In a speech made at the November 1996 COMDEX computer trade show, Intel chairman Andrew Grove boldly proclaimed, “We need to look at our business as more than simply the building and selling of personal computers. Our business is the delivery of information and lifelike interactive experiences.”
Grove’s comment hinted at what the future would hold: Technology changes consumption. In their book, “The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre and Every Business a Stage,” Joseph Pine and James Gilmore expanded on that assumption, stating that more companies would increasingly go around retailers to connect directly with the end users. Manufacturers would be required, they said, to “experientialize” their goods by embedding them into their users’ lives.
“The Experience Economy” hit the business world in 1999—years before focusing customer experiences became hip. Today, the book is a blueprint for how B2C industries created customer experiences to build customer engagement, loyalty and marketshare. “Work is still theatre,” they said, but rather than performing, businesses “set the stage for helping the customer to learn to act.”
When a consumer buys a service, he purchases a set of intangible activities carried out on his behalf. But when he buys an experience, he pays to spend time enjoying a series of memorable events staged by the brand—play-to-engage in a personal way, if you will.
Because today’s brands need customers to survive, every brand’s ultimate goal is to increase its customers’ portfolio. The most efficient way to do that is by ensuring each person’s happiness and satisfaction. Shachar Shamir says this type of engagement cannot be achieved unless the brand puts its own clients first and develops a business model based on a customer-centric viewpoint.
“It may sound corny, but I feel that we’re finally living in an era where material possessions are less important than individual experiences,” says Shamir, co-founder and COO of inbound marketing agency and HubSpot Partner Ranky, which helps brands reach their goals using inbound tactics like content marketing, SEO, Lead Gen, CRO, social media marketing, and more.
“It may sound corny, but I feel that we’re finally living in an era where material possessions are less important than individual experiences.”
— Shachar Shamir, Co-founder & COO, Ranky
Research in hedonic psychology—the study of happiness and joy—shows that experiences are more meaningful than physical products, as the enjoyment you get from them (beyond your core utility), lasts longer. “So the buzz you get off buying a new TV fades quickly, while the experience of a great meal with friends lasts much much longer,” says Andy Budd, UX Designer and CEO of strategic design and innovation consultancy Clearleft. “As we move away from a purely materialistic world and search for more meaning and joy in our lives, experiences become increasingly important.”
If your brand has a physical location, it’s easy to dial up the experiences your customers have. On a basic level, you can invest in great interior design and exemplary customer service. You can also look at tying digital and physical channels together into a more customized and holistic experience, or you can learn from other businesses that provide great experiences, and roll these into your own.
For example, many traditional brands are starting to build coffee shops into their stores. This allows customers to linger longer, with the goal of building a better brand experience. Apple took a different approach, borrowing the idea of the hotel concierge and applying it to a shopping experience instead. It also tried to minimize wait times by allowing customers to check out on their mobile phones.
Burberry’s flagship store in London took the customer experience up a notch by using technology in more interesting ways. It employs digital changing rooms, where the mirrors will record customers doing a 360-degree twirl and then play the video back to them. This gives the shopper a perfect view of what their new outfit looks like.
“All of these experiences are potentially noteworthy and have the ability to create deeper and more meaningful relationships with customers,” Budd says. “It’s really about being hospitable. Of anticipating customer needs and meeting or exceeding them in a way that demonstrates you care.”
The key is in the process. And while striking a perfect balance between product design methodologies and perfecting customer experiences is an art form, brands must make sure they don’t steer too far to one side or the other in the process.
And to be sure, there can be challenges. The first is that creating experiences rather than products is a somewhat abstract goal. That’s because you don’t have the concrete means and data for evaluation you have when you’re selling a product that simply doesn’t work efficiently enough. To achieve a “positive experience” goal, brands must be creative from the get-go.
“Finding new, attractive ways to engage your audience is not an easy task,” Shamir says. It takes creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to stand out from the competition. Additionally, the entire company’s philosophy needs to change, and that isn’t easy either, especially for big, traditional companies that are used to operating in the exact same way for years.”
The key is to have your employees—in every single department—act and work for a higher purpose than just creating a product that does its job. “The goal is to create experiences that will last and engage users in different ways than before,” Shamir says. “When you do, you not only create a valuable user experience but build trust and faith in the product and, ultimately, in the brand.”
Success at the highest level can be found in places like the aforementioned Apple and Burberry, and brands like Nike and Disney, which have built merchandising expositions to bolster brand image and stimulate buying.
Creating great customer experiences takes time, money, talent and a good deal of will. This can often be difficult to achieve in brands that are optimized around delivering a consistent product or service, while keeping costs to a minimum. “Providing a great customer experience is a bit of a genie in a bottle,” Budd says. “If all your competitors are providing an average experience, consumers come to expect this. Once one brand puts their heads above the parapet, consumer expectations change, and if you don’t follow suit, you can find yourself lagging behind.”
“Providing a great customer experience is a bit of a genie in a bottle. If all your competitors are providing an average experience, consumers come to expect this.”
— Andy Budd, CEO, Clearleft
As Pine and Gilmore preached in “The Experience Economy,” all commerce is moral choice and every business is a stage for glorifying something. What does your brand glorify? The answer may not help you accept what is next, but it will certainly help guide what you do today.
“The newly identified offering of experiences occurs whenever a company intentionally uses services as the stage and goods as props to engage an individual,” Pine and Gilmore said. “While commodities are fungible, goods tangible and services intangible, experiences are memorable.”
9 ways to be more customer-centric
- Listen to your customers
- Remember: Customer perception is reality
- Make your customers part of the solution
- Map your customer’s journey
- Monitor customer interactions
- Get your data together
- See your customers digitally
- Define your customer experience strategy
- Empower and reward your employees