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.
And now Apple Maps has let them down. A true Apple fanboy would say that iPhone users are blowing things out of proportion — it’s just one app, after all, and how much of it is really broken anyway? But let’s face it: A mobile map that could fail at any moment isn’t really a map at all. And let’s not forget that maps are central to the functionality and value of those expensive smartphones Apple sells.
The bottom line is the Great Apple Maps Debacle Of 2012 has the potential to erode the trust that Jobs built with customers and the Apple brand right along with it. Will it? That depends on two things.
The first is Apple’s ability to set expectations that are aligned with its capability to deliver. In his apology letter from last Friday, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “At Apple, we strive to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible to our customers,” and, “Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world.” Statements like these, plus Apple’s near-sterling track record over the past decade, have raised the bar for its customer experience incredibly high. And while Apple customers are willing to brush off flops like MobileMe and even the grueling process of purchasing newly released devices, they clearly aren’t so forgiving when it comes to the experience of using Apple’s core products. With one strike against him, Cook needs to prove that Apple can deliver on customers’ expectations in a post-Jobs world.
The second is Apple’s ability to maintain the customer- and design-centric culture that Jobs developed. That’s because a great customer experience — and, in turn, a great brand — depend on a great organization, not on the efforts of one CEO or rock-star designer. Apple is incredibly secretive, so it’s hard to know exactly what happens down in Cupertino, but I have to wonder: How has the Apple culture changed since Jobs’ departure and death? Is the pressure that Jobs seemingly put on his staff to achieve near perfection now gone? Is Apple Maps the first of many places that Apple will start to cut corners?
Only time will help us answer these questions. In the meantime, I’ll be rooting for Apple and following Tim Cook’s advice to add the Google Maps web app to my home screen.