I’m now about halfway through reading Walter Isaacson’s powerful biography of Steve Jobs. It’s a fascinating story that has me turning the pages of this lengthy tome on my iPhone (how ironic is that!). One of the central themes of this powerful book is the extent to which Jobs and the Apple team have gone to innovate and manage the customer experience from end-to-end. Here are just a few examples:
Positioning the brand in the customer’s mind prior to the sale: Apple’s “Think Different” campaign gave creative people and entrepreneurs – modern-day “rebels” – a brand they could easily identify with. Remember the “This is for the crazy people” manifesto? Rather than the usual branding claptrap, Jobs insisted that Apple’s ad agency create a campaign that these target customers could say, “Yes, that’s me. This company understands me!”
Product launches featured dramatic production and Jobs’ incomparable showmanship, making them must-see events for the Apple faithful. Innovative branding positioned Apple strongly in the prospective customer’s mind, even before the sale.
Apple stores: The Apple retail stores also benefited from Jobs’ maniacal attention to detail. They are spectacular spaces, a marvel of modern design. If you’ve ever visited one, you’ve probably noticed that the Apple hardware is displayed on Spartan wooden tables. This helps to focus your attention on the products, which are, of course, marvels of design in their own right.
Inviting product design: This is one of the most obvious manifestations of Apple’s innovative approach. But it extended to even the smallest details. Isaacson tells the story of the iMac, which featured a cute, curvy, translucent case. It had a recessed carrying handle on the top – but it’s primary reason for existence wasn’t to make it easy to carry from room to room. Rather, Isaacson explains how Jobs and wunderkind designer Jonathan Ive reasoned that this would make the iMac more approachable, more personal. Remember, at the time (1989), many people were still a bit afraid of personal computers. If you got the feeling it was OK to pick it up, then it must be OK to touch and use. Who thinks about their product and gets into the mind of the typical customer this deeply? No one else that I know of!
The experience of using the product: This part of Apple’s approach to innovation wasn’t just skin deep. It went well beyond the visual aspects of product design to include tactile factors (the satisfying “click” as the power cord connects magnetically to the power brick of an Apple laptop, the “slide” from one screen to the next on the iPhone and iPad, and the playful way icons vibrate on their screens when you’re preparing to delete or move one or more apps).
The customer support experience: If you have an extended warranty on your Apple product and something goes wrong with it, you don’t just schlep it into an Apple store and wait in line for service. You make an appointment. This makes it easier for you to manage your time. Also, it gives you undivided one-on-one time with an Apple support person at the store’s Genius Bar.
I’ve had to take iPods and iPhones in for service several times, and the way this experience is designed made me feel like someone was focused on me and my problems. In addition, if your iPod or iPhone can’t be fixed immediately, you get a reconditioned unit – so you’re never without your invaluable device. Simple. Brilliant.
Product packaging: Packaging is usually simple and Spartan. Most manufacturers never give it a second thought, other than to make sure it adequately protects the product. Apple turned the process of unpacking an Apple product into an event. In short, even their packages are things of beauty.
The brilliance of Apple’s approach has been to think very deeply about every single “touch point” customers have with the company and its products – from end to end. The depth of their commitment to this ideal is very impressive. It will be interesting to see if the company can maintain this laser-like focus now that Jobs is gone.
How can you adapt this kind of thinking to your products and services? How can you engage your customers in a set of experiences that delight them?
It’s time to think more broadly about innovation, as Apple has done.