I've had my Maytag washer and dryer for at least 10 years, the same exact ones, each with the old-style mechanical dials, timers, and buzzers.
A few weeks ago, the washer stopped working. Given my very modern life, filled with everything from soccer practice and pets to dinner parties and sleepovers, panic set in quickly. Being without a washer was like being without oxygen or, heaven forbid, my grill. But after a simple phone call and 40 bucks for a new drum belt, it was back up and running, hopefully for another 10 years. However, should the time ever come in the future when I need to replace these workhorses, the choice for a new washer will be easy to make. I'm buying Maytag.
Why? It's simple. For me, it is all about Maytag's "contract" with the customer, its integrity to stand behind the product, its commitment to quality, and its belief that service and support are just as much a part of the "product" as metal, rubber, and integrated circuits.
During the illustrious life of my washer, I've also had more laptops, cellphones, and TVs than I can remember. Obviously, the advancement in technology plays a large part in my replacement cycle, but so does the service and support, or perhaps, better said, the lack thereof. A few years ago, my laptop died. It simply stopped working; no power, no hum, no lights. Who was I supposed to call? The retailer I bought it from, the OEM, or the contract manufacturer? Where's the Maytag repairman? If you think about it, servicing electronic devices really presents a quandary. After numerous calls to call centers and wait times that lasted for what seemed like an eternity, I hung up and went and bought a new laptop -- from a different retailer and different manufacturer.
Within consumer electronics, manufacturers have lost sight of the "contract" they make between the products they sell and the customers who buy them. Companies rely on the constant and rapid pace of technology innovation and the never-ending cycle of product commoditization to drive customers to buy new products. While there are plenty of choices when it comes to the consumer electronics equivalent of the auto manufacturer's extended warranty option, are any of them really different from one another? I usually entertain the sales pitch behind these service contracts, but always feel like the sucker and never buy them. Why should I? Why should I pay for this insurance policy, and in essence reward a company for its bad quality or mistakes and be subject to endless wait times at some remote call center?
Where's the Maytag repairman? If Apple's growing market share and dominance in the space is any indication, I think consumers are getting wiser and recognizing the importance of service and support when it comes to buying decisions. In fact, Accenture research has found that the service experience during and after a purchase is the most important factor when consumers pick which brand to buy, followed closely by the brand's reputation, which is influenced by customer experiences. Not only was service the top consideration, 74 percent of 1,000 US consumers said the degree to which they factor service into their buying decisions has increased somewhat or significantly.
What does this mean for other companies? Acknowledge that service is more than a cost of doing business. It's an opportunity to boost sales, so consider creating a consistent end-to-end service experience that connects the value of a product purchase to services provided before, during, and after the purchase.
Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) recognized the differentiating characteristic of service and its importance to customers. Face-to-face human contact, a "help desk" for just about anything, educational training classes, and I even received a free "no questions asked" one-time replacement of my iPhone when the glass screen broke.
And, Apple does have an extended warranty option called Apple Care, should you want that peace of mind. But the real peace of mind is in knowing that while Craig and I travel the globe, should we ever have a problem with our phones, we have confidence in the support and service "contract" we made when deciding to buy the product in the first place. If not having a washer for one or two days brings on a state of panic, what would you do without your cellphone for a couple of hours?