The Customer Experience

 The best products marry technology and customer experience.

Recently I went to an “innovation thinking” event at the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum, organized by my friend Jeremy Epstein (@jer979). It was a rare opportunity to get out of the office for a few hours mid-week, immerse myself in a completely different world and think about innovation with new eyes. All in all it was a great experience.

Our guide was a distinguished Navy Admiral who led us to key aircraft, and as we gathered around him he told us each airplane’s story. One of the most famous, and undoubtedly beautiful aircraft in the museum is the Concorde. *

As we stood under its nose our guide told us that the Concorde was a “technological wonder, but a financial blunder.” He explained that it failed because it could only carry 100 passengers and very little cargo (relative to the huge 747) and was expensive to operate and maintain.

What he didn’t mention was that the Concorde was in service for almost 30 years, and had one of the best safety records of any aircraft in history. It was actually the tragic crash of an Air France Concorde in August of 2000, coupled with the impact of 9/11 on the economy and air travel,  that put the Concorde out of business.

When we think about Innovation, we tend to think of technology:  iPad, Tesla Roadster, Virgin Galactic.  We rarely think of Innovation in terms of the Customer Experience. Perhaps this is because the most innovative products marry technology and customer experience into something that feels like one thing.

The Concorde was not just a technology. It was a global brand. It was a highly skilled workforce. It was an Experience – a remarkable Experience  coupled with remarkable technology.

Clearly the Concorde was a technological wonder. And when a business fails, whatever the reason, it’s probably going to get labeled as a financial “blunder.”

But the story of the Concorde reminded me just how important it is for businesses to focus on the Customer Experience as the point of differentiation, and not the technology alone. If you have flown commercially over the past 15 years, I expect you’ll agree that the Customer Experience is lousy for most passengers on most flights. It’s almost as if the airlines want to demonstrate just how miserable business is for them by going out of their way to make sure their passengers are miserable too.