Monday, March 08, 2004

Would your (external or internal) customers sleep on the street to get your products or services?

Wired News pointed me to this item about the recent opening of the Apple store in San Francisco. More than 300 people camped out over one or two nights to be the first people in the doors when the store officially opened. Lest you think this is an isolated incident, see this Wired News article about the opening of the Tokyo store. There, the line stretched for 10 city blocks and was estimated to be made up of 2500 to 5000 people.

What inspires such extreme customer loyalty, and how can other companies harness that? A few clues come from an email by Ulan McKnight, who camped out for two nights and was the first person in the store. He wrote, "Those of us who think of our Macs as more than tools to get the job done understand that there is a bit of art that goes into everything Apple does. We stand in line because, in the simplest terms, we appreciate the art Apple creates."

We're not used to using the term art to describe consumer products. But maybe we should be. There is art in good design, in products or services that are not just beautiful or efficient but both.

There is art in the way the Apple computer and operating software, designed by the same people, integrate smoothly without crashing, and in the way the operating system ships with settings that could compromise security automatically turned off. There is art in the details--how the charger plug for the Powerbook has a light that turns color when the laptop is finished charging, and in the cool swooping motion a window makes when it's minimized.

What is art without an audience? The art Apple creates is art with a purpose. It is not art for art's sake, but art for someone, i.e. the consumer. Apple inspires such loyalty in its customers because its focus is absolutely customer-based, putting quality above profits. The company seems to constantly ask, What would work better for the consumer? What would he or she like?

That attitude is certainly something your company or department can emulate. We all need to make money, and Apple could probably stand to focus a little more on gaining marketshare, but customers can sniff out whether you're truly interested in them or just in the money they hold in their hand. (Or, in the case of internal customers, the numbers they represent).

Create high-quality, well designed products and services that work smoothly together, integrate easily, and protect your customers' best interests; focus on the details; and be driven by your customers' wants and needs. Then you won't have to force them to buy your products or use your services. They'll beat a path to your door, like Apple's.

(If you're thinking you're off the hook because your training department doesn't offer any external products or services, consider that this advice applies just as much for products and services offered internally. For example, classroom training, Web-based training, training manuals, synchronous online learning events, and so forth. )

No comments: