The Beauty Of Apple

I wonder if you have noticed something about the world of business?  You may have not noticed it as this feature of business life is pervasive, so enduring, that lies in the background.  I found myself reawakened to this feature recently.

Some consultants and sales folks were carrying around and using the standard issue company owned laptops made by the likes of Dell, IBM, HP, Toshiba…. Others were carrying around and using Apple MacBook laptops (Air, Pro) – they had purchased these themselves out of their own money.

What is it that I observed? I noticed that the consultants and sales people using Apple MacBook laptops handled their laptops as if these were sacred objects. I noticed these folks look, actually look, at their MacBooks as I look at landscapes that catch my eye and take my breath away. I noticed that these folks displayed their MacBooks so that all could see. And I noticed that these folks carried their MacBooks with a certain kind of pride.  Most importantly, I noticed a certain kind of affection, even reverence, between the consultants and their MacBooks.

What about the consultants and sales people carrying around the corporate issue laptops made by the likes of Dell, IBM, HP, Toshiba..? I noticed these folks showed no pride, no reverence, no affection for their laptops. They treated them as functional machines – mere tools to do a job.  They dragged them out of their cases. They plonked them on the table. When not using them them ‘hid’ them by putting papers on top of them….

Have you figured out what feature of the business world I am talking about?  I am talking about the lack of beauty in the world of business! I am talking about:

  • conversations devoid of the beauty of genuine human warmth-friendliness;
  • products that function yet are devoid of beauty;
  • offices that are devoid of colour, fragrance, plants, flowers and have the feel of a factory in many ways;
  • call-centres in run down parts of the country where the human  spirit sinks as the body arrives for work;
  • retail stores that have the look and feel of hospitals….

I notice that some folks have been putting Apple down due to the lack of innovative industry making, coffer filling-overflowing, products.  This may be the case.

I notice that the same folks that put down Apple for its lack of innovation point towards Samsung for its innovation especially in the area of smartphones. What I have not yet experienced is an Apple customer handing in their iPhone for a Samsung Galaxy. Why not?  It occurs to me that Samsung products lack that which pervades the Apple products: beauty that calls forth awe, affection, even reverence.

How can you and your organisation cater for and meet one of the most fundamental human needs: beauty?  If you have got around to designing customer experiences then ask yourself if you have even considered this need for beauty?

Customer Experience: what about the ‘product’?

Is the ‘product’ being neglected by the Customer movement?

It seems to me that many approach Customer Experience as if it is all about getting access to the voice of the customer and  improving the interactions (marketing communications, buying, paying, service..) between the customer and the organisation.  Is something important being missed?

I say that a critical piece is being missed:  the core product or service that calls forth the customer to interact with your organisation.  The danger I see is that of focussing effort on the interactions around the product and not giving the ‘product’ the kind of attention/love/priority that the likes of Jobs/Ive gave to Apple products.  And thus leaving open an opportunity for someone to come along and render all of your work on interaction design worthless.  How/why?  A new entrant comes along with a radically better product – better at doing the job that the customer hires that product to do.  Think salesforce.com when it comes to CRM.

Looking at the ‘product’ through the ‘job that the product is hired to do’ lens

What is a powerful access to revisiting your ‘product’ through the world of your customers?  A great access is to think of the situation this way: the customer hires your ‘product’ to do a specific job.  Allowing me to make this real and useful for you.

Clayton Christenson shares the story about milkshakes.  He was working for an organisation that was selling milkshakes and there was a drive to sell more milkshakes.  So the team dived into milkshake purchases and found out that milkshakes were bought in the early morning (breakfast time) and in the evenings.   Who was buying these milkshakes and what had they hired these milkshakes to do?

The early morning crowd were people who were commuting to work.  And they hired the milkshake to relieve the tedium of the commute (usually in a car).  For these people the thickness and size of the milkshake worked great – it took time to drink the milkshake.  How to improve it?  Add stuff to it that made it last longer, that increased the prominence of the drinking experience and distracted the drinker from the tedious commute.

Parents were buying milkshakes for their children in the evening as a treat – after saying “no” many times they felt that they could and should say “yes” to the milkshake.  How was the milkshake doing in terms of the job that the parent had hired it to do?  Poorly.  Why?  Because the kids were taking forever to finish the milkshake.  What was the issue?  The thickness and size of the milkshake.  How to improve it?  Sell  it in a smaller size and/or making it less thick.

