I’m going to kick this post off by taking sides in a long-standing feud.
Apple is amazing.
There. Edgy, right? Okay, so maybe you don’t agree with me, but you have to admit that a whole lot of people do. Why is that?
Sure, there’s the snarky few that believe Apple products are successful due to an army of hipsters with thousands in disposable income, growing thick beards and wearing skinny jeans with pipes in mouth and books by Jack Kerouac in hand, sipping lattes while furiously banging away on the chiclet keyboard of their Macbook Pro with the blunt corner of an iPad Air that sports a case made of iPhones. I have to admit, it does make for an amusing thought. And 15 minutes at a Starbucks in SoHo might make you feel like that’s absolutely the case. But it’s not.
If you browse message boards or other sites that compare PCs and Apple products, you’ll frequently see people wondering why someone would buy a $2,000 Macbook when you can have an amazing Windows 8.1 laptop with better specs for a little over half the price. Or why buy an iPad when you can buy a Samsung tablet running the latest Android which provides more freedom to tinker. Or why even mess with Apple products at all when they’re not compatible with Fragfest 5000 FPS of Duty, or whatever games those darn kids are playing these days.
The answer is, of course, customer experience. Apple has it. When you watch a visually stunning Apple commercial, complete with crying grandpas Facetiming with their newborn great-grandson and classrooms of kids typing on Macbook Airs, you know what to expect. When you make the decision to buy said Macbook Air, you know that you will head to the Apple Store, usually in the posh mall in your town, and that it will be packed to the gills with people buzzing around looking at cases and Beats headphones and 27″ iMacs. You know that whatever you buy will come in a sleek white box, and will be placed into a thick, durable bag with two drawstring cords that you can wear like a backpack.
When you get it home and open the box, it’s like looking at a Tesla Model S. Your new laptop, situated inside a silky plastic bed and covered in durable plastic with little tabs to peel it off. The sleek black cardboard wrapped around a cable wound so perfectly that there’s not a single millimeter of space between the coils, nor a plug out of place. The laptop itself will be unibody, no gaps for fans or jiggly CD-ROM trays or harsh textures.
All of which is to say, Apple provides an amazing customer experience. Are their products expensive, sometimes ridiculously so? Of course. But people aren’t just buying into the product, they’re buying into the “Apple life.” And why not? I’d rather pay for experiences than products any day. I may be able to get another laptop with better specs than my Macbook Pro Retina, but there will always be something missing. Maybe the screen resolution isn’t quite so good, maybe the battery doesn’t last as long, or maybe it’s something as simple as the power cord coming wrapped in wire bag ties with a brick the size of my head stuffed unceremoniously into a plastic bag. The experience just isn’t there, and I feel like I’ve bought something that’s not as magnificent as the money I put into it, features and specs be damned.
Customer experience isn’t just a buzz phrase, and it doesn’t just apply to how you deal with angry customers or how you talk to them while making a sale. It also doesn’t mean giving your customer everything they want. Customer experience is the journey from start to finish. It’s providing a predictable, customer-centric, and enjoyable experience for a customer that is entrusting their hard-earned cash in your product. And it applies to every business, not just retail computer sellers and coffee shops. What’s more, it applies to anyone in a service-oriented job.
Customer Experience for IT Professionals
In a previous post I mentioned how important it is to know your client. Even if your position is Sub-DBA In Charge of Dropping Indexes That Start With The Letter Z, you still have a customer (Sub-DBA In Charge Of Dropping Indexes That Start With The Letters N-Z, of course). Not just your boss, but the business that is counting on you to do your job in order to make a profit. And you may provide an exceptional level of service. Perhaps you spend countless hours whittling away at explain plans until a five page Cognos query is as pure as the driven snow and runs in the millisecond range. But it’s not just what you do, but how you do it that is important.
I want you to try something. And if you already do this, good on you. Next time you get a phone call request from someone at your work, or have a phone meeting, or someone sends you a chat asking you to do something, I want you to send a brief email back (we call this an “ack” in technical terms) that acknowledges their request, re-lists what they need in your own words (and preferably with bullets), and lists any additional requirements or caveats. Also let them know how long it will take. Make sure you don’t underestimate, it’s better to quote too much time and get it to them early. Once you’ve finished the work, write a recap email. “As we discussed,” you might say, “I have created the five hundred gazillion tables you need and renamed the table PBRDNY13 to PBRDNY13X.” Adding, of course, “Please let me know if you have any other requests.”
If the task you did involves a new connection, provide them the details (maybe even in the form of a TNSNAMES). If there are unanswered questions, spell them out. If you have an idea that could make the whole process easier next time, run it by them. Provide that level of experience on at least one task you accomplish for your customer if you do not already, and let me know if it had any impact that you can tell. Now do it consistently.
From what I’ve seen, this is what separates the “workers” from the “rockstars.” It’s not the ability to fix problems faster than a speeding bullet (though that helps, as a service that sells itself), but the ability to properly communicate the process and give people a good expectation that they can count on.
There’s a lot more to it than that, I know. And some of you may say that you lack the time to have this level of care for every request that comes your way. Perhaps you’re right, or perhaps you’re suffering from IT Stockholm Syndrome. Either way, just give it a shot. I bet it will make a difference, at least most of the time.
Recently, I became the Director of Customer Education and Experience at Delphix, a job that I am deeply honored to have. Delphix is absolutely a product that arouses within customers an eager want, it solves complex business problems, has an amazing delivery infrastructure in the Professional Services team, and provides top notch support thereafter. A solid recipe for Customer Experience if there ever was one. But it’s not just about the taste of the meal, it’s about presentation as well. And so it is my goal to continuously build an industrialized, scalable, repeatable, and enjoyable experience for those who decide to invest their dollar on what I believe to be an amazing product. Simply put, I want to impart on them the same enthusiasm and confidence in our product that I have.
I hope you have the chance to do the same for your product, whatever it may be.