Steve Jobs’ Greatest Legacy: The Customer Experience

October 6, 2011

I am a recent Apple convert. I made the painful though glorious switch to Mac in May and moved from Android to iPhone at about the same time. I own an iPad, simultaneously the coolest piece of technology I own and the most expensive paper weight in my house, and I still use my iPod Nano, the only piece of Apple technology I own that is more than a year old.

Throughout the last few months of my foray into the Cult of Mac, I have learned something about Steve Jobs.

Yes, Jobs was an extraordinary innovator. Yes, Jobs was a marketing genius. But, more than anything, Jobs was a leader obsessed with the customer experience.

Community member Leon Noone emailed me an excellent Harvard Business Review piece a few weeks ago entitled The Hidden (in Plain Sight) Legacy of Steve Jobs by Bill Lee. Lee discusses some great points about Jobs’ customer focus (also a few I think would be dangerous to extrapolate to non-tech industries) but most telling was this point:

Don’t be obsessed with technical details, but do be obsessed with the details of customer experience

Jobs is supposedly obsessed with every detail that goes into Apple devices. Not so. He focuses on the details relevant to the customer’s experience. When one of Apple’s design teams was tasked with developing a DVD-burning software program for high-end Macs, developers spent weeks putting together a plan. On the appointed day to present it to Jobs, they brought pages filled with prototype information, pictures of the new program’s various windows and menu options, along with documentation showing how the application would work. When Jobs walked into the meeting, he didn’t so much as look at any of the plans. He picked up a marker, went to a whiteboard and drew a rectangle, representing the application. He then told them what he wanted the new application to do. The user would drag the video into the window, a button would appear that said “burn,” and the user would click it. “That’s it, that’s what we’re going to make,” he said.

Steve Jobs never lost site of the end user. Despite his products being fawned over by tech types across the spectrum, Jobs did not design his products for the Robert Scobles of the world; he designed them for the entire world.

Jobs knew that in a technology-based industry, a great customer experience involved a product people wanted to use, that accomplished its tasks reliably, and which confronted them with the underlying technology as little as possible. He understood that the workings behind a great customer experience should be invisible.

From the iPad to the Apple store, Jobs’ obsession was not technology for technology’s sake but technology for the sake of optimizing the customer experience. Jobs understood that a great customer experience should involve both function and form, striving to achieve an almost Zen-like symbiosis between the two.

An Apple product should just do, and be — and, in some sense, should help bring a sense quietude, nay peace, to the user.

Steve Jobs helped bring that feeling to millions of people across the world. I can only hope that he is experiencing it now.

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27 thoughts on “Steve Jobs’ Greatest Legacy: The Customer Experience”

  1. Howie at Sky Pulse Media

    Here is the missing connection Adam. He was able to deliver the customer experience but you pay for it. To spend 2.5X the cost of a laptop with just as much horse power under the hood you expect great #custserv. It is how they uphold margins and have people coming back. Mercedes does the same thing. If you are ever in Orange County, California I forget the Mercedes dealer but they will whip you up a Latte if you are waiting there for your car or give you a loaner every time you need maintenance.

    Where Apple I think has succeeded is folding in the cost of the user experience into the price. Too often as we see with many companies playing the price strategy they deliver on price but fail to explain this to the buyer. The buyer then still expects the great service/experience though because they didn’t realize that they aren’t paying for that so why should they expect it.

    Funny because the last thing Facebook ever thinks about is the user experience.

    1. Absolutely Howie, the premium pricing gives Apple the latitude to deliver that experience. (I think it’s more like 1.5x in reality.) And it is a circular effect. The pricing enables the customer experience, and the customer experience enables the premium pricing.

      Here is where I see the differentiation and competitive advantage with Apple. 1) They understand the totality of the customer experience, from shopping to product usage to ongoing service. 2) They actually deliver at all points throughout the experience. How many premium priced products are simply great products but have poor service at most stages of the customer experience? Lots. You make a great point about the premium pricing and the service — to me, the difference with Apple is they actually deliver on the promise of their premium brand (and by extension their pricing).

      Believe me, when my wife and I both switched to Mac, it was a true cashectomy. And the worst part, it was also a leap of faith. The biggest problem we hoped to avoid was the horrible degradation in performance that occurs with Windows systems over time. After 2 years, it’s multiple crashes a day, constant reboots, 3 minutes to start the computer cold. If a Mac gives us an extra year without the inefficiency and annoyance that comes from those problems, it will be well worth the investment. Unfortunately, we won’t know if that is true until we reach the 1, 1.5, and 2 year marks.

