his commitment. He was unwilling to sacrifice the customer experience to save a few bucks, because he understood that satisfied customers are always more valuable in the end.

One critical part of the customer experience is communication. When we feel like a company is being honest with us, we feel more connected. Along with that comes a willingness to forgive a company when and if it makes a mistake.

The classic example is what happens inside an airplane when it’s stuck on a runway for what seems like forever. When the pilot fails to communicate what’s going on, passengers get agitated. They feel helpless and frustrated. But when the pilot explains the nature of the delay and promises to keep passengers informed, the anxiety dissipates.

Last night, like many similarly obsessed people on the east coast, I stayed up till 3:00am because I wanted to order my Apple Watch for delivery on April 24th. However, within a minute of the site going live, the delivery time for Apple Watch Sport was 4-6 weeks.

I get that there are good reasons for this. Demand is high, there are manufacturing issues, and so on. However, people like me were led to believe one thing and then surprised at the last second by another thing.

At the Apple Watch event, Tim Cook announced that pre-orders would begin on April 10th and that shipments would begin April 24th. The same information was posted on the Apple website and in promotional emails. In Apple language, these words have a clear and obvious meaning: those who order early will get their product on delivery day. Everyone else — you’ll have to wait.

This time, the reality was quite different from the expectation. I can’t remember Apple ever playing with words and expectations as it did here.

Apparently, very few models of Apple Watch were ever scheduled to ship on April 24th. The Apple Watch Sport (likely the most popular model) appeared to be unavailable from the first moment — with a delay that will likely be a full month.

Nothing enhances the customer experience like plain, simple honesty. Apple has known all along what models would be available in what quantities. There was no reason to lead people to a false expectation.

What Apple did feels “tricky,” which is never a good thing. Even today, Apple’s homepage says “Available April 24th.” Available in the sense that you can see one in the store, perhaps, but certainly not in the common use of the word.

A lot of this is just common sense. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that a company will create bad feelings when it hypes a product for months and then changes expectations at the very last second. Literally. It feels manipulative.

I get that Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs. Next time he gets on stage to set expectations for a new product, I hardly expect him to don the black turtleneck.

However, as Steve did so well, I do hope he’ll be wearing the customer’s shoes.

  • Seán

    Dispatched in June :(
    Only minutes after ‘available’.

    Sure Apple Watch 2 will be announced soon after I get this one!

  • Great piece, you’re absolutely right, I was sure that if I was there on the dot I’d have my new toy by the 25th, as it was I left stupid for not refreshing the Apple Store App and just focussing on the browser.

    And not to mention that some bands etc were never available from day one.

    It would be really interesting to know how many they’ve sold to see how that stacks up.

  • Iain

    Everything about this product has been un-Steve. Pre-announcements of pre-announcements, special events with nothing new to show, pre-orders with delayed shipping times.

    If Steve had done this he would have demo’d the watch and said, “And it’s on sale, today!”

    I am losing faith in the post-Jobs Apple.

  • dr.one

    What worse is that celebrities are already showing off their gold watch.
    Shipment says August.

    There is already someone saying 42 white band wasn’t available at try-on.

    Apple shouldn’t advertise until it can fulfill the demand.

  • Jurassic

    “Apple shouldn’t advertise until it can fulfill the demand.”

    Without knowing HOW MANY watches Apple produced in advance, or HOW MANY people who ordered the Apple Watch online around the world will be getting their Apple Watch on April 24th, making a comment like that is meaningless.

    Apple warned everyone that it would be “first come, first served” when ordering the Apple Watch, and that not everyone would be able to get their watch on April 24th.

    This is nothing new. Every new Apple product ALWAYS sells out quickly after ordering begins. It happened with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, with the iMac, etc.

    Now the same thing happens with the Apple Watch and the new MacBook. It’s time to stop acting “surprised” and realize that this is the way things always have been, and learn to accept it.

    Just to add to that…

    When the first orders for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus sold out just as quickly on the first day of sales last fall, some people said exactly the SAME THING… “Apple didn’t produce enough iPhone 6 and 6 Plus”.

    But then we learned that Apple sold an incredible 75 Million of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in the first 3 months of sales, selling one every few seconds! In other words the demand far outstripped any reasonable expectations to deliver “enough” iPhones to everyone ALL AT ONCE.

