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5 Things the iPhone G4 Antenna Fiasco Can Teach Us About Customer Service and PR

Christopher Tuttle

Apple Logo

A few thoughts about Apple’s recent PR problems:

1. When your client has a real problem, simply telling them “You’re holding it wrong” isn’t a real solution.

Even if it’s the truth, clients and prospects rarely want to hear that their process is to blame. Even if it is actually part of the problem, be extremely careful and proceed with caution. A lot of people at the client’s organization have spent a lot of time and energy putting the current process in place.

2. As dense as the general public (read: your clients) often seem to be, they can tell when you’re pushing spin, and when you’re really trying to solve their problem.

You think that the G4’s buyers, many of whom had owned earlier iPhone iterations, were excited to hear that their brand new hardware had an engineering defect, only to have Apple saying to the press, “It’s no big deal, just buy our slip case for it!”? Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away, it just comes across as arrogance.

3. Be extremely cautious about what you treat as a “random outlier,” and what you treat as a real problem.

Bad news never travels well. You think the V.P. of production wanted to have a meeting and tell Steve Jobs, “Hey, um, I think there’s a problem with our antenna design?” How soon did Apple know they had a problem on their hands? Within the first 5,000 units sold? The first 25,000? First 50,000? (Some seem to think Steve Jobs showcasing the Apple slip covers during the product launch meant they knew about it all along.) One of the biggest problems that leads to disaster is the fact that employees don’t want to communicate bad news for fear of the consequences. If your employees don’t feel empowered enough, or trust management enough to let you know when you have a real problem, your corporate culture is in dire need of change.

4. If it’s real, own the problem.

The words “Yes, but . . . ” should never leave your lips until the problem is solved. Clients and prospects don’t want to hear about how amazing you were six or 12 months ago. Don’t point the finger at other vendors, or other people in the company. “Well, if So-and-so Technologies had made Widget X properly, we wouldn’t be having this problem.” It’s not their problem, it’s yours. Fix it.

5. When you definitively know there’s a problem, act decisively, act now, and tell your clients what you’re doing about it.

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The worst thing you can do in a situation like Apple’s is to “circle the wagons” and go silent. Open channels of communication tells your clients that you’re more interested in actually fixing the problem than in trying to save face. Be proactive.

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