I just ran across this amazing video of Steve Jobs at The 1997 WWDC. It’s amazing to me, because I work at Get Satisfaction, where we provide customer experience software solutions. “What did Steve Jobs have to do with that?” you may ask… Quite a bit, I found out.
I always felt that Steve Jobs was a product first, customer second guy. I don’t mean that in a negative way. I’m a designer, and I feel the power of the products he helped create on a daily basis, personally and professionally. After watching this video and rethinking the hardware and software he helped pioneer, my mind was changed instantaneously. Side note: I realize the video is dated, but that makes it even more powerful to me… He always seemed to be one step ahead, even when things weren’t going so well.
At the time of this video, Jobs had just come back to Apple and wasn’t fully in charge yet. He was cutting lots of product initiatives and was generally restructuring what was to become his great legacy. This is rarely a fun time for internal teams and proponents of product. It must make defending yourself and your business from minute to minute, in a public arena, very difficult; especially for the icon Steve Jobs was and still is. In the video, you can see this happen when an audience member asks a question:
“It’s sad and clear that on several accounts that you’ve discussed, you don’t know what you’re talking about. I would like for example, for you to express in clear terms how, say Java, in any of it’s incarnations, addresses the ideas embodied in OpenDoc… And when you’re finished with that, perhaps you could tell us what you’ve personally been doing for the last seven years.” A fair, high-level question wrapped inside knife twisting comments. The question was actually referencing a topic discussed earlier on.
The air is sucked out of the room while Jobs’ mind races on how to parry.
You can feel him fight every impulse not to get whisked into a technical debate, because that’s what the audience member wanted… A tit for a tat, where he can go back to his buddies, crack open a can of Tab and tell them something like:
“I beat Steve Jobs. Roast a pig and tell a friend on the web forums. I’m going to be famous!” …or infamous as it turns out.
As Steve Jobs must have known, when you are in the spotlight you have to learn how to deal with playground-style attacks; it’s part of the balance of fame.
In the moments after the question you can see the struggle envelop Jobs being. The poignant moment occurs as he refuses to bend to the negativity of the question. Instead, he turns it around to make a profound statement about customer-centricity. He tells the crowd:
“…People like this gentleman, are right, in some areas…” He touches on product and the big picture for a moment and then says:
“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to 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’ve made this mistake probably more than anybody else in this room. And I’ve got the scars to prove it.”
I hear the benefits of customer experience on a daily basis, but coming from arguably the largest business icon of our time and in such a strong manner, it just stuck. He then framed Apple’s strategy:
“What incredible benefits can we give to the customer?”
Afterwards, he discussed Apple’s biggest failures and successes in a humble manner and shared his belief that without failures, it is almost impossible to succeed. He also humanized the company by naming his top engineers and how their teams have been toiling (CEO’s: Keep in mind that sharing credit with your team will always build you company loyalty). I watched him wrap up and marveled at how he could always come across to the average Joe.
When I first watched this video I was at work. I leaned back and looked around the room a little bit prouder. I turned around and looked at Wendy Lea, our CEO, who sits in the seat behind mine as she doesn’t have an office. Almost everyone at Get Satisfaction is on the main floor, which creates a fluidity of ideas, and general mingling. I then thought a minute about how unique my coworkers are, and it reminded me of something Vala Afshar said at Dreamforce 2013: “What you want to do to build a remarkable company is to hire and keep memorable people, train them, give them the best tools, and then empower them to delight.”
This video hit home for me. I work on a product that backs up what Steve was espousing and does just what Vala was talking about. Minute by minute, our customer success team and our community managers engage in conversations and then relay them to the the rest of our departments; product, sales, marketing, and engineering, all for self improvement and all with our own product. We don’t just sell this product, our company is built on it. It’s an awesome business model, and one that I’m proud of.
Thank you to the late, great Steve Jobs for pointing out the importance of the customer’s voice and for leaving us with his amazing legacy.
If you don’t know what a customer community is and how it can help you build a a more customer-centric organization, I would start by reading The 5 Minute Guide To Branded Customer Communities. For a more in-depth look at how your organization can use Get Satisfaction to lower support costs, watch the TSIA webinar: The ROI of Social Support With Customer Community.