    The same is obviously true with the Apple Watch!

  • Tobaijas

    You clearly don’t remember the initial iPhone or even iPad models, both announced months and months before shipping

  • Mike

    Personally, I think it’s a smart move especially as it tries to gauge the public response to a relatively new product category. This article seems to mirror my sentiment:


  • phlsphr

    Thank you. I have been buying Apple products steadily since the original Mac in 84. I can’t recall ever being angry as I was last night. Then this morning I drive to my Apple Store, and they don’t even have the sport model with the green band to try on (which I bought because the wait on the black sport model jumped back to June in seconds after I finally got the store to load last night). If this is her idea of a great Apple Store experience, Angela Ahrendts should be canned.

  • Herding_sheep

    The only thing I’d consider “tricky” was the fact that not every band choice is available on launch day. The Modern Buckle and Link bracelet both aren’t available until May.

    As far as preorders selling out fast, I really don’t follow you here. How is this any different from the iPhone 4 preorders selling out within an hour, and delivery estimates slipping to several weeks later? This is the reality of almost every new Apple product launch, even while Steve was there.

    The only part of this that I find misleading is that not every band option was available on the 24th. But being disappointed that the model you wanted sold out before you could place the order? That’s just the way it is with Apple products these days. It seems clear that this beast has been particularly challenging for the Operations team, more than any other product launch they’ve done. The multitudes of new materials, new manufacturing processes, with dozens of variations, all for a brand new product with demand remaining unknown, seems like a pretty big challenge. I do think Apple should have made it clear though that only Sport, Milanese, and Classic buckle models would be available on the 24th.

  • Gest2016

    Thank you Ken for articulating what I felt: As a hardcore lifelong “early adopter” of their products, I felt kind of shafted. I expected my staying up to midnight to order would be rewarded with at least the CHANCE of recieving a sports model with a white band by the promised ship date. Right now? I cancelled my order, as it was ony available in June. At this rate I’ll seriously consider just skipping this whole generation altogether and waiting until the Watch2.

  • Doug Trace

    I really agree with you here. On one hand, I was enjoying living in the *future*. I was out late at 3am, popped out my iPhone on fast LTE, opened up the Apple app and proceeded to seamlessly order an Apple Watch. Very cool. Thing is, as my thumb hovered above the “place order” button, the ship time was April 24. I lowered my thumb, placed the order and immediately got my confirmation: “May 13 to May 28”. Huh?? …..I was disappointed and it sullied an otherwise enjoyable experience. “First world problem”, I know, but there it is.

  • ksegall

    I think this is plenty different than previous launches. What frustrated me (and many others) is that Apple is acting as if it’s the same.

    Apple’s clear message has been: “pre-order April 10th, available April 24th.” That’s what Tim said, and what all the email promos said. Anyone experienced with Apple launches knew exactly what that meant: “Be online when preorders start if you want to receive yours on the shipping date.” It’s understood that we’re late to the party, our shipment will be delayed.

    What’s different this time is that there were a ton of people who weren’t late to the party, but were met with disappointment. The April 24th shipments were depleted within a minute or two, instead of the typical hour or two. After those ship dates were depleted, delivery times did not increase week by week as preorders piled up — they jumped a full month out.

    So no, this isn’t at all “just the way it’s been with Apple launches these days.” Demand for iPhone 6 was probably the biggest in Apple history, but the enthusiasts had no trouble getting delivery on the announced ship date. Clearly the state of the manufacturing process at Watch pre-order time is not at all what it’s been for previous launches.

    I must stress that I am NOT criticizing the manufacturing issues at all. I understand that Apple Watch presents a ton of new challenges, and I want Apple to get it right. I appreciate that they’re obsessed with getting things right, even if that means delays.

    But something else I appreciate about Apple is that they have always put the customer experience first. Just a few words to set expectations would have gone a long, long way. I wish they wouldn’t have been waving that April 24th date around as they did, knowing the reality was much different. (A date which remains on Apple’s home page today, a full three days later.)

    It’s hard to get in trouble when you’re honest with people.

  • ksegall

    Trust me, Apple doesn’t need to gauge public opinion on the Apple Watch. They have 100% certainty that they will immediately sell every Watch they can make, for at least the first few months.

