October 6, 2011
Those of us who work in the field of customer experience are especially hard hit by the passing of Steve Jobs. He symbolized the power of experience — how much a great experience can transform a product, a business, an industry, and even our daily lives.
Do you remember personal computers before the mouse, how you bought and listened to music before iTunes and the iPod, or how many animated films you watched in theaters — with or without the kids — before Pixar?
Steve Jobs even changed the way many of us think. If you own an iPhone or an iPad, you’ve probably found, as I have, that you don’t bother to memorize very much anymore. Why should you when you can dig up facts anytime, anywhere with just a few taps on a touchscreen?
Now please don’t get me wrong: I don’t idealize the man. For one thing, many people contributed to the success of everything I just mentioned. And not all Apple experiences are perfect, and Jobs didn’t succeed at everything he did (remember the NeXT Computer?).
But to go cynical is to miss the point, or more specifically, the point of view — the one that makes Jobs an icon for customer experience professionals. He put it out there when he famously said, “You've got to start with the customer experience and work back to the technology — not the other way around.”
Frankly, “the other way around” is how most companies still operate. Not just technology companies but firms in every industry. Someone has an idea (maybe great, maybe not), and that turns into a product or service in the marketplace. The customer experience that results is whatever it turns out to be.
Jobs took the opposite approach. Whatever he touched, he always tried to assume the customer’s perspective. (And he touched a lot — he was a notorious micromanager.) Every company could benefit from that behavior in every employee from the CEO on down . . . which brings me to my concern for Apple in a post-Jobs world.
When I look at Apple, I see a company that’s had a great customer-centric vision. But I don’t see a company where employees have mastered the discipline of customer experience — as evidenced by inconsistent execution. For example, must I really tell iTunes that I don’t want to share news of my latest purchase with my friends every time I buy a song? And do I really have to put a case on my iPhone to keep it from dropping a call? (I sure don’t have to put a case on my TV to keep it from losing a channel.)
You get the point. With its visionary leader gone, Apple can’t rely on the “gut” judgment of individuals to keep it on track, or it won’t stay on track for long. To keep its leadership position in customer experience, it must instead go from ad hoc to systematic in disciplines like customer understanding and governance.
If Apple truly wants to honor the legacy of Steve Jobs, that’s exactly what it will do.