CEO as Chief Experience Officer

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ux tools

In today’s changing business landscape, user experience (UX) is quickly becoming a key differentiator allowing brands to cut through the noise and create a unique value proposition for their customers. It makes sense; what could be more valuable to a customer than having a great experience?

Within major corporations, if addressed at all, UX has traditionally been siloed within product and design teams instead of being treated as a company-wide initiative. UX is vital not only for product teams, but also for marketing, sales, customer service, and even HR. (Employees are users too–EX as we call it at GA!)

When examining some of the standout brands that have adopted a more holistic strategy around user experience, the results are strikingly clear. Almost every one of today’s most valuable companies is run by a CEO who puts user experience first–Chief Experience Officers. Let’s look at a few examples:

1. Slack

Slack CEO, Stewart Butterfield (Source: MIT Technology Review)

An example of the triumph of UX in the B2B world is Slack, a company that has risen from obscurity to a recent $2.8 billion valuation. And what does Slack offer? It is a messaging app for enterprise. Seems like a simple enough concept, but the key differentiator is–you guessed it!–user experience. Slack is refreshingly not like most other enterprise software in that its interface is fun, light, and friendly. But the tools are still incredibly powerful and useful. This phenomenon is known as the “consumerization” of B2B solutions.

Slack made a bet that business customers would want the same sort of enjoyable experience at work that they were used to getting in their personal lives. That unique approach has paid off. The Slack software isn’t different than most other chat apps–it’s the experience that is so different and special.

A Wired profile of CEO Stewart Butterfield explained his strategy to use great UX to almost “sneak” his software into enterprises that are generally resistant to accommodating new systems. “The idea is that it will get so popular inside organizations that IT departments will have to embrace it.”

2. Apple

tim cook steve jobs

Apple CEO, Tim Cook and former Apple CEO and founder, the late Steve Jobs (Source: Fast Company)

The most valuable company in the world is Apple Inc., and many believe their wild success can be attributed almost entirely to providing a superior user experience in every way. Each and every interaction that a user has with Apple is designed specifically and purposefully. Products like the iPhone are crafted meticulously–-they go so far beyond “functional” that they transcend into what Apple calls “magical.”

But it’s not just the products themselves, it’s everything about the experience. Going into an Apple Store, opening the box when you get home, visiting the Genius Bar when there is an issue–-these are all part of a larger strategy to provide an incredible UX. Apple has proven that customer loyalty is earned through positive experiences and that consumers are willing to pay a premium for superior experience.

It is no mystery that Steve Jobs was incredibly passionate about customers, long before “UX” was a common term. As CEO, he prioritized quality and “magic” above all else, and built an incredible legacy in the process. He said, “Our DNA is as a consumer company–for that individual customer who’s voting thumbs up or thumbs down. That’s who we think about. And we think that our job is to take responsibility for the complete user experience. And if it’s not up to par, it’s our fault, plain and simple.” 

That ethos became ingrained into the company culture, and current Apple CEO, Tim Cook, a disciple of Jobs, has continued the tradition. As a result, Apple’s revenue has more than doubled since Cook took over after Jobs’s death in 2011.

3. Uber

Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick (Source: Forbes)

Another example of a fast growing company built around a great UX is Uber. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick actually compares his outlook to Apple’s. He was quoted in a Fast Company interview as saying, “Uber is efficiency with elegance on top. That’s why I buy an iPhone instead of an average cell phone, why I go to a nice restaurant and pay a little bit more. It’s for the experience.”

How does Uber achieve a great UX? There are some seemingly obvious answers: hailing a ride with your phone, paying with your phone, entering your destination with your phone–all these things make for a better ride than a normal taxi.  That’s what Kalanick is referring to when he says “efficiency.”

However, legacy taxi companies are catching up with their own hailing and payment apps. So how does Uber stay ahead when the product itself can (and will) be so easily copied and ultimately commoditized? That’s where the “elegance” comes in. Riding in a car with an Uber driver is a fundamentally better experience than with an average taxi driver.

In order to hail an Uber, you must rate your previous driver using 1-5 stars (5 being the best). Uber holds their drivers to an incredibly high standard; if a driver’s average rating dips too low (somewhere around 4.5), Uber will pull them off the road. To maintain such a high rating, the driver is incentivized to give you a great ride every time. It’s such an elegant solution, especially for a company where 99% of the employees are independent contractors with no managers!

The driver, the user, and the company are all aligned so that a great UX benefits everyone. Riders want a great experience. Drivers want happy riders in order to keep their job. Uber wants happy drivers in order to grow their business.

4. Amazon

(Source: Amazon)

Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos (Source: Forbes)

The last example is Amazon. Amazon is consistently named when I ask people to give me examples of outstanding UX. Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is known for being obsessed with his customers. (Note: Are you seeing a common theme among these CEOs?) Not only does Amazon provide amazing products and services, but Bezos has gone so far as to use the company’s would-be profits to lower prices on the site.

Instead of spending on marketing, paying dividends to investors, or even showing a profit, he has used those extra funds to subsidize prices for consumers, which makes for a better UX, which in turn drives more customer loyalty. It’s a perfect example of truly putting your users’ best interest ahead of your company goals. This sort of “pay it forward” attitude is what allows Amazon to have such a rabid and growing user base.

Conclusion

These four companies are admired for their success, and they all have one important thing in common: CEOs that prioritize the customer over all else and make the users’ experience an essential part of the company culture.

Here’s an actionable way to get started down the path to user-centric thinking: Every time you are about to start a sentence with “we,” meaning the company, try starting with “the customer” instead.

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