How Apple’s CRM strategy took it from a California basement to world domination, and what your business can learn from the biggest innovators in town
“I’d rather be a pirate than join the navy.”
To this day, Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs’ famous words define the company’s attitude and ambitions.
And, though Apple is most well-known for its innovative founder and ethos for doing things differently, the real secret to the tech giant’s success is something all successful brands do well. We’re talking, of course, about an excellent CRM (customer relationship management) strategy – how Apple keeps its billion-strong customer base happy, hungry, and coming back for more.
And it must be doing something right. Because despite eschewing traditional forms of customer retention – Jobs was famously opposed to market research, and Apple still doesn’t run a formal loyalty scheme – the company has built one of the most enduring, exciting, and enigmatic brands of all time.
Let’s take a look at Apple’s CRM case study, and explore how your business can learn from the best.
The Apple story
1976: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak begin testing the first Apple computers in the basement of Jobs’ childhood home in Los Altos, California.
1980: Apple becomes a publicly traded company.
1983: Apple launches the Lisa, though it sells poorly and is plagued by slowness and compatibility issues.
1985: Steve Jobs resigns.
1994: Apple releases its first powerPC-based desktops and notebooks.
1997: Steve Jobs returns to Apple.
1998: Apple releases the iMac. This is followed by iTunes and the iPod (2001), the MacBook Pro (2006), and the iPhone (2007).
2011: Apple becomes the world’s most valuable publicly traded company, though this triumph is marred by Jobs' death in October.
2014: Apple launches both the Apple Watch and Apple Pay.
2020: Apple is worth $2 trillion.
Apple’s CRM strategy: the secret to success
“You’ve gotta start with the customer experience, and work backwards to the technology.”
Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder and former CEO
You can boil Apple’s CRM strategy down to just two words: Apple ID. Let’s explain.
When you take your first Apple product home, you’re asked to create an Apple ID – a unique profile that syncs across all Apple devices you own. This ID allows Apple to remember your purchases with the Apple Store, and provide personalised recommendations for music and films. You can even share content and cloud storage with other members of your family, and monitor your kids’ purchases.
For Apple, it’s a self-renewing, seemingly limitless data set, allowing it to constantly tailor its services and re-engage customers with handpicked deals, discounts, and products. Not only is this targeted marketing done effectively, but it also engenders a sense of loyalty and familiarity with Apple’s brand and ethos.
Apple ID, used in conjunction with Apple’s rich ecosystem of products, is the core of Amazon’s CRM strategy – and, ergo, its wild and ongoing success. But that’s not the only trick this Silicon Valley behemoth has up its sleeve.
Let’s take a look at the top four ways Apple uses CRM – and how your business can follow suit.
Top 4 ways Apple uses CRM
No self-respecting article would be complete without a healthy peppering of Steve Jobs quotes, right? So here are four, each one demonstrating how Apple walks the talk when it comes to its lofty CRM goals and strategies.
1. Knowing its customers
“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close, in fact, that you tell them what they need well before they realise it themselves.”
It’s an ambitious aspiration, but one that Apple follows through on. Apple’s consistently high NPS (Net Promoter Score) ratings indicate that it’s remarkably good at retaining its customers. Research recently reported that Apple’s operating system, iOS, had loyalty rates of around 89%.
Also fuelling Apple’s commanding customer retention scores is its stellar technical support. Whenever you buy an Apple product, you have the option to schedule in a tailored, one-to-one session with a specialist – exploring your new device’s best features, and fine-tuning it to your tastes.
Apple’s commitment to understanding the individual is no accident. It’s a carefully plotted out CRM strategy, and it’s paying stunning dividends.
2. Anticipating customer needs
“[The computer] took us three years to build. If we'd given customers what they said they wanted, we'd have built a computer they'd have been happy with a year after we spoke to them – not something they'd want now.”
It’s clear Apple’s understanding of its customers runs deep. Yet, paradoxically, Jobs was famously opposed to market research. Rather, Apple’s intimacy with its customers has traditionally stemmed from the company’s empathy with their pain points and needs.
It’s this, above all, that’s driven Apple’s desire to innovate – to expand and evolve its offerings to meet not only its customers’ current requirements, but those of their futures, too.
Because if it isn’t game-changing, Apple won’t do it. The iPhone, iPod, and iPad were all ahead of their time, while iTunes was once the only legal online catalogue of songs to feature music from all five major record labels.
With Apple TV now producing original content and Apple Pay redefining how we shop, Apple’s innovation is a hallmark of its desire to grow with the needs of its users.
Want more? Discover how CRM is redefining the success of other major brands.
3. Stores focussing on customer experience
“How does somebody know what they want if they haven’t seen it?”
It’s a good question, and one that continues to define how Apple operates its physical shops.
Apple’s retail departments and staff are built with the individual in mind – to ensure its customers have an experience, rather than simply make a purchase. Anyone who’s ever visited one of Apple’s stores will back this up, too – they’re places of wonder, where you can explore the latest technology at your own pace.
Apple’s use of CRM in-store is a testament to its long-term mentality. An immediate sale is good, but an ongoing relationship with a customer is more profitable. By foregoing conventional sales tactics, Apple’s shops create value by encouraging browsers to love and appreciate the benefits of having an iPhone, an iPad, or the latest Apple Watch.
And, by training its employees to understand (and not just sell to) those that enter its stores, Apple cultivates a more engaged, loyal customer base that prioritises the person, rather than the product.
4. Branding that speaks to a generation
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
Apple is… a cool company.
Whether you buy into its products or not, Apple’s pull is undeniable. Boasting one of the most iconic and instantly recognisable brands in the world, it draws huge queues at product launches, while thousands of user-generated videos online are dedicated to ‘unboxing’ Apple devices.
But Apple’s brand is more than just a byproduct of designing products that look, feel, and work well. Its ecosystem of products – each of which functions seamlessly with the rest – engenders loyalty with the brand, while rewarding the customer for choosing Apple.
Better still, Apple’s branding has succeeded where plenty of other big companies have failed – by appealing to millennials. Research shows that Apple is the brand Generation Y feels most emotionally attached to, and it’s not hard to see why. With simple, stripped-back product designs, a commitment to sustainability, and a playful tone of voice, Apple (quite literally) speaks to a whole generation.
Coincidence? Or the result of a clear CRM strategy, planned and executed to perfection? We’ll let you be the judge.
To nobody’s surprise, Apple’s CRM strategy breaks the mould.
Rejecting the ‘hard sell’ approach, Apple has kept the customer at the forefront for almost five years. Overlooking market research, loyalty schemes, and traditional forms of customer retention and marketing, Apple can sell its products on hype alone. So, how can Apple’s trailblazing CRM strategy inform your own business’ CRM targets?
Well, you need to know your customers. You have to be able to speak to them in their own language, avoiding jargon and using phrasing that will resonate with them. You need to look to the future, to monitor consumer trends, and design your products so they’ll still be relevant in the years to come.
In short, you’ll require a CRM strategy. And to execute that – and avoid the common CRM problems that come with the territory – you’ll need a CRM system.
To learn more about what this software can do for you, check out our guide to the best CRM systems for small businesses. Otherwise, you can cut straight to the chase and start comparing CRM software quotes with us, today.
Simply provide us with some details about your business’ CRM requirements – specifically, your team’s size, and the specific functions you’ll need the software to perform. It takes about 30 seconds to do, and then we’ll match you with one or more carefully curated CRM providers, who’ll be in touch directly with tailored quotes. Simple!