Lessons in Customer Experience from Apple

Apple has a clearly defined mission of creating products that are “insanely great.”  

Simply stating that ambition achieves little.  It is Apple’s commitment to its values, such as integrated architecture and clean design (even on the inside of the device where no one will see it), that defines its products in the marketplace.  

That’s what makes Apple the most valuable company in the world – Greg Satell


In 2012 I publicly deserted Apple – announcing I was fed up with their arrogance. I crossed the divide to Android. People had quite a laugh about it on Twitter – many predicting I’d be back in 12 months. They were wrong though.

I was back in six.

I’m not an Apple fanboy. Far from it. Organisations are just a bunch of people. And they carry with them the same unique strengths and flaws that exist in all of us.

But something was different during my six months away. It just didn’t feel the same.

The best brands and organisations draw an emotional response from us – we become attached to how they make us feel. And we’ll almost always choose how something feels over any other factor , including cost.

Yesterday I visited Apple in London as a guest of Housemark.

Apple have a notoriously secretive culture so we were asked not to photograph our visit and not to use social media. (That’s some ask for me – I was told off within five minutes for trying to post to Instagram…)

For that reason and out of respect to our hosts I’m not revealing anything here that isn’t already in the public domain. I’ve included a couple of quotes but paraphrased them. 

Every great organisation I have visited has a distinct culture and Apple are no different.

As I explained in my last post – this is one of the reasons people may dislike you. Many people , whatever they say , actually like the bland and the mediocre . They are suspicious of those pushing forward. 

And you certainly don’t get to be the biggest brand on the planet without pushing forward and upsetting a few people. 

What can we learn?

Keep it simple , simple, simple: 

Apple are obsessive over keeping things simple – the very thing some of their detractors despise.

Unlike many parts of the public sector, which revels in its own complexity, Apple have recognised that people fundamentally love simplicity and great design. So they shape their business around that purpose. 

They focus on doing a small number of things exceptionally well. Their entire product range can fit on one slide. They got to be the biggest by doing the least.

By comparison, most of us focus on doing lots of things in very average ways.

Relentlessly focus on your customer experience:

I’ve visited so many organisations over the past fifteen years and everyone talks about the importance of customer experience.

Few actively demonstrate it. Fewer still make it their single focus. Apple show end to end design around the customer.

  • The first experience of walking into a store.
  • The lack of signage which encourages you to talk to a member of staff.
  • Even obsessing down to the quality of the packaging (how can it be improved and made more beautiful?)

The belief is – focus on the end user at all times rather than what everyone else is doing. Profit will follow if you stick to that purpose.

Steve Jobs was notorious for his disdain of focus groups. Apple claim though to listen very carefully to what customers want. What they don’t do is let customers design the products for them. 

It’s through this extensive study of customer needs that they know how to make the experience easy for new users, while also meeting the needs of those who are more sophisticated. As my Mum said to me at the weekend “I can’t use the internet but I can use the iPad.”

Innovate as fast as you can. Then innovate again:

Through having control of their supply chain Apple can introduce changes more quickly than others.  The ethos is to develop initial product within 1- 3 months and then refine it.

This seems a world away from most of our delivery where service change can take not just months but years.

As Cris Beswick has said – only 3% of UK companies are able to get ideas to market in less than six months. It’s not what they are doing that’s any different, it’s how they are doing it. 

Many in the public sector focus on big organisational change which they then become too frightened to ever implement. Apple talk of the “relentless pursuit of incremental innovation” which many often ignore. 

If you’ve got a year long project it probably won’t ever happen or it’ll be out of date before delivery.

It’s the mantra we are trying to install at Bromford: Start small , test quickly and ditch it if it doesn’t work.

A final question to Apple as we left the building: “What are you then? A tech company?” 

The answer:

No – a customer experience company.”

I wonder how many of us would describe ourselves that way?


8 thoughts on “Lessons in Customer Experience from Apple

  1. I’m still new to Apple Paul and I wouldn’t claim to know much about their products or their culture. I also have a natural healthy aversion to anything that smacks of being too American. However one thing that I do know is that in all things there is always a simpler and better way.

  2. Completely agree Paul.

    Using Android at work and Apple “at home” just highlights the great simplicity of Apple devices. Working with older people, its also obvious that the iPad has opened up the internet to some people who had previously decided that computers weren’t for them.

    1. I couldn’t agree more about working with older people and it’s one of the challenges about deploying “cheap tech” to get people online. Some of it isn’t that useable! We need to be careful of unintended consequences….

  3. Great post Paul. Apple have such a strong brand that everyone feels they know something about them (and have an opinion). I’ve got some Apple products and some other branded tech – I’ve found Apple are by far the most user friendly. I’m not by any stretch Apple obsessed, but totally ‘get’ Apple products. I also love the ‘keep it simple’ mantra and ‘focus on doing a small number of things exceptionally well’ – both things I try to keep to every day.

  4. I’m a fully fledged proud Apple geek… I get a sense of excitement when I receive one of those crisp white boxes with the black logo… And the sound as you open it up… And there it sits in all it’s simplicity!
    The main reason Apple get it so right for so many is because they started with why not what… They don’t state they make great computers – the what, they start with ‘everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo’ the WHY… That’s why you, me and millions of others don’t feel awkward in buying a phone, a computer, an iPod and downloading iTunes.. Because they aren’t defined by WHAT they do, but wHY they do it… And that’s what matters! As housing organizations we could learn a lot… I’m sure the majority of ‘mission statements’ are ‘we build great places to live… Etc… The WHAT… Not WHY…

    1. Thank you Amy. I think Apple are a great example of keeping things brilliantly simple in a way that many organisations do not. You will often hear people in social purpose organisations say things like “But , it’s easy for them they just make tech products , we have to deal with people.”

      This misses the point *completely*. A housing organisation is not fundamentally more complicated than Apple. We made it that way.

      It’s time to strip it back to simple.

      1. I completely agree…again getting stuck on what we do, rather than why…
        We love making it so complicated…the sector gets worse as it and irganisations grow and get older abd bigger…
        We really need to embrace those simple, fresh and exciting ideas that challenge the ‘we’ve always done it like that!’ , first we need to create the environment where people WANT to make those ideas heard!

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