A few weeks ago, the privacy controversy surrounding Facebook prompted us to ask whether the brand’s threshold for widespread criticism was disproportionately high simply because of its global ubiquity. In other words, could the brand commit what would usually be fatal errors and still feel no ill effects on its reputation among consumers?
Well, Apple has us asking the same question today, albeit in a different context. Following the long-awaited release of the iPhone 4 yesterday, a swell of media coverage and user reviews picked apart the newest features and functionality. Though generally very well-received, one complaint emerged as particularly troubling: service failures that reportedly occur when users grip the phone with their left hand. The reason for the quirk was immediately revealed to be the new antenna structure, in which both the Bluetooth-WiFi-GPS antenna and the GSM-UMTS antenna are wrapped around the external edges of the phone.
Turns out, this structure has one major flaw: lefties cradle the phone in such a way that interferes with how both antennas come together in the bottom left corner, thus resulting in the service dips and dropped calls.
That’s bad in its own right, but what raised questions for us was the company’s utter dismissal of the issue, first in an email from CEO Steve Jobs to a customer (see image below, courtesy of Engadget), and then in an official statement.
The basic gist of both responses: Stop holding it wrong.
The long-held belief that the customer is always right has been observed with near-religious fervor since social media’s emergence empowered this stakeholder group to assert their “right-ness” so loudly and publicly. Apple’s approach to handling an issue flies in the face of everything we’re taught in terms of customer service and communications, yet we’re willing to bet it won’t put a dent in iPhone 4 sales, let alone the company’s profit margin.
Is this new reality-that brands can disregard customer service doctrine if they are entrenched enough among their target audience-going to become the rule rather than the exception?