iPhone Deaf: Apple Needs to Answer PR Call
It’s painful to watch. As a devotee of many of Apple’s products–I’m writing this on a MacBook, various iterations of the iPod have been my constant companion for years–it’s just painful.
Beyond being excellent tools, these Apple products are a statement that I value style and substance, simplicity and elegance, reliability and value. Heck, I’ve crowed from this very blog about the excellent customer service in the Apple store.
That’s why it’s painful to watch the iPhone 4 debacle unfold. Apple, the standard bearer for the best in product development and marketing, has apparently plugged their “PR ears.”
Apple–can you hear the phone ringing?
Let’s review (from the New York Times):
The iPhone 4 has been Apple’s most successful product introduction to date. Yet problems with the antenna surfaced after the phone went on sale and have plagued Apple for weeks.
Apple sought to address those concerns nearly two weeks ago, saying that a software bug caused the iPhone 4 and its predecessors to display signal strength incorrectly.
But Consumer Reports on Monday called into question Apple’s explanation. The magazine said that it had tested the iPhone 4 along with other devices in a lab and determined that the iPhone 4 had a hardware design flaw. It said that it could not recommend the device to its readers until Apple fixed the problem.
Overall Verdict: Tone Deaf PR. (Or is that Dial Tone Deaf PR? Or just iTone Deaf? Punsters, you choose.)
- They may have known about the problem before the launch–devastating in itself if true–it will rip the band-aid right off any efforts to stanch the bleeding to date.
- They have reacted to this situation almost as poorly as BP (though not on the same scale of disaster, it’s a relatively similar PR crisis for the company in terms of credibility).
- CEO Steve Jobs, known for his mercurial temperament and occasional forays into direct “customer service,” has not made the situation any better–in fact, he’s making Apple seem arrogant, petulant and blithe about the entire matter.
- Customer confidence in Apple is shaken–many are already concerned about Apple’s deal with shaky network purveyor AT&T (full disclosure: I have a family member who works for Sprint and I like their service)–and this makes it worse.
- Apple, so used to great press for many years, may simply be unprepared and ill-equipped to handle a crisis such as this (also demonstrated by the poor handling of the prototype mess a few months ago) ala Southwest Airlines and the “large” blowup with director Kevin Smith.
PR solutions for now involve mitigating the damage and putting procedures into place to handle the next crisis (and yep, sorry Apple, there will inevitably be more PR troubles in your future. Like death and taxes, Steve).
- Mitigating damage usually involves being readily transparent from the get-go. Your pride be damned. If you’re wrong, admit it, apologize, fix it, then drive on– or face the consequences. Half-assed fixes and vain hopes that it will “all go away” are stupid and just make things worse.
- Have a crisis communications plan in place. Now. If you don’t have one, you better get one. Consider it insurance–cheers if you never file a claim, but aren’t you glad you had it when the basement flooded? Click here for more on that.
- Do you have public relations professionals in place who have handled a serious media meltdown before (see Southwest Airlines link, above)? But more importantly, are they empowered to do their jobs? Having a PR pro on staff with crisis com experience is great–but if you don’t let them manage the situation (I’m talking to you Mr./Ms. CEO) then it’s like the house is on fire and you order the firefighters to sit in the fire engine while you throw gas on the blaze.
- Fix the problem. Apple customers are fiercely loyal–but there’s a limit. The grudging rebate on the initial iPhone release was the first sign that Apple’s core (sorry for the pun) customers could be taken for granted. Not smart. GM did that. Have a look at their stock price now. Oh wait, they don’t have a stock price.
After the iPhone rebate mess a few years ago, Steve Jobs said:
We want to do the right thing for our valued iPhone customers. We apologize for disappointing some of you, and we are doing our best to live up to your high expectations of Apple.
If only he had done this right off the bat with the iPhone 4. Perhaps at today’s press conference we will see something like that; a solid, satisfying fix for those who have purchased the iPhone 4.
Apple, your iPhone is ringing. Pick up the phone.