How simple should it be? Insanely simple. Please don’t complicate it.

I was invited to a conference at Imperial College last week – my old college from a few years back – given by Ken Segall, the author of “Insanely Simple, The Obsession That Drives Apple.”.  The conference was part of the Business Leaders Network (BLN) CEO Tales series of talks and kindly arranged by Mark Littlewood and his team.

As strange as it was sitting in the chemistry lecture hall, for a physicist from Imperial, it was a superb evening. Ken’s talk was inspirational and gave some unique insights into that amazing company that is Apple.

For more info on Ken you can visit his own blog and web site at…

Some great quotes from Ken’s talk were:

  1. “The customers’ job is to be amazed by our products.”
  2. “Apple is all about passion, simplicity and technology.”
  3. “You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.”
  4. “Simplicity is not a trend. Simplicity is permanent.”

Number 2 is mine but fits the general theme of the evening and Ken’s talk.

The most profound thought for me was this:

Simplicity = Brains + Common Sense

It really does sound so simple.  What do customers actually want?  Things to work, products they like and good service – that’s it.  But too many companies get bogged down in complexity – the world is by it’s very nature complex and we are, but simplicity is where we want to be.  Too often I hear of companies saying they can’t do x, y and z because of their processes and the individual you’re speaking to is given no leeway with processes – they have to be followed, or else!  Why?  Surely the processes exist to ultimately find and retain customers.  Banks are a prime example of this.  A great example this week, trying to reset the password for an online account of Mrs. Noble and being told we then had to be sent the new password in the post.  Say what?  It’s an online account.  But processes were in place and it seemed there was no way around them.  Even trying to then close the account provided a challenge, though we got there eventually.  A surprising call from the customer complaints team the next day who couldn’t believe how the call had gone and were very apologetic.  These guys weren’t all singing from the same song sheet.

This call could have been handled so differently – the results were the same, but the reluctance to listen and to stick with complex processes that no-one quite knows why they’re there, is a common problem.  Thankfully it’s one Apple have dealt with and simplicity is at the very heart of their culture.

On a similar theme, the Apple Store in the Bentalls Centre in Kingston-upon-Thames, has undergone a facelift recently.  The store has been expanded and whilst expanding their moved upstairs they borrowed someone else’s shop.  Temporarily smaller, but the same great Apple experience and recession or not, the same high volume of shoppers in there and coming out with lots of new “i” somethings.  The new shop opened this Saturday and by complete fluke we went in to sort out an iPad problem.  Booking made for a genius appointment about 45 minutes before the slot and very painless on Apple’s support web-site.  Booking slot missed, as we were late but no problems, rebooked there and then by a friendly staff member and seen within 2 minutes of arriving.  Nice!

I’ll sidetrack a little to fill in gaps about the iPad problem – as it also nicely illustrates how good Apple are.  We bought our iPad back in 2010 when they first came out, and it’s been working perfectly and kept in perfect condition (touch wood) despite being actively used by the 2 growing up fast little Nobles.  It had to be replaced earlier this year as the screen was scratched by a car game that we bought in the Apple Shop.  Not their fault but they sold the product that caused the damage (when it shouldn’t have) and they swapped it no questions.  The replacement one has had issues with the USB connection since we got it but it’s taken me until now to go back with it – and 5 months after replacement it’s well outside of the normal replacement warranty.  The Apple genius listens, says he needs to check if they can swap it, comes back in 2 minutes and sorted – swapped at no cost and the replacement has another 90 day warranty.  This sort of service is exceptional, no-one else does this.  And this is why the shop is always so busy – people get this type of service and great products.

Back to the shop expansion itself, this was the morning the newly refurbished shop opened.  And wow, it’s nice.  Still the same amount of shelves selling kit but twice as many tables now for people to talk to Apple staff on and try out products.  And – and this is the good bit – more than twice (at least it looked that many) the previous number of staff in the shop all helping people.  This expansion has all been about expanding the service, it’s so very clever and very simple.

They even now have 2 kids tables set up, with kid’s cool chair things and lots of new iPads for them to play with, with kid’s games installed.  Again a very simple idea.

Apple do it right.  Sure I’m a huge fan but there’s a reason – these guys are passionate about technology and service and the customer, and so am I.

And finally a link to some pictures from Ken’s talk last week and a write up from the BLN.  Thanks Mark for the invite and a very enjoyable evening.

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