Apple and Tomatos

I hate tomatoes with the fire of a thousand burning suns. I like hot sauce and ketchup and spaghetti, but fresh tomatoes of any sort make me want to jab a spork in to my eyeball. For the purposes of the coming story, it important to know that I prefer fireants, poison ivy, and the flu to tomatoes.

So, last Friday night I drove over to Taco Bueno (fast food tex mex) for some “dinner”. It had been a long week and I was looking forward to the weekend. I was pretty burnt out reading all of the various odes to Steve Jobs during the week, mostly because they pretty much all said the same thing. I had resolved myself to not entering the conversation because I figured the three people who read this blog were likely burnt out as well. But while I was at Taco Bueno, a few things occurred to me about Jobs and Apple and how they fit in to the bigger context of business and customer satisfaction. I decided I would share them here.

I pulled in to Taco Bueno and had a predictable fast food experience. I ordered a combo of tacos and a quesadilla with no tomatoes. I confirmed with the girl taking the order, no tomatoes. The screen said “No Tomatoes.” The Receipt said “No tomatoes.” And of course there were tomatoes on the tacos. As my dad would say, “it’s a fast food place at 10pm on a Friday….what do you expect?” My opinion is that it shouldn’t be that hard to NOT put tomatoes on the taco as was requested.

Even further, considering the costs of food and the margins in the food business, I would think that management should be pushing employees to not put anything on the taco/sandwich/burger that the customer doesn’t want. Tomatoes aren’t cheap. Imagine that a Burger King product has a nickel’s worth of tomato slices on it. Imagine 100,000 orders per day around the world ask for “no tomatoes.” That’s five grand. Over the course of the year that’s 1.825 MILLION DOLLARS (!!!) wasted on tomatoes.

Anyway, as I sat in the drive thru lane picking the tomatoes off of my tacos and tossing them out the window I had a bit of a revelation about the appeal not only of Apple’s products but also of the way they do business. I have an iPhone, iPad and a Mac and I adore them. They look cool and the cool kids have Macs and people look longingly at my white iPhone when I’m in Starbucks and I’m a gadget snob….but the reason I like APple products is because they never have “tomatoes.” In other words, when use my Macbook or my iPhone or my iPad, I get exactly what I asked for and exactly what I expected. There is nothing extra and unknown there to excite me just as there is nothing I hoped for that is missing. I know what I’m getting every time I interact with the device.

A lot is made in the business world of “exceeding expectations.” Seth Godin says that the “extra thing we do is what makes people remark about your company…the extra thing makes your company remarkable.” There are mantras about “underpromising and overdelivering.” There are edicts about doing something unexpected for the customer that makes you stick out. In my view, Apple didn’t do anything like that. Instead of focusing on doing something extra or unexpected, the folks in Cupertino went out of their way to make sure their products delivered exactly what was expected every time. Having flash on the iPad would have been “unexpected” and led to great joy. But it didn’t matter because the functionality that was promised worked so well. Having a 4G iPhone would have been “unexpected” but that too didn’t matter because the phone worked great anyway. I love my iPhone because I don’t have to pull the battery twice a day when the OS is hung up. I love my MacBook because OSX makes installing programs a breeze and allows me to have multiple workspaces open at once and does 100 other things VERY WELL, EVERY TIME. Neither device does everything I want it to do. But it does everything APple promised me it would do and it does it very well, every time.

As to the idea of adding something extra, why not make the “something extra” part of what you do anyway? Does Dell really need to throw in a free laptop case to make you feel good about buying a laptop from them? Why not just make the laptop awesome in the first place. Does Overnight Prints really need to offer me sports memorabilia as a “bonus” when I’ve purchased enough business cards? Why not spend those resources making sure my order ships on time instead? Having excellent customer service like Zappos isn’t “extra”, it’s the very pillar of their business. Apple is able to sell products that people love at high prices without having in to throw in something extra. The person buying the product knows what they are getting and – by virtue of their purchase – they have declared “this is enough.”

The reason you give someone something “extra” is because you worry that what you agreed upon earlier isn’t good enough or special enough. Its a hedge against the customer’s possible disappointment. Instead of wasting resources on doing something extra, why not focus on doing what is expected correctly? WHy not focus on keeping tomatoes off of my tacos when I ask? Why not focus on meeting expectations in a way that your customer says “I can count on that company EVERY TIME.” You shouldn’t have to toss in something unexpected to get your customer’s attention. Apple doesn’t have to, why should you?

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