Posted 27-10-2011 in Blog
Blackberry and Apple have both suffered a customer backlash in recent weeks, with the former losing network services for several days and the latter releasing a series of software updates (iOS5 and iCloud) which caused major problems for a large number of people.
It may not be an empirical measure, but the difference in response from customers on Twitter was stark, with many Blackberry customer stating they’d had enough, insisting it was time to move to a new supplier. Apple customers in comparison were frustrated, but there was little evidence that they were considering abandoning the tech provider. The respective share prices offer some supporting fact behind the theory that Apple consumers are more loyal, with Apple’s dipping slightly but swiftly recovering, while Blackberry’s value has continued its downward trend.
To begin answering the question of why one set of customers is loyal but not the other, I ran a quick straw poll on Twitter. Predictably, a number of fanboy-inspired answers were sent, including @chrisdancy who said that “Blackberry followers come preinstalled with a chip on their shoulder”. In the other corner, the blind loyalty issue was brought up, with @CupCate stating that Apple customers are “mindless followers”.
It is a commonly aired view that people buy Apple products because they are shiny status symbols, but it is too simplistic to be defined in this way. Do we really subscribe to the idea that a significant and ever-growing percentage of the population will really pay a premium price (perhaps double what a comparatively specced Windows machine costs) for an Apple computer just because it looks nice?
No, Blackberry customers flocked to the phones because they offer bulletproof, push email with a usable keyboard and Apple customers splash the cash because of the high-tech user experience the company delivers. Marketing acumen and design flair might draw attention, but they cannot disguise mediocrity, and both Apple and Blackberry customers made the decision to buy from and remain loyal to these providers because they fulfilled a need - whether it be mobile email or a more stable, virus free PC.
However, loyalty is not an absolute or definitive measure of a customer. Attitudes shift and loyalty wanes if it is not maintained. The difference in this example is that Apple is continuously updating its products and services, giving its customers new reasons to stay loyal. Simply put, even if it fails in some areas, Apple customers see a business which is always striving to innovate and gets it right more than it fails.
However, just as Blackberry needs to quickly re-engage with customers and give them fresh reasons to stick with the brand, Apple cannot assume that customers have been ‘won’ and will keep buying the latest updates and products unconditionally. @melkarunaratne makes the point that Blackberry customers tend to rely on its products for work, whereas Apple are typically consumers. This situation will change as Apple gains a stronger footing in the corporate space and consumers become business users with mission critical IT needs.
Loyalty isn’t defined by which supplier has the best call centre, web support, shop staff or even products. Loyalty is an emotion driven by attachment and necessity. Customers are loyal to businesses which try hard to be customer-oriented even if they sometimes miss. Even if they get it wrong, loyal customers will give fairly generous leeway. Just be careful you don’t push them too far.
For more on this subject, see James’ video on the subject of Apple/blackberry customer loyalty.
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