By looking at the ‘product’ through the customer-centred lens of  ‘the job that the customer hires the product to do’ one opens up the possibility of coming up with products that do a better job of meeting the core customer need and delivering a superior customer experience. And this creates the opening to sell more product.

How many parents chose not to buy milkshakes because they did not want to hang around 20 minutes or so for their children to finish drinking the milkshake.  What is the price premium that could be charged by selling a larger, thicker, crunchier milkshake to the early morning commuters?

Finally, notice this level of understanding enables the organisation to improve its marketing and sales message: to talk about what matters to customers (job that customer is hiring product to do).

Looking at the usability of the ‘product’

In order to get value out of a ‘product’ – for this ‘product’ to do the job that it was hired to do – the customer has to be able to use this product effectively, easily.  How many products meet that requirement?

I have bought electronic products where I cannot even get them out of the plastic packaging!  I have had to look for the biggest scissors and then watch out lest I cut myself opening up the package.  And once or twice I have just done that cut myself.  It is another job to actually set these up and operate them.

How many products come with a lousy set-up instructions?  Many.  I have lost count of the amount of time I have wasted on trying to make sense of the instructions.  Do I have to share with you the frustration that is involved in having a job to do, having bought the ‘product’ and not being able to do that job?  I bet that you have had this experience many times.  If you have not then you can count yourself lucky!

Getting value out of the ‘product’ can be a big issue especially for the more complex ‘products’.  How much advice (whatever form it takes) is worthless because the customer does not know how to make sense of and use that advice effectively?  Why has salesforce.com been so successful?  I say because they took the hassle of setting up/operating / getting value of CRM systems away from the customers.

Even complex products can be made easy to use and thus more valuable to the customer.   The best example I can think of is Apple.  This is a company that is doing extremely well because Steve Jobs insisted on starting with the customer experience and working back to the technology.   Put differently, making products that the average customer can use straight out of the box is a fundamental requirement of product design at Apple – at least as I understand it.

Summing up

The product is not in one domain and Customer Experience in another domain.  Any serious examination of the Customer Experience has to grapple with the product and how well it does the job that the customer is hiring it to do.  That means designing that product so that it is both useful (does the job) and usable (easy/intuitive) to use.

Customer Experience: how are ‘robots’ going to cultivate feelings that generate memorable customer experiences?

So much talk about Customer Experience – seems like everyone gets the importance of Customer Experience and many businesses are busy designing, improving, orchestrating experiences that reflect the brand, make an impact on the customer and generate customer loyalty.

What constitutes a Customer Experience?  In my experience a ‘customer experience’ is an integrated combination of physical sensations, thoughts and feelings.  Again, tapping into my lived experience it occurs to me that the customer experiences that I have access to right now are the ones that have a strong emotion (my emotion) associated with them.  Put differently, if an interaction with an organisation left me with a strong feeling – surprise, delight, happiness, disappointment, frustration, anger, boredom..- then I can access it because it stands out in my memory bank.   From that I’d argue that feelings are the key lever to work on when it comes to being a master of Customer Experience.

Now walk into the business world – especially the world of big business – and you will encounter a desert: a landscape where feelings are absent.  There is no agreement for feelings to be present in this landscape.  Where feelings do flower the flowers are sprayed with such criticism that the flowers wither almost instantly.  And if the plant/s insist on producing these flowers one too many times then the plants are uprooted and tossed out.  The only plants that survive and prosper in this landscape are the ones that delight in their ability not to have feelings.  Some of the younger plants do have feelings and start out by keeping them hidden in the darkness where no-one can see them.  As these plants get used to playing this game – it becomes second nature – they also lose sight of their feelings.  One day these plants wake up and find that no feelings are present and because they have lost their capacity to feel they do not feel anything about not having any feelings.  Some of the plants actually take delight in not having any feelings: how great to be totally rational.  The paradox of it is a wonder to me:  such a strong feeling about being a plant that does not have feelings!

Which brings me to my central question: how are a bunch of people who long ago lost connection to their feelings and gave up expressing and sharing feelings (at least in the workplace) going to orchestrate stuff so as to cultivate strong feelings in customers and the people on the front line who are serving these customers?  And how are they going to design products that evoke feelings of wonder, delight, affection and love?  Or design processes / introduce technology that creates feelings of being validated, treated as a worthwhile human being, a part of the community, someone that matters….?  If you have the answer then please comment and share your perspective.

A final word:  or me the beauty of plants occurs in their flowering – the variety of colours, shapes, sizes – what a joy to behold and to experience.  What about you?