As time moves forward, Apple’s business continues to show the future in its rear-view mirror. Take its decades long focus on building customer trust, for example.
The human interface
Customer experience always matters at Apple. Yes, it’s made mistakes: the butterfly keyboard, on-device content monitoring, Siri surveillance/grading, and the years in which the company lost its focus on the Mac all stretched customer relationships.
Its subsequent decision to abandon most of these directions shows the extent to which the company learns from its errors. Apple understands that good customer experiences foster strong customer relationships and drive future business. And that may position the company well for any forays into virtual reality in the months and years ahead.
A recent PwC survey exploring the nature of trust cites multiple pillars to this virtual currency: data protection, ethical business practices, treating employees well, and admitting to errors are seen as most important to consumers, employees, and business leaders. But going beyond stated commitments, taking steps to address income inequality, authenticity, and finding a balance between profit and purpose are also foundational.
Apple ticks a lot of these boxes, though doesn’t admit to mistakes as well as it should and isn’t famed for transparency. All the same, the focus on building trusted relationships has been central since the second coming of Steve Jobs. It is a core value Jobs’ successor as CEO, Tim Cook, has maintained.
Why focus on trust?
Cook explained it once: “Technology will only work if it has people’s trust.”
He was referring to the need to protect customer privacy, but it pretty much applies everywhere else.
As we emerge from the pandemic into a world characterized by climate emergencies and rampant inequality, it’s clear that trust will be one of the pillars on which recovery will be made. If trust is a currency, it’s a currency Apple banks on as necessary in every customer relationship, from the smallest store to the largest $3 trillion brand (intermittently Apple).
This applies in every venture. Take publishing — looking forward to 2022, IDG Senior Director & Head of Consumer Lauren Palmer notes the importance of trusted relationships between publishers, advertisers. and audiences.
Relationships matter. And Apple’s work to build relationships should be a lesson for any business in any field, including in tech. The values that engender such trust can’t simply be bolted onto an existing business; they must be baked in by design.
Think about Apple retail
I can still recall when we learned of Apple’s plan to launch retail stores. Critics, media, and analysts all said these plans would fail. But they did not fail.
Because Apple focused its retail efforts on building trust, rather than building sales. During a store visit, retail staff took time to figure out what you need, rather than upselling you. The company may even have a secret “surprise and delight” policy to boost store experiences.
Tim Kobe, of Eight Design, helped design the first Apple retail stores. Writing in 2019, he explained how Apple approached the task:
“What the Apple work helped develop was making the store a brand tool that could convey aspects of the brand that were previously left to a communications role. You can feel what the Apple brand is by the experience you have in the space. Now more companies see their stores as brand touch points, rather than just a transaction space,” he said.
Most retailers now talk about omnichannel marketing. Apple’s done this from the start. It also means Apple’s retail stores are among the most profitable in the world.
That kind of relationship building is what builds the customer connection.
Customer experience design
That drive to build relationships is baked into every part of Apple’s customer journey – from the OS to the packaging. Every interaction is important. Apple understood this long before many business leaders began thinking about it. Consider why tens of thousands of Apple product fans watch unboxing videos — it’s part of the journey, too.
This forest of positive interaction is why other big tech firms entering the retail space have failed to match Apple’s success. They always find that delivering trusted experiences requires more than shoving a tree, a couple of pine tables, and a catwalk of attractive store assistants in a souped-up retail unit.
To succeed, they must focus deeply on authentic customer experience design.
So, what about Apple in the metaverse?
But what this sermon’s really been about is how any company in any field should look deeply at what the iPhone maker does to understand where they can improve their own business.
After all, in the fast-changing business environment of the “interesting times” we all currently share on this planet, it makes complete sense to focus on building these trusted emotional connections that will help keep your business resilient and sustainable in an uncertain tomorrow.
It’s also a unique weapon Apple can and almost certainly will deploy when it enters the war of the (virtual) worlds later this year. After all, if you can trust the company in this world, who will you trust in the metaverse? A company that loots your personal data, or one that seeks to protect it?
Like I said, trust is a currency. For Apple’s business, it is money in the bank. It was designed that way.