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What the Muses Deign, #1: “The Focus Thing”

by Porruka, Editor, porruka@macedition.com

Welcome to the new home of what used to be on the front page of MacEdition; namely, whatever comes to what’s left of a mind of the MacEdition editor. On a somewhat regular basis, this space will be filled with text, possibly relating to recent or upcoming content on MacEdition, and other times, well, hopefully it will at least be interesting reading.

Today, it’s “The Focus Thing”.

What is it?

What is “The Focus Thing”? It’s a basic concept, that of knowing your goal and doing what you need to do to achieve that goal. So many times it happens that people, projects, whole companies lose “The Focus Thing” and get wrapped up in day-to-day events, side projects, or entirely different circumstances, all of which prevent reaching the goal, whatever it is.

Yeah, yeah, blah blah blah. What of it?

How many people stop to think what Michael Dell’s goal is? Is it to sell the most Intel-compatible computers? Nope, even though he's damn good at that. It’s this: “... to be the most successful computer company in the world at delivering the best customer experience in markets we serve.” Uh oh. The dreaded “vision statement”. Yup, sometimes that’s a good indicator of where focus is intended to be. So Michael Dell (or at least the corporate consultant who probably helped shape this statement) believes that the “best customer experience” is essential. Bravo.

What about Ted Waitt, Chairman of Gateway? Well, the example his company sets certainly looks impressive. Gateway even has a little missive which includes this nugget: “An unyielding focus on building relationships with our customers.” Sounds pretty focused, huh? At least to the extent that any declaration of values can be. (Don’t they all sound impressive when you read them, though?)

Now, this is a web site primarily dedicated to Apple and the Macintosh, right? So what about Steve Jobs and Apple – what do they stand for? What focus drives that company? Interestingly enough, it’s hard to tell. There’s always this from Apple Investor Relations (and at the end of all the Apple press releases):

Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh. Apple is committed to bringing the best personal computing experience to students, educators, creative professionals and consumers around the world through its innovative hardware, software and Internet offerings.

Hardware, software, Internet.

Perhaps looking at the “hiring”; section of the Apple web site will enlighten a bit more; after all, that’s where Gateway’s focus was found. Actually, no, there doesn’t seem to be any more of a mission statement there than was found at the Investor Relations site. Perhaps the focus is somewhere more obvious, somehow more pervasive. “Think Different”? We’re always looking for individuals who think they can change the world ... because they are the ones who do?

It really does appear that the new and improved Apple is focusing on the instrument rather than the tune, at least externally. Interestingly enough, a company’s stated intention winds up being fairly accurate. What does that say about Apple?

You mean there was a point to all this rambling?

Our friends over at Go2Mac.com have some interesting statistics: Dell tops a recent customer satisfaction survey. Gateway follows closely at number two. Apple ties with IBM at number three.

Apple used to be consistently at the top of customer satisfaction surveys (and customer loyalty, too). Yet, even rejuvenated as the company is, customer service appears to be slipping. This can be seen anecdotally, with the rather visible report of poor handling of a customer problem. Of course, backups of critical data are always preferred, but one of Apple’s driving goals over the years in human-machine interaction was to “prevent errors before they happen, or warn the user before, not after”. This is one of the essential differences between the Mac OS and lookalikes. You’d think Apple would apply the same principle to human-human interaction on the support lines. Even so, maybe customer service isn’t all that important. Perhaps being third is good enough, because remember, Apple appears to be focusing on “hardware, software, Internet offerings”, and is quite profitable again and growing, thanks to that focus on spiffy machines. Sooner or later, the customer relationship will come back to haunt Apple. It always does.

When that happens, does Apple really want to be known for focusing on “hardware, software, and Internet offerings”?

[Addendum: In even the short time between when this article was written and published, Gateway has reinforced its dedication to what it considers important. While this is just a press release and the proof of any philosophy is in the execution, “People Rule” sure sounds like a winning approach.]

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