I finally got an iPhone over the holidays. At this point, that doesn't make me special — I'm far from an early adopter. But since I previously commented on the lessons that professional service firms might learn from the Apple brand, I thought it might be helpful to revisit this topic through the eyes of a customer.

I'm approaching the experience as a relatively unsophisticated user, not so different from the way many clients approach a professional service firm. I had a few basic needs I wanted filled, nothing fancy or particularly sophisticated.

I was also prepared to be satisfied, given the positive referrals I'd received from people I trust — not too different from the way firms like yours and mine narrow our choices for professional services. So what are the take-aways from my encounters with the Apple brand experience?

  1. It's very easy to assume too much knowledge on the part of your clients. Just like the bright and generally helpful folks at the Apple store, you are so familiar with what you do each day and how simple it seems to you. It's easy to assume that your clients know what to expect and how to get the most from your service. Slow down, especially in the beginning, to make sure they get started on the right foot.
  2. Listen, listen, and listen… before you start to propose solutions. At several points during my purchase, the Apple representative tried to solve problems that I didn't need solved. Even more problematical, he overlooked some of my most pressing needs. Why? My guess is he was too eager to provide a solution before he understood my underlying problem. The result was that I bought a service that I didn't need (MobileMe)… not a good way to build customer loyalty.
  3. Don't assume that your clients know all you have to offer. As it turned out, there are valuable Apple services that I didn't even know about. Why? No one took the time to explain what the product could do for me, even in a high-level overview. I later learned about these services from other users. While this may work for a brand with legions of enthusiasts, it's probably not going to be an effective strategy for your professional services firm.

My bottom line on the iPhone? I like it and might refer a friend. However, Apple missed some key opportunities to make me a brand evangelist. In these competitive times, that's not a miss any professional services firm can afford.