To paraphrase the late Steve Jobs, if you are looking to sell several billion dollars’ worth of product a year, you have to start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology. You can’t start with the product and then try to figure out who to sell it to.
Most people reading this blog post are not reading it on an iPad or an iPhone, nor are they in the technology business. But Jobs’ 1997 statement is profound and can be incredibly effective in all of our businesses, with a few minor tweaks.
Long ago, when I was just starting my first few businesses, I would spend dozens of hours dreaming about the business, how it would operate, and how we would turn a profit. I would plan out marketing and sales, the layout of the building I needed, the hours of operation, and everything else. Well, I planned everything except the one thing I needed to know about most: the customer experience.
This was a time when I didn’t plot out how easy any given process would be for customers but rather how efficient it would be for my team. I didn’t worry about building a relationship with customers because I thought I was the best at my trade. So of course they would come back and do business with me! I didn’t put real effort into referrals because, again, I was the best. So of course customers would refer others to me! Even my marketing was somewhat focused on me instead of the customer.
The Customer (In)experience
If you take a second to look at businesses around you, you’ll see this is exactly how virtually all of them operate. Here are a few examples:
I recently got a nine-hour window for the cable company to come by and fix a problem with their outside wiring. They don’t care about customer experience — both socialism and monopolies will do that to you. The cable company’s idea of a good experience is to have the driver call you from a blocked number 20 minutes before they arrive. And if you don’t answer or can’t make it within the 20-minute window, your appointment must be rescheduled. It’s crazy.
I have an ex-client who hired a new consultant (as a side note, be careful who you hire and take advice from because many consultants have no clue what they are talking about). This “consultant” shared advice recommending my ex-client go all digital and cancel most of their marketing. The consultant’s reasoning? They said the business didn’t need marketing unless it was very cheap or free.
You would literally get better advice on running and marketing a business from my 12-year-old. But that aside, this advice was likely given so the consultant could show a quick and easy win of how much money he saved his new client. But unfortunately, when you stop marketing, you may make a little more cash now, but you will ultimately see a swift decline in new customers and revenue to follow. It will hurt.
I could go on, but the bigger question is this: In what areas of your business are you not focusing on the customer experience but focusing instead on your own needs?
The Business Of The Customer
Customer experience also has a massive impact on referrals. If it’s difficult to do business with you, then when a customer does refer, they always add in warnings. They’ll say, “This guy is great, but Bertha at the front desk is a nightmare,” or “Expect to wait 20 minutes to been seen.” When someone gives you a referral including “but,” followed by a negative comment, do you think people are going to charge in to do business with you?
The overall customer experience includes every interaction — from the phones and reception area to the way your office looks, how customers are treated, and the results they get. Customer experience and overall satisfaction depends on everything in and around your business.
If you’re not getting the number of referrals you feel you should be, there is a good chance that one problem is customer experience. It’s likely you have other problems, like relationships and trust. But without a good experience, you’ll always be limited on the number of referrals you receive.
Let’s go back to the Steve Jobs quote I paraphrased at the beginning of the article. He said something else profound. Here’s the exact quote:
“The hardest thing is how does that fit into a cohesive, larger vision that’s going to allow you to sell $8 billion — $10 billion — of product a year? … [You’ve] got to start with the customer experience and work backward for the technology.” –Steve Jobs
This is worth looking at if you’re trying to sell $8 or $10 billion worth of product a year.
The video this quote is taken from was filmed the first year Steve Jobs was back as CEO of Apple after several years away. (You can see the video here.)
Steve wasn’t thinking small. He wasn’t thinking about growing sales 5%; he wanted to add billions in new sales. Although you and I may not have the ability to add billions in revenue in a single year, far too many of us still don’t think big enough. We think about adding small percentage increases in revenue, like 5% or 10% growth. At 5%, you’re barely keeping up with inflation and pay raises — and maybe you’re not even keeping up.
- Are you thinking big enough?
- Are you pushing yourself?
- Is that new product or service going to allow you to achieve the growth you desire?
- How will that product or service affect experience?
- Are you trying to sell something that people feel should be included in your service?
These are the questions I see so few people asking.
Now, I know many business owners feel that they are big enough, that they don’t need to grow more, and that they are happy with their income. Great, I’m glad for you. But what happens when the next 2008–2011 rolls around? Practically everyone takes a hit during a recession. Now is the time to invest and grow your savings, offerings, relationships, and customers. It is those who invest now, when times are at least average, that will make it through the next storm.
I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom here, but recessions happen every 10–15 years or so. This begs the questions: Are you investing in relationships? Do you have a referral culture? Are customers loyal to you or just to the lowest price? Is Amazon going to put you out of business because you’re just a commodity? If you’re on the wrong end of any of those answers, now is the time to fix it, when things are good. That way, when the tough times roll in, you’re ready.
Take A Close Look At Your Customer Experience
I believe it’s the questions you ask that determine the answers you get, so I want to close with two critical questions I hope you’ll ponder long after you click away from this page.
Everyone says that customers are the priority, but when are your actions going to match the redirect?
What change are you going to make today to improve customer experience?
The choice is ultimately yours.