When I was in marketing at Apple back in the late 90s, there was this meeting called the Customer Advisory Board. It was organized by the late tech writer Don Crabb. He assembled a group of 30 or so executives from large companies that bought a lot of Apple products. Technically, they were customers, but they weren’t necessarily end users. Their concern about Apple’s survival had more to do with covering their asses about large purchases than vested interest in getting their work done.
For three days they raked us over the coals. Many of the issues they brought up had nothing to do with Apple. A lot of them were still trying to get their head around the Internet. Since most of them were media companies they were probably questioning their own futures.
They insisted Steve Jobs be at the meeting. Since they were all high up in the food chain so they were used to having their demands met. Jobs pretty much ignored their request until the very last hour of the very last day. When he showed up, they were expecting to give him a good talking to.
The first thing Steve Jobs did was tell one of the guys in the front row to put his Newton away. He told the guy he didn’t need to write anything down. He then went on to answer every question they asked, but not with the answers they were looking for. My favorite was when the guy from a major printing company asked, “How are you going to ensure us that Apple will be around next year?” Jobs responded, “How about we start by not losing a billion fucking dollars?” That was pretty much the tenor of the meeting. Nothing really got accomplished.
That might not have been the most polite way to talk to a customer, but the people in that room weren’t there to help. They just wanted to get their pound of flesh from the company. If you’re customers isn’t willing to help you help them, then you’re talking to the wrong customer.
* For obvious reasons I left out the names of the companies and attendees.