The Gist

  • Bespoke approach. Jobs' dedication to creating a unique call center experience highlights the importance of brand-building innovation in the CX space.
  • FaceTime launch. Jobs has persistence in the power of fighting for seemingly impossible ideas.
  • Speedier experience. Jobs' focus was on prioritizing customer needs and expectations over technology alone.

Editor's note: The Steve Jobs Archive is releasing a curated collection of Steve’s speeches, interviews and correspondence, "Make Something Wonderful," for free on April 11.

Right before I turned 30, I moved back to my hometown of Austin, Texas, after making a healthy run at my dream of a music career in Los Angeles. While getting reacquainted with one of my favorite cities, I went to one of the great local clubs there where a friend told me, “Hey, you should apply at Apple — they’re hiring in the contact center.”

A Contact Center Opportunity Awaits

My initial reaction was that I didn’t want to work in a call center … who does? But I decided to give it a shot. The problem was that I hadn’t used a Mac in almost 20 years. So, I rented an iMac and taught myself as much as I could over the weekend before my big interview. The hiring process involved both a technical assessment and an in-person interview. I was certain I failed the technical assessment, but they saw something in me and offered me a chance. 

That decision changed my life. This was in the late 1990s, right after the late Steve Jobs returned as Apple CEO and when the iMac was first released. I worked hard, felt rewarded by helping everyday people solve their problems and climbed the corporate ladder until moving to Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, where I led global support programs for AppleCare, the service and support arm for the brand.

The wisdom I picked up from Jobs, then-COO, now-CEO Tim Cook and Apple in general, changed my professional life so profoundly that it’s hard to imagine where I would be without that experience. And at this juncture in history with ongoing economic uncertainty, when artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to reshape how we purchase goods and services and how we communicate and work, Jobs’ UX and CX lessons have arguably never been more relevant.

With that in mind, here are three stories from Job’s “second coming” era at Apple that the CX space can learn from.

A Bespoke CX for iPhone 1.0

When the first iPhone launched in 2007, Apple already had popular products such as the iPod (released in 2001) and the MacBook (2006). While Jobs and all of us at Apple knew the iPhone was a watershed moment at a different level than past product launches, it was his idea to create a dedicated, bespoke call center to improve the CX for the smartphone’s customers.

Jobs also wanted callers not to be routed through an interactive voice response (IVR) system; he wanted an Apple rep to answer each call within a couple of rings. He pushed us on it, but we convinced him it was too expensive, and we eventually used an IVR. 

But his desire to build a bespoke contact center and cut out the wait time shows how important the brand was to him, and it demonstrates how companies across verticals need to innovate while building their brands. He wanted a differentiating call experience to build the iPhone brand and got it. Apple created a fantastic experience for the customer, and it wasn’t the last time the contact center was at the core of Apple’s CX innovations. 

Related Article: Exploring the Crossroads of User Experience and Customer Experience

FaceTime for Everyone — at Launch!

I’ll never forget the days preceding the iPhone 4’s June 2010 launch, which was the first time Apple would offer the FaceTime feature. Jobs wanted every iPhone 4 customer to be able to make a FaceTime call immediately after buying it, which seemed impossible because most customers wouldn’t have a friend to call who also had the new technology.

But he persisted that iPhone customers deserved the surprise-and-delight of their first video call to happen right away. At that juncture, the AppleCare division fully embraced his focus. We set up a dedicated, 300-person contact center unit for the launch. Our staffers even wore shirts made for the event. 

Learning Opportunities

We had only two weeks to set all of that up. And we pulled it off!

Jobs showed us that some ideas are worth fighting for. And if we ask colleagues to do things they might think are impossible, they will surprise even themselves. Ask any of my leaders or teammates from over the years, and they’ll say that all of that sounds a lot like me because I absorbed Job’s mentality at Apple.

Related Article: Call Centers: What You Can Do to Meet Customer Expectations

A Speedier CX

While I was heavily involved in that accomplishment, it reminds me of a story from Walter Isaacson’s great book, “Steve Jobs,” where Jobs challenged an engineer to shave 10 seconds off the time to boot up the original Macintosh computer in the early 1980s. Jobs challenged the engineer by saying something to the effect: “If you could save someone’s life by eliminating 10 seconds from the boot, could you do it?” The engineer said he would try.

Two weeks later, he had shaved not 10 but 28 seconds off the boot time. Once again, Job’s focus — which could also be described in some instances as tenacity — helped the team achieve an improbable goal in the name of UX and CX.

This anecdote shows that CX leaders must think like a customer rather than a technologist. What would the customer want out of this experience? Brands should have technology that was built with customers’ needs in mind, offering them the type of speed and experience they’ve come to expect whether it’s via a chatbot or a phone call.

What I Ultimately Learned About CX at Apple

In closing, when I applied for an Apple call center job more than two decades ago, I had no clue what I was walking into or what the brand would become. But the culture that Jobs established was critical to me as I developed my customer-centric and leadership skills.

And in today’s complex world, with so much going on, I hope his UX and CX lessons can help you, too.

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