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Apple’s Guiding Policy is 3-Legged

Apple makes a serious commitment to three components of business strategy:

  • Product Leadership
  • Operational Excellence
  • Customer Intimacy

Customer intimacy is not the first thing that people associate with Apple, but it’s the coherence of that policy with product leadership and operational efficiency that makes the whole guiding policy of the company so effective and successful.

Customer Intimacy

apple express lane

AppleCare is probably the most significant action in the achievement of customer intimacy and it’s relatively recently introduced Express Lane is but one refinement of delivering superior customer care.

Express Lane is a simple-to-use resource for locating issues and solutions to common problems with all of Apple’s products.’s 2013 said it, “is among the best we’ve experienced across the companies we’ve tested.” What’s great about it is that once you have drilled down through product category, serial number and problem, you finally get to an opportunity to have AppleCare call you.

The last time I used Express Lane and clicked the ‘Talk to Apple Support Now’, the call came from Apple within seconds of my typing my response. This is not surprising, since the company has 10,000 U.S.-based AppleCare Advisors, located in 24 US call centers in 17 States, with another 3300 home-based AppleCare Advisors and 600 advisors working for Apple while earning their college degrees.

Coherent Actions

While many companies locate their technical support call centers overseas to save money, Apple decided to keep their call centers in the US. Relocating their call centers overseas to places like India would have reduced their costs by 50 percent or more. But they keep these jobs in the US because they consider that it helps deliver a better customer experience.

To my way of thinking, the location of AppleCare Advisors is one part of the reason why customer support is so effective. The other two parts have to do with the process of contact, and the quality of the advisors and their training. The service quality is the virtual aspect of Apple’s product quality.

Apple’s strategy of focusing on the user experience has always been as strong as constant innovation, even though it’s this aspect of business strategy that attracts public attention. The focus on design and serial innovation is renowned, but it has been done while operational efficiency and maintaining high margins (about 20%).

Each of the three areas of strategic coherence supports the other. So often, companies shoot themselves in the foot by having highly innovative products, sold at a keen price, but see customer support as simply a cost, and not a way of supporting the other two.  

Market Leadership

treacy & Weirsema

Back in 1997, Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema, in their book, The Discipline of Market Leaders: Choose Your Customers, Narrow Your Focus, Dominate Your Market, contended that there was a choice to be made between strategies of what they called three value disciplines: product leadership, operational excellence and customer intimacy.

What Apple shows is that it is the very lack of choosing between the disciplines that has yielded such magnificent results.

At the end of the day, what company would not say that it focuses on the customer? But a business model built on a value proposition that stands on only one of the three legs, will fail. And customer support is often the poor relation in the marketing mix. 

Companies that expect customers to be satisfied with simply product and price, let alone only one of them, will be sorely disappointed and wonder why their customer relationships lead to defection. A 3-legged stool will work, one and two legged stools fall over.

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