When’s the last time you stopped and considered how much shoes have shaped our lives?

While the first shoes probably weren’t that comfortable, think about the barriers they broke. Humans could walk almost anywhere, faster, and for longer. The first kicks got the job done because they answered the “why”—because walking in bare feet can really hurt.

But the moment shoes were designed, not just to cover feet but to improve them, the game changed. The first sneakers were one of the most disruptive designs of all time, democratizing leisure sports and transforming athletics forever. The designer, Bill Bowerman, went on to become a cofounder of Nike and to design the company’s first training shoes, which were based on a vision: “A shoe must be three things. It must be light, comfortable and it’s got to go the distance.”

Over the years, high-performance shoes helped us resist injury, break records, and scale frozen mountains without losing our toes. Ultimately, they were all designed with a “why,” and an obsession: to be better than anything that’s come before, to enhance our human abilities, and to change life as we know it.

It’s a formula behind every product that’s made a customer fall in love. And these days, it’s not enough to be “good enough.” You need to commit to being better than anything that has come before, and somehow, making society better, too.

There’s Good Design, and There’s Customer-Obsessed Design

Good design is like a refrigerator—when it works, no one notices, but when it doesn’t, it sure stinks.Irene Au, Design Partner, Khosla Ventures

What’s the difference between something that “just works” and something that makes people fall in love? Customer obsession.

Customer-obsessed examples of products rarely compete on features, benchmarks, or specs—that’s competitor obsession. Instead, they disrupt life as we know it, in ways big and small. Big could be technology as complex as a Tesla or an iPhone that doesn’t require a 100 page manual to use. Small could be the first, simple flash storage solution that gives storage admins their weekends and holidays back. It’s all perspective, and it’s all inspired by the customer.

To get there, we have to ask deeper questions. Not just, “What is my customer’s problem?” but also, “What is my customer living with that is harder than it should be? And how can I make their life easier?”

In the B2B world, where great customer experience (CX) isn’t always flashy or thrilling, delighting customers hasn’t always been a priority. Vendors have been able to get away with humming along like an old fridge.

Customer-Obsessed Design vs Good Design

The vendors whose products “just work” are going to get eclipsed by companies shooting for the goals on the right. Behind their products are teams evolving to make CX a priority and it shows.

The Risk in Designing Products Incrementally vs. Inherently

When you’re designing a product that people will love, excellent customer experience isn’t a bonus or an add-on—it’s table stakes. You have to make the customer experience your focus at the outset, with the very first prototype.

Think of your product as a story. Once you share it with the world, it’s out there. You can release sequels and new editions and build on that story over time with features and upgrades, but the plot is the plot. It’s not something you rewrite using the same title. You can rejigger software or scale up service offerings, but you can’t retrofit products and deliver life-changing customer experiences.

I’m fortunate enough to manage a team of 600+ talented systems engineers at Pure Storage®, which was founded from day one with a customer-obsessed culture. It’s easy to foster that kind of focus and dedication when it’s the core value of your company.

If you’re looking to adopt a customer-centric strategy, let me suggest the following:

Stay focused on the customer, not the features. This can extend your development times and lead to more feedback loops and pre-releases. But that time will come back to you in spades with a more positive product release and fewer overhauls post-launch.

Always make it easy to use. At Pure, we were inspired by the simplicity and elegance of consumer products and aim to make enterprise infrastructure just as simple and seamless. Even at the detriment of your own professional services, businesses should always keep simplicity as a key design principle.

Close the gap between being “as advertised” vs. “as installed.” Avoid the trough of disillusionment between reality and expectations. Deliver on what you promise, every single time.

Deliver maximum flexibility in the consumption of your solution. The cloud has brought true “utility consumption” to life. Customers want flexible consumption, specifically the ability to procure via CapEx, OpEx, or “as-a-service.” At Pure, our Pure as-a-Service™ offering delivers true utility consumption.

Consider the sale as the start of your relationship. Think about what your customer experience is after the day of the sale—and on day 10, day 100, and beyond. What is the experience like when it’s time to install, optimize, or upgrade? Do you stay focused and ensure that the expected value is realized? At Pure, we integrated Pure Value Reviews into our customer engagement model for a transparent way to measure value over time.

Hold yourself accountable to your Net Promoter Score (and make sure it’s audited by an independent third party). Know the survey results to watch, and what they mean. Net Promoter Scores (NPS) indicate how likely customers are to recommend your product or service to others. At Pure, our NPS is 82 at the time of this writing and in the top 1% of industry B2B scores. (In fact, within the IT infrastructure space, the average is a meager 22.) NPS is one of the most important metrics we watch, but it’s not just a metric—it’s also a forcing function for us to always prioritize customer feedback.

Experience Always Matters—Even in Data Storage

You might also be wondering, “Why is a data storage guy so obsessed with customer experience?”

From the first days of Pure Storage, John “Coz” Colgrove (our cofounder) has been obsessed with removing all the complexity that has marred the storage industry for decades and using intuitive design to simplify the installation, administration, and upgrade processes. In fact, it should be no surprise to learn that when users experience Pure Storage for the first time, they thank us for simplifying their world and giving them back their weekends and holidays. The industry has promised simplicity for decades, and only Pure has delivered.

Today, data is an organization’s most strategic asset. It is the accelerant of innovation. But like us, it needs the right shoes to run. With the right platform beneath it, innovators can do incredible things. As the volume, velocity, variety, and veracity of data increase every year, performance and scale are crucial requirements—but they must come with simplicity. At Pure, we’re committed not only to delivering the features that matter but also the customer experience.

Despite enterprise software’s reputation for lagging in design elegance, we believe it’s possible to deliver both great value and great experiences at the same time.Jeremy Rishel, Splunk

We’re all too familiar with products that “just work” in our area of IT. These are the shoes that cover your feet, but don’t get you up the mountain—they give you blisters and then keep you off your feet for days.

At Pure, we’re designing storage that powers companies to achieve their peaks—and those that have climbed with us are finding that the view from the top is pretty great. Our Evergreen™ Storage program is the customer experience program to beat right now. We got there by bringing simplicity and uncompromising experience to storage, and the proof is validated by our customers every day.

Read the white paper from IDC: Pure Storage’s Evergreen Storage Continues to Be the All-Flash Array Market’s Customer Experience Program to Beat

If Experience Lags, Customers Will Move On. Be the Better Alternative

Customer experience is the new battleground—make no mistake. Great experiences will determine whether customers remain loyal and in love, or are ready for a change. We’re creatures of habit, and “switching requires ending a trusted relationship in the hope of reaching an uncertain improvement level.” The key is making the improvement not just certain but crystal clear.

To remove uncertainty, the proof has to be baked in. At Pure, we designed our products from the ground up to be life-changing. We change the game by giving organizations a proven alternative to the endless cycles of costly migrations and upgrades required by legacy storage providers. Organizations deserve better, and we’re obsessed with delivering it.