Steve Jobs, Customer Experience Obsessor (CEO)

A few days before Steve Jobs announced that he was stepping down as CEO of Apple, my family and I paid a visit to Apple’s corporate headquarters at One Infinite Loop in Cupertino, CA.  My daughter Caroline, a huge fan of all products Apple, was the driving force behind our pilgrimage to this tech “mecca.”

We were able to walk around the lobby, which had a display case of the company’s 3 Emmy Awards.  Interestingly, these were the ONLY awards showcased in the lobby.  We talked to a few Apple employees and asked them questions about Steve Jobs.  His office is on the 4th floor (top floor) and he is known to walk around a lot and talk to employees.

Like most students of business, I have been mesmerized by Steve’s approach to business, as well as his personal and corporate success.  In many ways, he is the most accomplished business leader in the last century, having almost singlehandedly invented the PC industry and revolutionized 5 other industries:  cell phones, consumer electronics, film, music, and retail, while influencing virtually every other industry.  His roles at Apple: co-founder, marketer, entrepreneur, inventor, CEO, creative genius, designer, architect, etc.

The most important role Steve plays, however, is also the least discussed, and that is his role as Apple’s Customer Experience Obsessor, a different kind of “CEO.”  (OK, I know that the word “obsessor” does not exist according to Merriam-Webster, but you know what I mean!)   Steve’s obsessive focus on customer experience is the prime reason for Apple’s immense success.

Here are 6 Customer Experience Obsessions that are core to Apple (please pardon the pun).

1.  Customers must fall in love at first sight – For Steve, the customer experience begins with the physical beauty and elegance of Apple’s products. Striking, amazing, revolutionary, simple, and most importantly, COOL!  Apple stuff looks great, they sound great, and they FEEL great.  They touch all the senses, and this is how customers get hooked on them.

2.  A child must be able to use it! – With Apple products, more than any other, product and user become one.  User interfaces, when introduced, have all been VASTLY superior to the competition’s far clunkier interfaces. For example, the original Macintosh desktop computer was truly revolutionary.  It had a unique “windows” GUI interface, and users interacted with the computer via a brand new device called a “mouse.”  And how about the original iPod, with its click wheel, the iPhone with its dynamic touch screen, and the iPad – they were so easy that young children could use them.

3. NO user manuals –  Who doesn’t hate user manuals?  All Apple devices come out of the box ready to use and in working condition, with NO setup or configuration required. This has become a hallmark of the Apple brand.  Peripherals are all “plug and play.” There is no need for user manuals because Steve knows that customers don’t want to deal with complexity.  They want their new toys to work right away with no brain damage, so he made sure his industrial designers delivered on this brand promise.

4. Make the buying experience easy, and customers will buy more –  Whether it’s downloading videos and music from iTunes, or buying a laptop from an Apple Store, the experience is easy, friendly, and even fun!  We all know how super easy it is to preview and buy media on iTunes.  And what happens when you go to an Apple store?  They are clean, well organized, and have lots of demos you can try.  Their salespeople are friendly, incredibly knowledgeable, and PASSIONATE.  And when you’re ready to buy, you don’t go to a counter.  Your salesperson uses an iPod touch POS device with credit card scanner, and the process is about the easiest retail experience you’ll ever have.

5. The products MUST BE RELIABLE – People often criticize Apple for having closed or proprietary technologies, and for overly controlling application development partners (iPhone and iPad apps).  While Apple surely makes more money and keeps competitors at bay this way, Steve’s real reason for this is QUALITY CONTROL.  Apple products work BETTER and are less buggy and less susceptible to viruses because of the seamless integration of hardware and software, their tight control over partnerships, and their use of higher quality components and awesome design.  And with reliable products come customer satisfaction and evangelism, which brings us to Steve’s 6th customer experience concept:

6. The Best Customer Service is NO Customer Service – Steve clearly understands this customer service adage.  The theory is that if you do a great job acquiring and delivering for your customer, you won’t have the need for customer service.  Of course, every company has customer service issues, but those that have the fewest issues are the companies who do a great job making their customers happy, and therefore have the highest customer satisfaction.  And Apple’s customer service is very good, especially for a consumer products company.

At the end of the day, satisfied customers are repeat customers, and they evangelize on Apple’s behalf.  Steve knows this and that’s why he focused on the entire customer experience:  the fun and low-friction buying experience, each product’s “WOW” factor, the user interface, product reliability, and good customer service.

Thanks for reading and let me know what you think!  Please also sign up for my Blog on my Home Page!

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19 thoughts on “Steve Jobs, Customer Experience Obsessor (CEO)

  1. Hi Tien,
    Great article, really enjoyed reading it. So many people concentrate on the technology and miss the customer experience piece. Customer is king and returning customers with positive experience generate growth.

  2. Great observations Tien! I think Apple’s commitment and dedication to customer experience is setting a standard that all organizations are being forced to follow. More and more people say things like “we want to be the Apple of air conditioner companies,” or “we want to be the Apple of toothbrush makers.” When leaders in other industries start to use you as a role model, you know that your approach to business is truly setting a standard. Great article – and great job fueling Caroline’s love of Apple with such a fun “field trip.”

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Joey. I wish I could take credit, but Steve Jobs is the one who did a great job convincing my daughter (and millions of others) to love Apple products.

  3. Love the core to apple reference! However, I’m not so sure about the second though. I’ve met a lot of six year olds who know more about technology than I ever will. Maybe, they should say, “So easy even an adult can use it!” Then, maybe, I wouldn’t have to always be asking my niece how to check my voice mail. Sadly, I’m very serious.
    I always enjoy reading your posts Tien.
    ~ Gina

  4. Good summary, Tien – thanks.

    Another key element of Jobs’ /Apples’ success has been their ability to design a “platform” that made it easy for customers to consume more of the Apple product experience.

    With the iPod, the “platform” was iTunes – a very easy way to purchase music and content; enabling the customer to enjoy the iPod more.

    With the iPhone, the “platform” is the App Store – an easy (and to your point, fun!) place to get more value from your iPhone.

    Jobs has a keen insight that very few entrepreneurs and businss leaders share, and that clearly made him successful.

    PS – I like the fact that it was young Caroline that pushed for the trip to One Infinite Loop!!!

    • Thanks much, Jim. Yes, looks like the “platform” was an integral part of creating the customer experience. The amazing thing is that they invented these platforms, maybe not the technical delivery, but certainly the customer interface piece, which then caused mass adoption.

    • Thanks Fred. We didn’t expect to find other tourists there, but we were wrong. There was a group of 4-5 folks from Germany who were also there for the same reasons we were.

  5. Tien, thank you great observations. Bought my first iPod in 2005. But, as all our corporate systems are Windows & PC based resisted other Apple offerings. A year ago added my iPad, and earlier this year not satisfied with the available replacements for my Verizon Droid cell phone added an iPhone 4 to my Apple experiences. Could not be happier. Experienced all the positive attributes you have cited. Steven H Smith

  6. ………In the end, it is all about the customer and the degree of satisfaction that they receive that enables them to come back again and again like we do for Apple products.

    Thank you for sharing!!!

    Cal

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