The Experience Economy Revisited Part 3: 10 Years Later

As is true of everything in business, executing a great idea is far harder than generating enthusiasm for a great idea.  I see this played out all the time in my line of work.  It’s very easy to drop in to a city for a couple days, meet some talented folks, generate huge excitement for change, and then watch the results fade away.  I hate to say it, but that’s the reality.  Most business owners want to do the right thing but struggle with implementing.  Great ones have a knack for it, and there’s the difference.

So when it comes to executing new, Experience based practices the challenge becomes even harder.  The concept itself is too esoteric for many small business owners to “get” at first blush (who am I kidding, it’s difficult for ‘big’ business to get as well).  A time strapped business owner will sit in a seminar, listen to me talk about this topic, nod is head approvingly.  But I see what’s on his mind: “payroll is due”, “someone just quit”, “we don’t have enough leads”, “competition is brutal.”  Its understandable.  I get it.

But here’s what happens.  Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that this owner decides to take a bit of my advice and try to evolve his Experience.  Let’s say he likes the idea of a deeper type of emotional connection with his customers.  And let’s say he’s going to try and make it stick.  It’s at this point that the first and most obvious pitfall occurs: Service drives the Experience rather than the Experience drive the service.

Invariably they’ll start working with their Administrative team.  Front desk folks, sales coordinators, customer service folks.  And for one reason or another (maybe it’s just my industry) they start by changing their outbound greeting.  They’ll change it from “Thanks for calling ACME how may I help you?” to something that they think is clever or interesting.  So the greeting evolves to “It’s an amazing day at ACME where we’re happy to serve!”  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of real differentiation, but it begs the question: is this type of change a true step towards an better Experience or is it just a nicer sounding feature?  In other words, does it create a significant emotional connection?  Is it actually worth more to a customer?  When service drives the Experience a business may make superficial adjustments, but these don’t command a higher price in the customers eyes or make the company itself more engaging.  

There is, however, a different way of beginning this transition towards an Experience based business.  To illustrate the point I’ll refer to a client whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the last two years.  We started this journey together and I’m continually impressed with the steps they’re taking.  The business is small: 15 people.  And they’re in the heating and air conditioning industry–not exactly known for exemplary service let alone an amazing Experience.  

To begin, we spent huge amounts of time just brainstorming the type of Experience they wanted to create.  From the owner’s perspective the single most important connection that he wanted to establish had more to do with engaging all of his team in the customer’s interaction.  He felt that this type of transparency would allow him to better take down the walls between he and his customers while sharing the depth of talent he had on his staff.  He also recognized that his customers were increasingly mobile, increasingly digital, and increasingly well networked.  Now, he could have tweaked his administrative greeting, but he didn’t.  He asked the question in an Experience manner: From the customer’s perspective, what do I want them to feel from the very first moment they connect with my company?”  As I mentioned, his team concluded that Trust and Transparency were critical.  They immediately began to think about ways to create this type of credibility and eventually arrived at small, well produced video introductions of each team member.  These videos gave a customer an opportunity to put a face to a name, hear the employees voice and connect with their enthusiasm.  More importantly, it set the right tone and sent the right message: “Our company is an open book.  We’re not what you expect.  We’re comfortable sharing everything.  We’re different.”

At that point the execution became a matter of process management.  A decent camera, easy editing software, a little bit of scripting, and a morning breakfast meeting was all it took to create something that everyone was excited about.  And it worked.  Customer feedback was overwhelmingly positive in terms of what it meant to connect with the company on a personal level.  Moreover, customers themselves began to participate–and reciprocal video sharing started to occur.  Experience sharing is a norm for these guys now.

What appealed to me about The Experience Economy 10 years ago was the concepts loftiness.  That still appeals to me, more so now than ever.  But what’s more important is the practical implementation–watching my clients take these first steps towards an Experience based business and then actually doing it.  A funny thing starts to happens.  They slowly start asking different questions: How will the customer perceive this?  What will they feel?  How will we sustain the connection?  It’s remarkably exciting.

Moving forward, I’ll be sharing other ways in which friends and clients have been creating their own Experiences on a small business level.  There are impressive things happening out there!

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