Steve Jobs was a true customer experience and user experience thought leader, wildly and repeatedly successful at transforming the customer experience for millions of customers worldwide, through Apple’s computers, mobile devices, the experience at the Apple Store, and in many other ways.

And his approach was based on a very simple message that he drilled into his team over and over and over: You've got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology--not the other way around.

In other words, the technology sold by Apple, or used by Apple in support of the customer experience, doesn’t have to be invented at Apple. And the technology Apple has lying around at its disposal doesn't have to end up being used.

A company like Apple, and perhaps yours, suffers from almost a surplus of technologically adept employees. But Apple, when it is at its best (which isn't always, unfortunately), refuses to let technological capability drive the customer experience. Siri, to pick just one small example, wasn't developed at Apple. Nor was the mouse, nor was the graphical user interface.

The Apple Store, to pick another example, was envisioned as the best customer experience anywhere (not just the best electronics retailing experience). So Apple benchmarked its customer service not against Best Buy, not against Radio Shack.

Instead, in preparing to open the first Apple Store, Apple chose to benchmark a company in an entirely different industry, hospitality: The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company (a story I tell in detail here).

From its study of the Ritz-Carlton, Apple developed the Genius Bar (a repurposing of the concierge station in the lobby of hotel: just like concierges at the Ritz, the Apple Genius Bar is staffed with empathetic, knowledgeable people who will, so to speak, help you get to where you want to go), as well as their very specific approach to greeting customers as they enter the Apple Store.

There is a very important, and practical, entrepreneurial lesson here: Think about how different your customer experience could be if you channeled Steve Jobs' "intention first, implementation second” attitude and made it integral to your customer experience approach.

A couple examples that might apply to your business:

  • I know you have a cash register. But do you really need to use it? How about entirely doing away with the concept of forcing customers to stand in line for the privilege of paying you?  Tablet-based systems and multi-tasking employees can pull this off and make you never want to look back to the bad old days.
  • Perhaps you have obsolete or semi-obsolete or on-the-brink-of-being-obsolete CRM technology you have in house, have, in fact, invested a fortune into having in-house.  Is it time to reconsider what it would take to actually create the experience you want to provide for customers, as opposed to the experience that you're providing in order to conform to your existing system?
  • What if you made use of one of the ultimate in effective, low-tech approaches and picked up the phone to call a frustrated customer,  rather than watching their issue go through the "proper channels" via your queueing system as you watch that simple customer issue escalate via twitter, email, and live chat?
Published on: Aug 6, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.