      As for Facebook, you need to ask the advertisers about their experience, since they are FB’s real customers. 🙂

  2. Ah, Adam…I see you are now a fully paid up member of the Apple Appreciation Society. 🙂 – My work here is done! (is there a smilie with a wistful tear in the eye?)

    Oooogh! I had to think about that answer you gave about FB. How true.

    1. You have succeeded Pea — a wistful tear indeed! 🙂

      Ironically, I think more than anything else I love about Mac, it’s the trackpad. It is amazing and has really increased my efficiency with the multiple programs I bounce back and forth among each day.

  3. I am also a late comer to Apple, bought my iMac in November last year and my iPhone this spring.
    Sure it was a bit weird a the beginning and took some time getting used to it but it was a lot easier and a much more pleasant user experience.

    I have three customer service stories with Apple.
    The first one when Ameena’s bought her Macbook, it arrived and the box had literally exploded. The carrier signed a paper saying they destroyed and three weeks later we got a new one. Mac then refunded us for the poor customer experience and the long wait.
    The second time was Ameena’s Macbook again, her screen started to act all crazy. She called them up, they gave her the address of the nearest Mac service center and they changed it in 48hrs.

    Great post and I hope Apple keeps innovating without Jobs.

    1. A fellow late adopter — good to know we’re not alone. I think coming from business; it’s hard to make the switch (and was virtually impossible years ago). The final straw was the amount of time we were spending on lost work due to software freeze ups, updates that did not take and rebooting. Towards the end, I calculated we were spending almost an hour a day each dealing with computer issues.

      Thanks for sharing the stories John! That’s one of the things that really separates Apple — that customer focus even once the sale of the product has been made.

      I too hope Apple can keep it going; hopefully, Jobs left an indelible imprint on the culture.

  4. Cashectomy, indeed, Steve. I also just converted to a Macbook after my faithful Toshiba died (anybody who wants a PC, that’s the brand to bo with, if you ask me), and just as you said it was a leap of faith, and I haven’t yet the years of usage to get all gushy about it yet. But at the same time, I grew up in the computer age. I remember when the first Macintosh computer came out, with the mouse and full-color graphics that hooked us on The Oregon Trail during computer time in 5th grade. It was intuitive and imaginative, just the way we kids believed the future should be. Although soon afterward, homes, schools, and offices were overrun with PCs, I never forgot that introduction to the computer world.

    1. Hey Shakirah. The thing about the cashectomy for us was when we took into account the cost of lost productivity over time (see comments to John), it made the price tag more justified. That is, assuming, we don’t have similar problems as the Macs mature. I too remember thinking highly of Mac in the old days, then not thinking highly of them at all, and now finally being converted.

      Great seeing you as always!

  5. He developed it for the Bill Dorman’s of the world and for that I’m grateful. I like his philosophy too, what does it look and feel like to the end user. If it’s too hard or complicated, you will lose a large share of your audience.

    Part of our business platform when working with customers is bring solutions to help the control their total cost of risk. If the customer is committed to the process, it will improve their bottom line. HOWEVER, if we make it look like all we are doing is increasing work for them, they are more apt to stick with the easy and not make a move. With this in mind I am always trying to think what the solutions would look like to me if someone was offering it as a ‘fix’. Being the ultimate ‘just show up’ guy, if it means a lot of work or too much thinking, there would have to be some pretty definitive ‘pains’ for me to make that leap. Therefore, I want my solutions to be definitive and very easily explainable and doable.

    That’s my story for today.

    1. … and you’re sticking to it.

      Great analogy Bill. That’s why I really think Jobs’ legacy of customer experience is so worthwhile; because it does transcend industries in most cases. Your basically applying his model in insurance — demystify, simplify, and do not add work! Oh yeah, and solve the customer’s problem!

  6. Not many people have impacted the world like Jobs did. I remember when Apple computers were the last think you would consider purchasing and look what he did. He should never have been pushed out of the company years ago but he made up for it when he came back.

