At its best, Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) helps millions of people gain access to levels of free healthcare that would be out of reach to many. At its worst, however, the NHS can be a faceless bureaucracy that – under the banner of ‘fairness’ – allocates scarce resources to patients through arcane processes and procedures that seem designed to frustrate, bewilder and annoy.

Coming out of the Apple store in London yesterday, I felt the same way. Having completed writing my new book, The CEO’s Strategy Handbook, I wanted to reward myself with a new iPad. The staff said that wasn’t possible. “Don’t you know that you should go on the website before 3.00 pm, register your name and the product you want so that you can pick it up the following day in store? We think that’s the fairest process.”

“Well, no, I didn’t know I had to follow that system,” I replied, “Can I have one now, please? I don’t’ live in London and won’t be back here for a few weeks.”

“No,” continued the completely unhelpful assistant, “You can order on-line, but it will probably take more than three weeks to be delivered.” And with that he shrugged his shoulders and fell silent. End of conversation.

Apple needs to be careful. Its reputation for great products is likely to remain, but if its customer service strategy is to physically and metaphorically shrug its shoulders and introduce byzantine product order and pick-up procedures then customers may start to vote with their feet and take their hard-earned cash elsewhere.

Of course, my attitude might change if, like the NHS, iPads were free at the point of delivery!

© Stuart Cross 2011. All rights reserved.