From retail to wholesale, from healthcare to housing, how we do business has changed. Today’s consumers are not only looking for the most attractive product or service, but also the best experience. Companies that don’t create a memorable, positive and meaningful personal experience will surely risk extinction.
In the groundbreaking 1999 book, The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage, Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore described “the Experience Economy” as the trajectory of a commodity from a “good” to a service and ultimately to an experience. If you cast your line and catch a fish, you've got a commodity. If you process it, can it and stock it on a store shelf, it's a good. If you grill it and serve it on a bun to a restaurant patron, it's a service. And if your restaurant has an aquarium theme with a shark tank that wows kids, it's an experience.
No surprise, value is added at each step. If you are a buyer, you know that a good costs more than a commodity, a service costs more than a good and an experience costs more than a service. But today, the “experience” is increasingly the differentiator.
We’re now at a tipping point regarding the need for a positive “customer experience.” It's imperative for organizations to transform themselves, from the reception desk to the C-suite, changing mindsets and behaviors to create a desirable experience for consumers. That’s why personalization, connectivity and responsiveness with customers are now table stakes to ensure sustainable mind and market share. In today’s battle for business, consumers control the battlefield. The victors will be those companies that convert the behavior of the business culture to create a constant craving for another positive experience, and the losers will get left behind.
Here are a few brands that have flourished by getting the customer experience right:
· Starbucks blazed the trail for the ultimate coffee experience. What used to be a simple trip for your morning fix transformed into a personal excursion for the perfect cup of coffee tailored to you and an array of customized preferences. Baristas with smiles on their faces eagerly pen your name to your cup and provide you with food recommendations to match your drink choice before you even get to the counter. Payment is usually easy, and often your “personal” order is waiting for you as your name is called.
· Zappos has retrained its call center employees to abandon scripts and listen for cues to create a personalized conversation that transcends the transaction. For example, if during a call they hear a dog barking in the background, the conversation will likely focus on the breed and common pet experiences first. This “human” connectivity takes the pressure off the transaction and allows the consumer to feel more relaxed and “connected.”
These category leaders, among others, understand the need for a more positive experience-based model and have transformed their sales operations and customer service to meet this need. This is no branding exercise, but a head-to-toe transformation of company culture. Today’s major brands know that their survival depends more on providing a memorable, positive moment, not just a service.
With all that in mind, what are some steps organizations can take to begin to transform into experiential, customer-focused entities?
· Continuously listen to the Voice of the Customer. Connect with them on personal level and then focus on what they need. What do they say about your degree of responsiveness and caring?
· Study how leaders in other industries respond to consumer demand. We’ve seen hospitals learn from retailers, and hotels from technology companies. Emulate how category leaders train their reps to engage customers.
· Offer across-the-board training – from customer service to the C-suite – in how to transform your supply chain to a demand chain.
· Focus on “connecting” first when a customer interacts, not just the business transaction.