  • ksegall

    See my comment to Herding_Sheep. This launch was nothing like previous launches, especially the iPhone 6 — which was arguably the most in-demand product launch in Apple history. Nobody was denied early shipment because they placed their order two minutes after the opening of preorders.

    Those who have preordered Apple products previously are well acquainted with the “rules”: order early or face delays. In this case, a huge number of people preordered early (WAY early) and they were met with a one month delay. In previous launches, the delays would get longer by increments as more people preordered. Not in this case. The manufacturing situation here is obviously different.

    I repeat: I have no complaint whatsoever with the manufacturing process, or the fact that Apple can’t fill orders as quickly as they’d like. They’re working hard to make things right. I love that about Apple. My issue is simply a customer experience issue. If customers aren’t happy — and many were frustrated by this — something is not right. A few words to set expectations would have made all the difference in the world.

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  • Hi Ken,

    I get what you’re saying, but on this rare occasion I disagree with you on both points: a.) I disagree that this is new for Apple. b.) I disagree that this is bad for Apple.

    As for (a.) — I bought the 17″ MacBook Pro unibody on the day of release in early 2009. It was advertised the same way (order date and ship date), and Apple also missed the “to be delivered” date by over a month. Identically, I ordered the PowerMac G5 in the dual processor model the day it was released. That was probably over a decade ago now. That one missed the ship date by over two months (closer to three). So this is not uncommon for Apple at all.

    And (b.) — I also regretfully disagree that it is a bad thing for Apple. It is true that, as individuals, it is frustrating for us as customers, but I understand that it breeds “longing” for a product. An arrival date wait is for ecommerce what a long-line queue is at a store. Psychologically it makes the buyer long for the product, and it increases the euphoria of its arrival. I know most engineers and techie-types will be furious at me for this analogy. Evil marketing speak, but it is something that the luxury goods industry has known for a long time. And with the Watch, Apple is playing in this sandbox more so than they ever have before.

    “Having a certain difficulty in obtaining products is part of the definition of luxury. I do want product to always be less than demand…People want exclusivity, so you must always keep the customer hungry and frustrated.”
    — Jean-Claude Biver,
    President of Fine Jewelry & Watches, LVMH


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  • ksegall

    I refute your refutation! :)

    (a) You say this is “not at all uncommon” for Apple, and then you cite two examples — one six years old and the other over a decade in the past. Given that there have been many major launches during the time, those two were obviously not the norm. It is unclear whether the delays in those cases were due to manufacturing issues that were known at pre-order time or issues encountered during the manufacturing process.

    (b) I totally agree that the scarcity of luxury items adds to the hype and longing for the product. But there is a big difference between limited availability and giving your customers false expectations. Many of Apple’s best customers — the ones who evangelize for the company’s products — reacted negatively to this incident. There may be some value to hype, but Apple has always made the customer experience its highest priority, and this was a negative customer experience for hard-core customers.

    Though some people are speculating that this was a calculated move, designed to add to the hype, I really don’t buy that. Any new Apple device, especially one as revolutionary as the Watch, comes with more hype than most companies can dream of creating. Apple has known from the start that it would sell every Watch it can make for many months to come. And it wants to sell as many Watches as it possibly can, as quickly as it possibly can — to create the biggest possible market for apps, and turning Apple Watch wearers into walking billboards for the device.

    I honestly don’t think Apple plays the kind of game you suggest, attempting to consciously create a product scarcity to add to the desire factor. I’d wager that the real reason for the product shortage is that manufacturing is presenting some big challenges. This article appeared today: http://bit.ly/1aZ0XlP, and I buy this as a logical explanation.

    If this is true, I just wonder when Apple came to realize the impact it would have on delivery delays. Once they did realize, they might well have decided it was better not to look too flakey by announcing delays, and just let the buzz build as you say. I have a hard time believing this was the plan from the start. Apple is all about the customer experience, and too many of Apple’s best customers had a negative experience.

    But … that’s just my opinion!

