How To Profit From Customer Problems

This summer, I vacationed in Redwoods National Park on the northern coast of California. Each day, my husband and I enjoyed peaceful hikes among the awe-inspiring trees that towered several hundred feet above us. But one thing caught me off guard: Far more often than I had anticipated, we encountered redwoods ripped from their roots, sprawled horizontally across the forest floor. Most had taken several other trees down with them. At first, I lamented the fate of each of these fallen giants. How unfortunate, I thought, that such a magnificent redwood would grow for half of a millennium, only to be toppled over in an unforgiving windstorm or to have its base weakened by fire.

And then I realized that the fallen trees might actually be a good thing. Standing at the base of each upended root system and looking up toward the sky, I could see a hole punched in the canopy above me that allowed rays of sunlight to reach the forest floor. I’m no biologist, but the sunlight seemed to encourage lush undergrowth that was absent elsewhere. Informational signs confirmed my suspicions: “Massive logs crisscross the forest floor, holding soils in place. Dozens of species of insects, birds, and mammals use them for shelter and food over the centuries of decay. Tanoaks, hemlocks, ferns, and huckleberries sprout on the nurse logs . . . Insects and bacteria live and feed on the wood.”

Reflecting back on my hikes through the redwood forest, I can’t help but wonder: What do most companies do when they encounter the customer experience equivalent of a fallen tree?

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Will The Apple Maps Experience Destroy The Apple Brand?

Customer experience evangelists like to focus on how customer experience aligns beautifully with business metrics like increased revenue, brand equity, and cost savings. That’s all true. And we’ve got the data to prove it.

But the reality is that producing amazing customer experiences can require tradeoffs, like, say, delaying the launch of a key product (and its related revenue) or doubling your development staff (and your related budget) to meet that launch date. These are tough tradeoffs — and they’re ones that companies are often unprepared to make in light of greater business pressures.

Clearly Apple needed to move away from Google Maps. Relying on a competitor to provide such core mobile functionality was not a viable long-term strategy, and someone at Apple decided that the switch would happen in iOS 6. Somewhere along the line, that same someone realized that Maps wasn’t quite ready for primetime — and chose to sacrifice the short-term mapping experience to meet its launch target.

It’s a decision that I believe goes against what Steve Jobs — who always put the customer experience first — would have done if he were alive today. And, for the record, I don’t think Jobs would have delayed the launch. I think he would have cracked the whip to make sure Maps was ready in time.

That’s because Steve Jobs defined a clear customer experience strategy for Apple: providing the most incredible possible experience and commanding a premium price for it. Under Jobs’ watch, nothing left the shelves until it was pixel perfect. It’s what made Apple famous, and it’s what its legions of loyal customers across the world expect.

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