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!

More Business Advice from Warren Buffett

Two weeks ago, I had the good fortune of having my Blog post on Warren Buffett featured on WordPress.com’s home page.  Out of over 400,000 blog posts per day, WordPress features only 10 in its Freshly Pressed section.  I have no idea how my post was selected, but I bet it had to do with Mr Buffett’s popularity, especially in light of the recent turbulence in the stock market.

Needless to say, my Blog site was visited by thousands of Warren Buffett fans, so I thought I’d do another post on the Oracle of Omaha’s advice.  I found a nice article on about.com by Joshua Kennon, a private investor who authored The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Personal Investing, 3rd Edition.  The piece summarized some of Mr. Buffett’s best investment advice.  I chose seven of these nuggets, which I thought could also be very applicable to running and growing a business.

1.  Risk can be greatly reduced by concentrating on only a few holdings.  Business application: FOCUS!  Every company has limited human and capital resources, so concentrate your efforts on a few key areas rather than trying to “boil the ocean.”

2.  Stop trying to predict the direction of the stock market, the economy, interest rates, or elections.  Business application:  STAY THE COURSE.  Once you have made a business decision to go in a particular direction, stay focused on that direction and tune out the inappropriate noise.  If you are sure in your decision and it has been made rationally with good information, then eventually it will pay off.

3.  Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful. Business application:  BE CONTRARIAN.  More money can be made in business by NOT following the “conventional wisdom.”  Trends move from one end of the pendulum to the other, so when the crowds are strongly of one opinion, then it could be time to make money by taking the opposing view.  For example, just 5 years ago, the “experts” thought the datacenter industry was stagnant.  There was a glut in capacity, and pessimism all around.  The smart contrarian entrepreneur who could see the tidal wave of virtualization and cloud computing was coming, made money by investing heavily in datacenters.

4.  The ability to say “no” is a tremendous advantage for an investor. Business application:  Concentrate, focus, and don’t get distracted.  The ability to say “no” is also a tremendous advantage for a business person.  Steve Jobs, for one, has always prided himself on saying “no” to things that did not fit his vision for Apple.  It is natural for opportunistic business people and entrepreneurs to want to look at EVERY opportunity, but by saying yes to too many projects, you dilute your resources and your company’s energy.

5.  An investor should act as though he had a lifetime decision card with just twenty punches on it.  Business application: BE SUPER SELECTIVE!  Imagine running your business knowing that you will only have 20 truly awesome ideas to bet on in your career!  That’s only one every two years.  Applying this advice means you must do your homework, be very diligent, and choose your projects very judiciously.

6.  Always invest for the long term.  Business application:  Your goal is to create long term shareholder value, so plan and operate your business in a way to achieve this goal. Note that Mr. Buffett uses the word “always,” which is a very strong word.  For me this is real wisdom.  I see far too many business leaders make short term and medium term decisions which appear to make sense, but really do not.  I agree with Mr. Buffett because, ultimately, all that really matters is the value created in the long term.

7.  It is not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results. Business application:  You don’t always have to be the best.  You can win big even if you are a little better than your competition.  This is an excellent concept.  Too many companies spend too much time and money trying to be perfect, when all they really need is to stand above their competitors.  CyberRep operated in an industry with “C” players, and I always told our team that we would be successful if we were merely “B+” players.  It worked.

Thanks for reading.  Please comment below and let me know which concept resonates with you…and please sign up for my Blog too.  You can find the signup box in the right column of my Blog’s Home Page.

Featured image courtesy of trackrecord licensed via creative commons.

Scaling a Hypergrowth Enterprise – Part 4 (Process)

This is the 4th in a series of Posts on the five elements of scaling a hypergrowth enterprise.

A “ONE IN A MILLION” HYPERGROWTH STORY

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 the 8 years since we sold CyberRep, the organization has grown an additional 20x (2000%) to over $1.6 billion in annual revenues.  Yes, that’s “billion” with a “B.” So, over a 17 year period, this enterprise grew 3200x, or 320,000%.  I’m not a business historian or a statistician, but I would bet that these numbers would put our little startup from 1992 in the “better than one in a million” category of organizations that have experienced this level of growth.

In Part 1 of this series, I talked about People as the first of 5 key elements for scaling a hypergrowth company.  In Part 2 of this series, we discussed Culture, and in Part 3, we examined Scalable Customers. The fourth key element in scaling a hypergrowth enterprise is Process.

THE BENEFITS OF PROCESS

A critical success factor in our ability to grow the business was our commitment to mapping and implementing all of our key business processes.  The 3 key benefits to this were:  1.  We were able to dissect HOW we were doing certain things, and thereby make improvements along the way (process engineering, in essence) 2.  We were now able to “cookie cut” or repeat business processes that were vitally important to our business and our customers (improved business operations), and 3.  We minimized errors and were more consistent in our service delivery (happy customers!).

We didn’t get bogged down in the “flavor” of process engineering or documentation, a la TQM, ISO, or Six Sigma.  We just did the best we could, got them down on paper, trained our people, and put in place measurements to monitor our adherence to the processes.

You may think you are too small to create processes for everything.  In fact, this may even seem to be a waste of time for a startup that has limited resources and “other” more important priorities.  But the simple fact is that every organization, whether a startup or Fortune 100 company, will benefit from developing and implementing SOME key processes.  As a company grows, it becomes imperative to document more and more proceses in order to establish a firm foundation for hypergrowth.

THE “PROCESS PROCESS” – THE WHAT AND THE HOW

At my company, we documented and implemented close to 200 different KEY business processes.  This was a very time consuming task, but once completed, maintaining and adding to our library was relatively easy.  We had processes for things such as business acceptance, hiring, internal communications, various types of training, employee suggestions, innovation, client reviews, different kinds of reporting, and maintaining & upgrading IT and telecom systems, for example.  We even had a process for developing and rolling out processes, the “process process.”

Who’s responsible for the process process?  We were lucky in that our COO was a TQM expert and a trained process engineer, so he owned the process process.  I would suggest that a C-level player in your organization take ownership for sure.  The process process is so critical to winning that it deserves C-level attention and sponsorship.

We assigned a process champion for each process, who was responsible for gathering the information and procedures, as well as getting buy in from the people who would be most affected by the process, e.g. the people who had to follow the process.  I do NOT recommend having one person create processes in a vacuum because the most difficult thing about doing processes is NOT the documentation.  It’s the actual implementation, where you put theory into practice. Where people are involved, the easiest way to gain adoption is to have a cross-section of people involved in all aspects of the planning and implementation of each process.

Do it, Implement It, and Live it.  In order to make the process process work, you need to be serious and consistent about your commitment to it.  Pay especially close attention to the implementation.  Keep monitoring and measuring for the first 60 days or so to insure compliance.  And live it!  When your team sees its top leaders embracing this, or any initiative for that matter, it becomes ingrained into the organization’s culture, and becomes a matter of individual, team, and corporate habit.  And a funny thing will happen:  the discipline that your team puts into the process process will lead to hypergrowth, as your existing scalable clients grow, and your business operations run more smoothly.

Thanks very much for reading.  Please tell me what you think.  How do you see your organization getting more disciplined about the process process?  Which specific processes you have had success or challenges with implementing?  What are your ideas on how a company can improve its “process process”?

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)