  7. Adam, I really loved your post on Steve Job’s continual focus on the customer experience. It is a known fact that Apple revolutionized the concept of the retail business. When you just walk by an Apple store, you can just “feel” the difference. The people are different, the aesthetics are unique and customers feel an emotional connection. One of the greatest tourist attractions in NYC is the Apple store on Fifth Avenue. Steve Jobs totally understand that technology alone does not make you feel passionately about a product. Steve Jobs understood that passion needs to be built by a combination of unbelievable technology, coupled with a new world of retailing. Apple stores are the most profitable per square foot in the retail industry. And, that did not just occur by chance. It was due to the genius of Steve Jobs and his total dedication to maximizing the customer experience. Richard Shapiro, The Center For Client Retention

    1. Great points Richard! The Apple stores really do live up to the hype — we have had truly great service on each visit and the design aspects, from layout to lighting are just superb. Jobs truly understood how important each step in the customer experience is.

      Really appreciate you stopping by!

  8. On my own opinion, Steve Jobs is the greatest man that ever lived. He made technology close to us, he made our life more easier than before. RIP Steve Jobs you will never be forgotten that is for sure.

  9. Yes, without a doubt. IMO, the biggest factor that affects business success is just how much your customers love you. Give ’em what they want and they’ll give you what you want, by not only becoming a loyal repeat customer, but also creating a buzz about your products.

    Steve Jobs was a legend. He focused on ‘creating’ new trends and quality innovations.
    R.I.P. Mr. Jobs. You will be missed.

  10. I’m also devoted to Apple. To be honest, when I was first starting, I didn’t know what kind of a computer I wanted. Therefore, I asked around and people told me that Apple was the most reliable. I was suspicious about the pricing, but as I knew that I don’t have anybody to help me out if my computer crashed, I’ve decided to buy an Apple product.

    And I was lucky to see and love Apple at the first site. The love lasts ever since 😀

    Steve Jobs – amazing man. Amazing.

  11. Been an apple fan since they first came out. I remember working on a 512 kB Mac, and the Plus with a whopping 1 MB of RAM 🙂 I’ve worked on the Mac II, the line of PowerPCs and even had a Mac clone when they opened the system up to other companies. Big mistake, because that computer was a lemon. I now have a shiny new 27 inch iMac and love it. Also have the iPhone, but doesn’t everyone at this point? 🙂 Not yet jumping on the iPad bus, but I probably will soon. I don’t mind paying for great products.

    I worked over at Microsoft for two years, so was forced to use the dreaded PC 🙁 Once you go Mac you never go back, for good reason. The beauty and ease of the interface (part of the customer experience, check!), the great design, and now with a Unix-based system, the things never crash. We also have a PC at home, because we need it for other reasons, but I hate dealing with the thing.

    Love the story about the DVD-burning software program. Wonder how long Apple can keep innovating without him?

    1. I used to always say to my friends who lauded Macs: great if you’re a designer, not so much if you’re in business. I think that’s really shifted in the last few years — at least for individuals (most institutions are stuck). Macs have gained enough market share to make it financially sound for more third parties to develop software for them. I was able to replace MS OneNote with a product called Curio — which I love. And the presence of Microsoft Office for Mac eliminated the biggest hurdle to switching.

      I was dealing with one of my office PCs yesterday, spent 10 minutes dealing with software updates that wouldn’t take, etc. Was a nice reminder of why we switched.

      Thanks for the sharing Craig! I too am curious if Apple can produce without Steve Jobs.

  12. I have to agree with Adam Toporek, couple of years ago the Mac was more for the Graphic Designers or the wanna bes. Today more and more Macs are in home being used by “normal” people, even though I have to admit I still am a PC person…,maybe someday

  13. LOL, I agree with Adam and Carson above; it’s funny that all the designer college kids jumped on the Apple boat early-on, when really the target audience for Macs is “non-technical” types, “normal” people who want straight-forward experiences on their computer via a relatively simplistic user interface. I think the demographics are looking much more like that these days.

    1. Hi Gregory. I think you are right about the demographics of mac users shifting over the past few years. It’s so different than a decade ago, and I think the iPhone/iPad had a lot to do with it.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  14. Pingback: Monthly Mash: Customer Experience Tools and Secret Service

  15. I totally agree with you,Steve job’s greatest legacy is the Customer Experience because when i firstly bought my first iPod shuffle about 6-7 years ago i really found it appealing,functions so simple that my grandpa aging in 90’s could use it with ease!!

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