Does Great Customer Service Trump a Brand Name?

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No one can deny that Apple is an industry powerhouse. Even though its latest iPhone 5 only brought in a disappointing $8 million in sales, they topped previous numbers with over 5 million units sold in three days. So what is the world’s largest company doing now? Resting on its laurels? No, Apple is setting its sights on capturing a larger share of China’s emerging middle class already hungry for Apple products. 


According to an article in CNN Money, "Can Apple Win Over China," Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, felt that when it came to opportunities in China, the sky was the limit. But there is another powerhouse operating in China which will be stiff competition for Apple. Korean-based Samsung has 18 percent of the smartphone market, compared to Apple’s 12 percent. Samsung wants to stay on top and increase their market share. 


With the Apple brand’s appeal so strong, it would seem easy to move ahead of any other competitor. Apple’s challenges in moving forward are the same as many companies, large and small. You may be a darling in one geographic area, but running at the back of the pack in another. Samsung’s ads use poor customer perceptions, such as having to wait in lines to get the new iPhone, minimal differences between versions and pricing out of reach of the average Chinese consumer to show their product’s superiority. Even with a great brand, customer service, or the perceived lack of it, can be a drawback. 


As I read this article, I was struck by the parallels between Apple’s dilemma and the roadblocks to landing a job and moving up in today’s workplace. Not many people think of themselves in the context of providing customer service to an organization. There is a difference between product and delivery. In employment, product is often determined by a person’s resume and work experience. But delivery is another thing. If you want to get in the game, or gain a larger stake in a company through a promotion or salary increase, consider some customer service lessons from Apple’s quest for China:


  1. Bad publicity. The riots at FoxComm, Apple’s China manufacturing facility, do not help the company’s perception internationally. In the same way, the reputation you build at a previous job can cause your job search to crash and burn. You can leave a job, but your reputation and references go with you. How you work with others is your measure of customer service.
  2. Waiting in line. Samsung’s commercials mocked Apple by showing customers waiting in long lines while Samsung users already have phones with cool features not available on the iPhone. What about your job performance? The things that impressed at the interview, like an Ivy League education or Fortune 500 work experience don’t matter as much as responsiveness, communication skills, ability to inspire a team and get the job done. Once you have a job, it’s all about performance. Many employees feel like getting the job is the end. It’s just the beginning. To move up you’ve got to show how you add value to the company. 
  3. Be affordable. Many Chinese consumers would love to buy an iPhone, but in a country where the annual median wage is $5,000, iPhones are out of reach. An applicant or employee can price themselves out of a job or career by being unrealistic or demanding. It’s time for a reality check. With hundreds of thousands of people out of work, many with great skills, experience and education, employers can get more for less. A company faced with higher costs and shrinking revenues may not take a chance on a high-priced, demanding applicant. 
  4. Be a generalist. Samsung has an advantage over Apple with a diverse product line. Companies have to do more with less. The more flexible you are with diverse skills, the more valuable you are to the company. Be willing to learn and take on diverse responsibilities. You’ll have more to add to your resume and be in a better position when a new opportunity comes along.


It’s not bad to be the “Apple” of the applicant pool. But don’t be fooled into thinking you’re the only logical choice. Consider these four aspects of employee customer service and give yourself a competitive edge.


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