Apple hit my customer experience sweet spot, then broke it. Was it down to poor customer experience redesign?

Is your new offering destroying the very value that won your customers in the first place?

The situation…

ipod-miniI’ll never forget Father’s Day 2004… Not only was it my first Father’s Day with the arrival of my son Lucas a few months earlier, I also received my first ever father’s day present, an iPod from my wife. It was my first Apple product.

As a huge music fan, and a faithful Walkman and Discman user over the years, the iPod was a revolution! Being able to take my entire music collection with me in my pocket everywhere I went was amazing. Having the ability to design an infinite number of ‘mix tapes’ (aka playlists) to enjoy anywhere, anytime, was the ultimate in meeting an unarticulated, unmet need. My advocacy for Apple was absolute!

This love was reflected in my many purchases over the years where I acquired everything from iMacs to iPads to Macbooks to iPhones. While all of these devices, and my associated customer experiences, far exceeded the PC / android equivalents, it was the music solution on the iPod and later the iPhone, complemented by iTunes’ library management capability, that sealed the deal.

So what happened?

Fast forward to Saturday 1 October 2016. My iPhone 6S has just downloaded and installed OS10. Conditioned to persevere through a new look and feel every month or two, I figured OS10 was good for me, and that I’d eventually work it out.

In the office the following Monday morning I found myself reassuring a colleague. She was battling to even unlock her phone after her ‘automatic’ OS10 installation left her unable to navigate the passcode screen. “It shouldn’t be this hard. What was wrong with the last interface, or the one before that?” she said. She had a point, but what was the alternative?

Late that afternoon my world came crashing down. A new song playing on my iPhone was grating more than I remembered, so I reached over to open ‘music’, and clicked to reduce its star rating a notch or two. This song was clearly in the wrong smart playlist!

A series of iTunes and iPhone software changes over the years, mean that I’ve gotten used to struggling to find what I’m after. I finally located the ‘current song’ and tapped the screen to reveal the star ratings. Or so I thought. They were gone! I tried a few other things… “It has to be here somewhere; I just have to find it!”.

I turned to Google to see if anyone else had been able to find the star rating function on OS10. What I actually found, were other peoples’ realisation, and subsequent rants, that the star ratings for songs were gone altogether. Gone! Apple had removed the feature that was fundamental to my music library management, as I listen to music on the go. This might seem trivial, but often the hook for a product or service that customers really value is something simple and unexpected, and I was no different.

After 12 years, suddenly the thing that made me fall in love with Apple was gone!

This became one of those moments where I questioned my own sanity. Is it reasonable for me to be pissed off about this? We’re talking about a guy whose favourite cookies, ice-cream flavour, car model and non-iron business shirts have all been discontinued. Is it me who is at fault when the world moves on, or are these suppliers losing touch with what their customers truly value?

Is it reasonable for Apple to release a new handset every year, a new Mac OS every quarter, and a new iPhone OS every 6 weeks? What is the benefit? What is the cost? Are they just changing things because they can, or because they’ve set an expectation? Are there genuine reasons behind the changes? Do they even care what is means for customers?

magic_mouse_chargingWe’re talking about the innovation-gurus that recently released a cordless, battery-less mouse, where the recharge cable plugs into the underside of the mouse rendering it unusable when recharging! You can’t tell me that is customer-centred design!

As a customer, is it possible to stay in a digital space that gives us exactly what we need without having to continually readapt? Is there anything wrong with wanting that?

What can we learn from this in a Customer Experience redesign context?

There is a rule about customer insights. Some change regularly, others are pretty durable. For example, the jobs customers need to ‘get done’ when interacting with your organisation are often stable. What that means is, if you design your new products and customer experiences from scratch (or without customer research) you risk destroying the value you have created in the market to this point. If you have any customers at all, this will be because you offer something they need and value.

Just because you can change your offerings, doesn’t mean you should. Apple has become a slave to the ‘early adoption’, ‘better’, ‘different’, ‘first to market’ game and has lost sight of what’s important in Customer Experience Design. Your products and services must deliver value to your customers. They must solve a problem that matters to them. Even if they are not aware of it or unable to articulate it. They must exploit an opportunity in a way that no-one else does.

Apple did this with the iPod, and the iPhone. As of last Monday, for this customer at least, they have torn it all down. And if I’m ready to break up with Apple over it, what are others thinking? Have you ever felt this way about at organisation that used to meet your needs, but somehow got off track?

I am officially in the market for a new technology provider. Who can step up to the vacated plate? It’s such a shame Samsung phones are catching fire. Maybe I’ll try Google Pixel?

Do you truly understand why your customers currently choose you? How do you balance maintaining the old and introducing the new, without losing the value as customers perceive it? Talk to us at 3rdView about seeing your business through your customers’ eyes and getting the balance right.