  • Hi Ken,

    And I refute the refuted with appeals to authority: Since our exchange, Brian X. Chen of the New York Times and Scott Galloway of L2 / NYU Stern have both published articles stating much the same. Also, almost every luxury brand that practices artificial scarcity will rationalize short-supply (PR —rarely are they as honest as Mr. Biver, quoted above), the cause is irrelevant …

    Whether by circumstance or by design, the end effect is the same — greater desire for the coveted product, exclusivity for those able get one.


    “The Apple Watch is this week’s winner, selling out in less than six hours. Although nobody believes the watch was really out of stock, the brand is becoming especially adept at maintaining the illusion of scarcity.”
    — Scott Galloway, L2 / NYU Stern

    “Apple also appears to be mimicking the scarcity-creates-desire approach, one that has served Hermès well with items like the Birkin and Kelly bags. They are rarely in stock, and customers sometimes wait months to receive one.”
    — Brian X. Chen, New York Times

  • darlaj

    The scripted, stilted presentation at the store was unenlightening and unedifying. I left as I went in, not delighted or even seriously interested. Not having seen a demonstration of an actual paired watch and iPhone, I was unmoved. The watch will be successful, and I have no doubt I’ll own one before year’s end. It will take off more when it gets on regular customers’ wrists, certainly not because Beyonce and Karl Lagerfeld are wearing them. A whole lot of us who love gadgets are indifferent to insanely overpriced, ephemeral high fashion.

  • albert

    The difference is luxury items are truly scarce. Hermes makes only 5 copies of every scarf design so women will almost never run into someone wearing the same thing. To portray a mass produced volume product that sells in the millions as a scarce luxury is delusional. People are smarter than that.

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  • “However, as Steve did so well, I do hope [Cook will] be wearing the customer’s shoes.”

    Hi Ken,

    This is a larger concern to me than the way the launch of the Watch has been handled.

    Do I want my stainless/white Apple Watch on April 24th? Of course. Does it really matter to me that I have to wait, regardless of the actual reason for the delay? Not at all.

    Sometimes the simple explanation is the best one.

    I believe Apple had every intention of producing enough Watches to satisfy a certain number of pre-orders _and_ to place a certain number of product in-store on April 24. But something clearly changed, as evidenced by Apple’s evolving communications, and the company was forced to make some tough decisions.

    Apple’s damned if it does and damed if it doesn’t. Twas ever thus.

    On Apple’s messaging post-Steve Jobs, I agree wholeheartedly that not only is the situation different now, I believe it’s far less effective.

    Apple seems to have either forgotten the powerfully effective techniques Jobs employed to “manage” and prevent situations like this, or the leadership has made a conscious decision to employ different strategies. Either way, I say they’re they’ve been doing so at their peril.

  • Hugo928000

    Interesting to see so many comments on the meaning of words.

    Pre-order on the 10th and available on the 24th by DEFINITION means I can pre-order one on the 10th and have it on my wrist on the 24th.

    If some disagree with that I invite them to check a dictionnary!

    It should have been said “Pre-order on the 10th” and “we will start shipping the first available models on the 24th”. Angela Ahrendts said a few days ago that there would be limited supply at the beginning and that precision came long after the 10th. But still, some honesty and warning here :-)

    Overall I Fully agree with you Ken. It simply is not a great feeling, a clean experience.

    B & C Brands have to play with words and PR in order to create as much buzz as possible. You don’t need this when you are THE brand. Being THE brand allows you to be completely sincere, which is THE ultimate proof of the respect you have for your customers and fans.

    I would add that many of those who stood late on the 10th wanted to pre-order because they love the watch before having it but a lot is about to show to others that you belong to the club of the “Yes, I bought it as soon as I could” “Yes, you see, I am part of those who have it already”.

    By delaying by a month or two you suddently move to the mass of those who will get it after the early adopters. Worse you move to the mass of those who paid long in advance and who have to wait.

    So YES, it is a bad experience for fans and early adopters both as customers and in terms of social recognition.

  • ksegall

    Your key words: “Whether by circumstance or by design.” That’s the question, and in the absence of any proof, all we have is opinion.

    I agree that scarcity can have a positive effect in selling a luxury item. I just don’t believe for a moment that Apple deliberately held back supply to manufacture a sense of scarcity.

    Why? Because scarcity has always been, and always will be, a part of every revolutionary Apple product launch — simply because the hype and anticipation makes it impossible for it to be otherwise. There was never a doubt that initial supplies of Apple Watch would be quickly depleted, and that most buyers would have a long wait.

