Exceeding Expectations Through a Retail Story (Really?)

This is a good story.  Not just one with just a happy ending, but with a meaningful application for any organization dealing with clients and their associated expectations of service. 

One of our primary values as an organization is to be innovative.  We like to think of our work as a bit ahead of the curve of industry trends and a bit more out-of-the-box in our thinking.  Given this basic operating platform, we like to leverage technology as a important tool to our work, and we tend to use Apple products as part of that general strategy.

I am an early adopter with technology.  No, I won't stand in lines to get the latest iPhone, but I will be a first generation consumer of most tools.  I like to stay current and see where the leaders are moving with technology.  It comes at a price, and in this one most recent instance, a very large price.  

In mid April, I purchased the iPad.  After the first month of frenzy in the marketplace, I walked up to one of the Apple stores here in Portland (Washington Square) and walked out with one in five minutes.  I purchased the entry level model, which came in at roughly $500, and immediately started using it.  I fell in love with the device, but for a different set of reasons than for most users.  I liked that I could use it on my long business trips and that it did not require a separate notebook bag or power adapter.  I could travel with simply one bag and one iPhone/iPad charger and my life had become less cluttered.  Add the fact that the batteries lasted about 12 hours on the iPad and that everything we do as a company is in the cloud, I could handle all of my office work on the road with this new, smaller, longer lasting device.

Then came family vacation.  Around Memorial Day weekend, we took a family trip to Atlanta for a family wedding.  I also was planning on to continue my travels through the Southeast with client visits in Augusta, Charleston, and Jackson, so I needed to take my typical work gear, as well.  Loading our baggage into our rental car and taking my family to the airport for their departure flight, I made a terrible mistake in leaving my coffee - and my iPad - on the top of the car while I placed other items in the trunk.  Without thinking, I climbed into the car when finished, pulled out of the hotel and onto the highway, and we heard a large, clunking sound coming from the rear of the car.  Yes, my iPad had careened off of the top of the car and was laying in the middle of the road behind our car.  Pulling over to the side of the road, I walked back to the scene of the crime and confirmed my worst suspicions - the glass was shattered on the iPad in a rueful spiderweb format.  I pushed the power button.  It still came on, but pieces of glass continued to fall from the device.  Quietly, I opened the trunk, placed the device in it, and got back into the car.  My children and wife carefully looked at me - I said nothing and continued to drive to the airport.

An hour later, when I had the opportunity to calm down, I told my family that I did not intend to replace it.  I thought it would teach my children a very poor lesson to simply break an expensive device out of irresponsibility and then go and replace it.  I also wanted to punish myself a bit for this and know that I had suffered a bit for my lapse in judgement.  My wife didn't agree as she felt that accidents happen and that work demands the right device, but I was pretty melancholy and determined to stick to my scruples.  After all, I was the only person I knew that had an iPad for six weeks and then broke it into pieces.  

Here is where the story gets interesting.

Father's Day is my favorite day of the year.  I love my role as a father and cherish my children.  While they are getting older, they are not beyond making fun crafts, cards, and fun gifts for me.  They always buy a small present for me - sometimes bigger than they should - but I must admit I just love the attention they lavish on me.  

The morning of Father's Day they brought out a gift for me.  They told me that I would absolutely be thrilled and could not guess what it would be.  And what was it?  A brand new iPad, exactly like the one that I had.  My wife was quick to stop me from asking the obvious question:  why did you go out and buy a new one?  She and the girls were so excited to tell me the following story, which I now relay to you.

It turns out that my wife and two daughters secretly took my iPad to the same Apple store in which I bought it to ask if the glass and screen could be repaired.  The service area at Apple told them that they did not have the screen repair capability yet and would not be able to help them - and they also confirmed that they had not seen an iPad with this sort of devastation before.  The folks at Apple asked for our business account number and saw that we were a loyal partner with them, then sent my disappointed family crew out the door, broken iPad still in hand, and thinking about the next thoughtful gift they could get dad for Father's Day.

Ten minutes later my wife's cell phone rang.  It was the same lady from Apple and she shared with my wife that she had some good news.  Turns out that she talked with the manager of the store and they had decided that they would just replace - for free - my iPad.  They told my wife and kids that they were touched by the Father's Day story and that they knew we were a loyal Apple company, and they wanted to do this to make things right.  My kids giddy and my wife feeling good, they turned the car around and headed back to the Apple store, picked up the new device, and were headed home to wrap it up.

I tell this story because Apple knows something that other organizations need to learn.  They understand the power of exceeding expectations.  I did not expect anyone to help me replace a device, or even repair it, when it was my fault.  I especially did not expect Apple to give a rip about my story - they have people standing in line for 9 hours to buy their new phone.  They don't need more customers this quarter; that I am sure.  But, they took the time to know me, know my expectations, and exceed them.

Apple also knows the power of the story.  People love stories - they provide context and color to everyday situations.  They personalize a product.  And, Apple knows that this one $500 decision may have made them more money in the future than they could ever buy with advertising.  I have already told this story ten times, and with this blog, social media feeds, and countless talks across the nation, it will get told over and over again.

The power of the personal story and the concept of exceeding expectations.  Schools and colleges should take note - after all, aren't we the industry known for building powerful relationships with families and youth?

I close on an interesting video that I filmed last night.  Scores of Apple fans wait in line for the chance to the buy the new iPhone at an Apple store in downtown Portland.  Notice the very lonely Verizon kiosk strategically located outside the Apple store.