I first published this article in 2012. But it was time to publish it again to address an unfortunate trend. Lately I have had several CEOs tell me that they had read the Steve Jobs book and, frankly, they are using his jerkedness to justify exercising, as a friend said to me recently, “their inner jerk.”
This is not the message we should get from Steve Jobs’ life and legacy. It is not his jerkedness that we should be emulating, but his incredible ability to give customers the experience that they wanted, via “insanely great” products and superb customer support. Without these talents, Steve Jobs would have been just another jerk, and nothing more.
One scene, described in Isaacson’s book Steve Jobs, sums it up perfectly:
“As usual Jobs focused on making the product as simple as possible for the user, and this was the key to its success. Mike Evangelist, who worked at Apple on software design, recalled demonstrating to Jobs an early version of the interface. After looking at a bunch of screenshots, Jobs jumped up, grabbed a marker, and drew a simple rectangle on the whiteboard. ‘Here’s the new application,’ he said. ‘It’s got one window. You drag your video into the window. Then you click on the button that says “Burn.” That’s it. That’s what we’re going to make.’ Evangelist was dumbfounded, but it led to the simplicity of what became iDVD. Jobs even helped design the ‘Burn’ button icon.”
Steve Jobs got one thing really, really right: the customer experience. He was a fanatic about it. It was first on his mind in everything he did. He insisted on a simple, pleasing customer experience against all odds. He could be the world’s biggest jerk while doing so; I personally don’t think the jerk aspect is necessary. But I can easily see why he thought it necessary, because everyone else in product design and company management tends not to be focused on the customer’s experience.
What does everyone in a usual company focus on, instead?
- Financial types: “Make it as cheap as possible, and provide as little service as possible. Elegant? Well, sure, if you have to, but don’t let that add to the cost.”
- Designers: “Let’s make this as impressive as we can, technically, using whatever we can create or buy. Stuff a lot of functions in. Oh – you also want usability? Elegance? Sure. Right. Just give us another six months.”
- Management: “Get it done, fast. Make it competitive – make sure we have more features than our competitors have. Are they the features customers want? Well, sure. We know our customers. We’ve met a few. Elegant? Didn’t we hire a cool designer? Didn’t they tell us that blue is the power color? Done.”
- Product managers: “Here’s what our competition is doing, and what the analysts say. We fit here in the industry grid, and here on the persona grid we created. Elegant? There’s nothing in the analyst reports about a trend towards elegant and simple. On to my next slide…”
- Marketers: “We’ve described all the functions in glowing terms, strung together with lots of exciting promises. Here’s an example: ‘This achieves new levels of information integration, speed, and flexibility to boost trust in information, automate process pipelining, and rapidly deploy services to enhance value.’ We’re putting the messaging campaign together for release next week.”
- Salespeople: “Just tell us what’s in it, and why we think it’s important. We’re on it!”
- Customer Support: “Man, this new product is a dog. Nobody likes it, they’re all angry. What were the developers thinking? Who makes these decisions, anyway?”
All of this activity, except that last bit, goes on without the customer. No one in power is jumping up and down, saying, “It’s got to be easy – so easy it’s obvious! It has to be elegant!” You can easily imagine Steve Jobs doing this. But you’d put your brain into a cramp trying to imagine the usual CEO insisting, against all the resistance I just described, that the product has to be one-click easy. Most CEOs don’t even think about it, much less insist on it.
Most CEOs are bombarded, all day long, by the immediate, in-your-face needs and demands of everyone but the customer. There are personnel problems, contending forces, the financials, shifting regulations, vendor issues, facility problems, technology systems, and on and on.
How does all of this relate to the customer’s experience? It doesn’t. That’s the point. And who in the company has the power and clout to make the customer’s experience the number one priority? To make it exceptional? Only the CEO. Nobody else.
The great CEOs understood/understand this: Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Tony Hsieh, Richard Branson, Walt Disney
What Jobs understood – with his products and stores – was that nothing matters as much as the customer’s experience. So when people say to me (and they often do) that Steve Jobs didn’t ask customers for their opinion, they are missing the whole point – and using this false belief as a as license to avoid finding out what their customers really think and want.
The customer experience was everything to Steve Jobs. He went ballistic when his engineers brought in something that wasn’t simple, elegant, and effective. He thought about it all the time. It drove everything he did.
Jobs proved what a difference it can make. Apple is now the most valuable company in the world, because he understood what customers wanted, and made sure that his company gave it to them.
Why is the customer experience so important? Because that’s all your customers care about. That’s all that matters to them. How easy is it to find your product or service and learn more? What’s it like to order? Get help? What’s it like when they open the box? Turn it on? How does it work? Is it obvious? Pleasant? Does it do what they hoped it would – as well or better?
If your customer’s experience starts mattering to you as much as it matters to your customers, you’re going to sell more.
P.S. None of us is Steve Jobs. Don’t assume you can just intuitively know what your customers want. That’s the mistake that any idiot can make, and all idiots do. You need a reliable method, one that takes advantage of a simple, but powerful truth: Your current customers will tell you what matters to them, if you ask them the right way. Armed with this knowledge, you can produce more revenue, because what matters to your current customers is the same stuff that matters to your future customers.