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.

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Scaling a Hypergrowth Enterprise – Part 3 (Scalable Customers)

This is the third in a series of Posts on scaling a hypergrowth enterprise.  I was the co-founder and CEO of CyberRep, a CRM and call center company which grew revenues nearly 160x (16,000%) to over $80 million over a 9 year period.  In Part 1 of this series, I talked about People as the first of 5 key elements for scaling a hypergrowth company, the other four being Culture, Scalable Customers, Process, and Capital.  I examined Culture in Part 2 of this series, and today we will discuss the 3rd element, Scalable Customers.

SCALABE CUSTOMERS

All customers are NOT equal.  Some are much better fits for your company than others, in terms of how they treat you, their level of dependency on your services, and the degree of difficulty in servicing them. You want to serve customers who are growing fast and who will have more and more needs as they themselves grow.  A “scalable customer” is one which grows and takes you along for the ride.

Partner Mentality – The best kinds of customers take a partnership approach to your relationship (as opposed to a vendor-vendee mentality).  They rely on you for true “value add” solutions that go beyond just providing the bare minimum of what they need.  They rely on you and have a high degree of dependency.  These kinds of customers will continue expanding their scope of business with you, as they grow.  Note:  An added benefit of a customer with a partner mentality is that when things get rocky (and they inevitably will from time to time), they will be more apt to work through the issues with you, since you are a valued “partner” and not just another vendor.

Customers who grow fast – Try and find customers who are in hypergrowth mode themselves.  Whether they are in hot market segments or expanding via acquisition, these customers need you the most because they have challenges supporting their growth.  For example, my company supported Nextel and Microsoft (MSN) in the early 2000s when both companies’ user bases were exploding.  The more customers they added, the more customer service they needed, and the better we performed, the more business they gave us. They expanded astronomically with us.

Know when to say “No” to revenue – It hurts to turn away revenue, BUT it’s required if you want to build a hypergrowth company.  Saying “no” is really tough.  It is tempting to want to do any kind of work and take on more than you can handle, or to take on a client that is not “scalable,” but you have to stay disciplined in your business acceptance.  By pursuing the revenue YOU want, and focusing only on clients who will grow with your company, you can marshal your scarce delivery and other resources on becoming an expert at your craft and improving your service offerings with these scalable customers.

Thanks very much for reading.  I’d love your feedback and thoughts, so please Comment below…and please sign up for my Blog too!  (See the Signup box on the sidebar of my Home Page)