Given the late Steve Jobs’ (and it’s still strange to write that) famous statement it’s not the customer’s job to know what they want — does that, on its face, mean Apple rejects the theory of customer focus?
Of course not. Apple knows what many confuse:
FIrst, organizations must make the decision to be customer/client focused. This is a critical choice, one many professionals and organizations refuse or — because of inaction — decline to make.
It’s the financial advisor who chooses the practice will be about the client, not about investment tools. It’s the airline that decides it’s all about getting passengers to their destinations, not the planes.
It’s important to note, “focus” does not mean you eliminate all other aspects. Advisors had still better know the investment tools, and airlines have to darn sure understand how to fly and maintain the aircraft. Focus is best defined as “the act of concentrating interest or activity on something; of paying particular interest to stimulate thought and action.” (from Dictionary.com)
Customer focus means you concentrate your interests and thoughts chiefly on your customers. You do this in order to stimulate you to take action on their behalf that will, in turn, enhance your ability to profitably obtain and retain their business over an extended period of time.
Which means there is a second decision about customer focus: will you be a focused leader, or a focused follower?
Sony, Dell, HP, and others probably held focus groups with laptop customers. They asked them what they wanted in future products. Most likely, the responses were, “lighter, thinner, easier to carry, more battery life, more memory, bigger hard drive.”
“Ah ha!” they exclaimed while patting themselves on the back for being so customer focused. “Now we know what our customers really want!” And, they set about engineering lighter, thinner, more powerful versions of products they had already created.
That’s being a focused follower — we learn what our customers want, take what we already have, and modify it to give them what they have told us they desire.
Apple on the other hand took the same information — and, come on, do you really have to assemble a focus group to figure that one out? — and said, “What if our customers are saying they want a lighter, thinner, more powerful device? Why does that device have to be a laptop? What if we created something insanely great unlike what they’ve used before?” Hence, the iPad.
It’s not that Apple wasn’t customer focused — it is that they weren’t focused followers. It’s just inherently wrong to suggest that having a “customer focus” means you’ll respond to whims for what customers may momentarily have the hots to have.
Customer focused leadership is learning what our customers want, and delivering a distinctive solution that may even go beyond our customer’s initial or momentary desires.
More to come on this in the next few days…and I would love to hear what you think!