    What was different about this launch — and why I wrote this article — was the fact that there was virtually no supply of the most popular models even for those who showed up at the opening bell. Again, by circumstance or design.

    That Apple hired people from the fashion industry is hardly proof of intention. Once the Watch was unveiled, we saw the proof that Apple hired these people for a boatload of important reasons — concept and design of the Watch itself, number of products offered, design of the bands, marketing, fashion industry connections and more.

    A core part of your argument is that scarcity is a proven way to sell luxury products. Well, for the mass market, the Apple Watch isn’t a luxury product at all. It’s a high-end consumer device that sells for the same price and lower as the iPhone and iPad before it. Only the Edition model, which will sell to a scant few, can be considered luxury.

    Apple had no doubt that the launch of the Watch would be one of the biggest in its history, and that they’d sell every Watch they could make for many months to come. Scarcity is a given in that scenario.

    So when it comes to what actually happened when they started to take pre-orders, I go with the common sense explanation, rather than attribute the scarcity to any secret marketing plan. The Apple Watch, with all of its iterations and first-time technology, is simply a huge challenge in manufacturing. Those challenges will be overcome, and within a few months, the scarcity will end. Again, just like every previous Apple product launch.

    I don’t think I ever said this situation was a “bad thing for Apple.” It’s already been largely forgotten by most, or was never an issue in the first place. My point was that the failure to be transparent in this case created a bad customer experience for Apple’s most loyal customers, when customer experience has always been Apple’s highest priority. It could easily have been avoided.

    Last, I don’t believe there are “authorities” when it comes to analyzing Apple. John Gruber is probably as close as we get to a smart guy who gets some intelligence from inside Apple. The others seem to be wrong as often as they’re right. Chen, after listing some truths, tosses in the opinion that “Apple also appears to be mimicking the scarcity-creates-desire approach.”

    To me, this “insight” falls in the category of “reading way too much into Apple’s motivations” — which is a trait common to so many Apple analysts.

  • mo

    عميلنا العزيز لا تتردد فى الاتصال بنا على ارقامنا الاتية
    شركة دليل المنزل تهتم

    نقل اثاث و
    نقل عفش
    المنازل وجلى البلاط وكشف
    تسربات المياه و كشف تسربات

    الغاز ورش
    المبيدات ومكافحة
    الحشرات والترميمات وعزل
    مائى للأسطح والخزانات وحمامات السباحة وتستخدم الشركة اساليب متطورة من عملية
    تطوير الذات و تحسين الكفاءة لتقدم خدمة كاملة الي عملائها و تحصل على اكبر قدر من
    التميز بافضل جودة وافضل اسعار لاشك ان المنافسة قوية ولكن توجد فرصة كبيرة للتميز
    سنصلك اينما كنت فنحن نعمل على مدار الاسبوع . نحن الأفضل للأننا نخدم الافضل .
    تعتبر دليل المنزل افضل شركة لكشف تسربات
    المياه بالرياض و افضل شركة نقل اثاث
    بالرياض ومتخصصون في كشف تسربات المياه
    في الرياض و مكافحة حشرات

  • mo

    عميلنا العزيز لا تتردد فى الاتصال بنا على ارقامنا الاتية
    شركة دليل المنزل تهتم

    نقل اث
    اث و
    نقل عفش
    وجلى البلاط وكشف
    تسربات المياه
    و كشف تسربات

     والترميمات وعزل
     للأسطح والخزانات وحمامات السباحة وتستخدم الشركة اساليب متطورة من عملية
    تطوير الذات و تحسين الكفاءة لتقدم خدمة كاملة الي عملائها و تحصل على اكبر قدر من
    التميز بافضل جودة وافضل اسعار لاشك ان المنافسة قوية ولكن توجد فرصة كبيرة للتميز
     سنصلك اينما كنت فنحن نعمل على مدار الاسبوع . نحن الأفضل للأننا نخدم الافضل .
    تعتبر دليل المنزل افضل شركة لكشف تسربات
    المياه بالرياض
    و افضل شركة نقل اثاث
    ومتخصصون في كشف تسربات المياه
    في الرياض
    و مكافحة حشرات