I was reminded of the importance of the customer experience while watching this video of Steve Jobs at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in 1997. In the video, Jobs appears to be responding to an attack but is actually doing something much more interesting. He thinks carefully and makes a critical philosophical point about his – and Apple’s – approach to creating new products.

It’s five minutes long and worth watching ..

Here are the juicy bits ….

Question: I would like, for example, for you to express in clear terms how, say java, in any of it’s incarnations, addresses the idea (inaudible). And when you’re finished with that, perhaps you could tell us what you personally have been doing for the last 7 years.

Steve: You know, you can please some of the people some of the time, but…. One of the hardest things when you’re trying to effect change is that people like this gentleman are right in some areas.

The hardest thing is: how does that fit in to a cohesive, larger vision, that’s going to allow you to sell 8 billion dollars, 10 billion dollars of product a year? And, one of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards for the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it. And I made this mistake probably more than anybody else in this room. And I got the scar tissue to prove it. And I know that it’s the case.

And as we have tried to come up with a strategy and a vision for Apple, it started with “What incredible benefits can we give to the customer? Where can we take the customer?” Not starting with “Let’s sit down with the engineers and figure out what awesome technology we have and then how are we going to market that?” And I think that’s the right path to take.

Apple embodies this philosophy throughout the customer lifecycle, including being exposed to the product, buying the product, implementing the product, upgrading the product, and getting help with the product. It is Apple’s competitive advantage.

Another leading figure in the tech industry known for their forward-thinking approach to customer-centricity is Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. He has been instrumental in transforming Microsoft’s culture and products around the concept of empathy and understanding user needs. He summarizes it nicely:

“Empathy makes us better innovators. If you look at the most successful products we have created, it comes from us having a deep sense of empathy about the unmet needs of our customers.”

Some companies embody this philosophy deeply in their culture. Slack, Spotify, and Tesla immediately come to mind. The entrepreneurs running these companies are completely obsessed with the consumer experience of their products. At Surveypal we strongly believe that real innovation is driven by consumers, not by large enterprises. This means that if you are working on a product or service, you must also be obsessed with the customer experience.

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