Lead with Customer Experience, Not Technology

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Apple is probably one of the most divisive companies in modern history. As a consumer, chances are you either 1) use a multitude of Apple products in your daily life or 2) you actively choose not to use any Apple products.

From detractors, Apple has been criticized for not offering the most advanced/innovative technology, yet the company has continued to dominate the consumer electronics market and remains one of the largest companies in the world.

What has made Apple so successful for so long?

One reason, undoubtedly, is their focus–obsession, really–with customer experience.

As a company, they realized early on that being a technology company isn’t just about creating great technology. It was about creating technology with purpose that solves real, human problems.

Famously, Steve Jobs explained that the core strategy at Apple is to understand and shape the customer experience and then work backwards to the technology. Ultimately, this allows you to find how the technology you are developing fits into the larger, cohesive vision that allows a company to sell billions of dollars of product a year.

This should ring true for any technology company, whether it’s hardware or software.

The core of your product may be code, algorithms, or processors. But the part that the customer touches–the part that they care about–is the experience.

Everything from the marketing and messaging to the user interface plays a role in shaping the customer experience. Yes, technology will also be an important part of that. But, it’s one of many factors.

For Apple, they have gone to great lengths to control the entire customer lifecycle. Customers know what to expect when buying the product, they know how to use it to accomplish the tasks they need, and they can receive hands-on support when they have questions or issues online, on the phone, or in person at the Genius Bar.

This entire experience is the embodiment of the vision that Apple has put forth for how they want customers to experience their products and their brand. And they protect that vision ruthlessly in their execution.

So, where do you start with customer experience?

The Customer Experience Vision

While there are many factors that shape the final experience, the core of the process is defining what kind of experience customers should have.

For instance, if you run an on-demand marketplace, then the customer experience should feel seamless and quick. Customers should have all of their immediate questions answered by the application’s interface and buyer or seller profiles. If users have to wait too long for an answer, they are likely to just abandon the process all together.

This is one example of a vision for customer experience. Using this vision as a guide, begin defining a technology strategy that allows you to achieve this experience.

Your vision for the customer experience can also drive the core product strategy.

Artificial intelligence, for instance, is an incredible and powerful technology. But it’s not until we imagine the experience of using AI—digital personal assistants, marketing optimization, or automated customer service—that it’s clear how it can be used to solve real customer problems. So, if you’re an AI company, you need to first develop your vision for how AI can improve people’s lives and then develop a strategy and product that brings this vision to life.

Bringing the vision to life isn’t always easy. And it shouldn’t be.

It’s a big, difficult, and complex problem to solve–that’s what makes it interesting and exciting.

In Summary: Working Backward to Definitive Technology

There’s a famous saying that goes, “when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

In the technology world, this is especially true. If you begin any project or business by building the solution before you’ve defined the problem, you’ll spend all of your time searching for problems you could solve, but never quite sure which one is right.

As many startups have learned the hard way, it’s a big mistake to build a product and then go around and looking for a way to sell it. This kind of technology-first thinking leads to poor product-market fit and a challenging sales process. You’re literally fighting uphill for every customer, trying to convince them that they have a problem that needs solving before you can convince them that you have the solution.

On the flipside, if you begin by thinking through the lens of the customer experience, then you start with the problem–you understand the pain points.

For example, at Solvvy, one pain point we’ve observed is that customer service teams face a large number of self-serviceable questions that take away time from answering more pressing and complex issues. We’ve approached building our product with this pain point in mind (as well as others) and envisioning what kind of customer experience would solve these problems

Even highly technical customers are rarely persuaded by raw technology alone. They’re looking for solutions–for an experience that is shaped by purchasing the right product or service.

This is why it’s so important to begin with the customer experience.

Cast a vision for how your company can improve lives or solve a real problem. Then work backward through the engineering that it would take to provide that experience to customers.

Strive to build solutions, not just products or tools.

If we’ve learned anything from Apple, it’s that customers will pay a premium for a great product that’s created to meet the needs of the customer. They’ll even line up early to buy it.

That’s the power of an incredible customer experience.