Is the 0.55% that contacted AppleCare truly reflective of Apple’s support burden?

Cross posted here

‘Antennagate’ has forced something of a change in rhetoric from Apple. Having called a press conference to address concerns over the performance of the iPhone 4’s antenna, Steve Jobs walked on stage last week accompanied by a presentation slide that read “We’re not perfect”. For the next 90 mins, Jobs addressed the issue, reported Apple’s own findings and offered a fix in the form of a free ‘bumper’.

Yet, there was one section of his presentation that just didn’t stack-up (at least to the trained eye).  Jobs stated that only 0.55% of iPhone4 consumers had contacted AppleCare regarding the antenna. This, he suggested, was at odds with the level of media hype around the issue. With less than 1% of consumers contacting AppleCare, it obviously wasn’t a cause for major concern and wasn’t impacting everyone.

But Jobs was incorrect in making a direct comparison with the number of consumers who contacted AppleCare with the number of users who recognized and experienced an antenna problem.

The support landscape has changed fundamentally over the last five years. Consumers now embrace multiple support channels, from official care lines such as AppleCare to online support forums or simply asking a friend.

In a WDSGlobal report conducted in March 2010, we found that when experiencing difficulties with their mobile device, consumers where significantly more inclined to read the manual, consult family and friends or simply give up all together. Contacting an official support line from the handset manufacturer or mobile operator was far from being the most prominent support option.

It’s hard to know for sure, but Jobs’ language hinted at only 0.55% of consumers having “called in”. So does this figure preclude those that emailed or used the Applecare forums? We know, from our own research, that the preference for which support channel to use is also highly dependent on the demographic. The under 24 year olds prefer self-serve support options via the web, while the over 55 year old prefer the personal touch of a telephone care agent or even in-store support. Given the typical Apple early adopter, it seems likely that a large majority of consumers interacting with AppleCare did so via one of their non-telephone based support channels.

Perhaps uniquely, we must also factor in the media as a support channel. Consumers were being made increasingly aware of the problem, possibly even before they noticed an issue with reception for themselves, proactively through the media. Apple’s PR machine communicated potential causes and upcoming resolutions via the media (e.g. faulty formula – software fix, faulty design – free bumper/case). Given this ongoing communication the need for a consumer to call AppleCare for this particular problem has been significantly reduced.

This is by no means a criticism of Apple’s support service. Indeed its AppleCare service is class-leading, delivering multiple channels through which to engage. But this very acknowledgment of the many different support channels through which consumers like to engage must also be recognized when assessing the user experience impact of ‘antennagate’.

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