On a beautiful evening, a long-lost friend and industry senior turned up at work. The last memories I had with him is that he is the blue eyed go-to-person for clients - the most wanted business executive. But this time he looked worried and somewhat broken, upon asking he said that he is going through a painful divorce. He has no zeal to work or go to the office, and his life was collapsing. His memories - the good, bad, and even ugly ones are now haunting him. He still has a beautiful house, plush interiors and all the luxury you needed for sophisticated modern living. Everyone wanted to be successful like him. Many of his peers envy him. But why am I sharing his story with you? Because you see, despite having everything he was missing the moments. And at that moment he could give everything to get his moments back.
Welcome to the age of Experience Economy. In 1998, B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, Co-founders of Strategic Horizon LLP, an Ohio based think studio, published an article where they mentioned for the first time about Experience Economy. Pine and Gilmore argue that businesses must orchestrate memorable events for their customers, and that memory itself becomes the product - the "experience." They explained how companies over the past hundred years have moved up the economic value chain from doing business in commodity, to producing and selling packaged goods, then offering services and now moving to staging experience.
Let's understand this from a simple example. In India, you can buy one kilogram of coffee beans at little over a hundred rupees, but your Starbucks coffee which may have little more than three beans of coffee in your mug is available at over hundred and eighty rupees. Coffee beans are commodity items, but at Starbucks, you don't get just coffee, you get an experience. Every business that offers experience instead of a product or service are valued higher; people are willing to pay for the experience. In other words, you need to find customers who value experience.
My career is now spanning over two decades, during which I came across many kinds of customers. And I believe that every business should find their ideal customers. In my view, there are three kinds of customers. First, who want things CHEAP. Second, who want VALUE, third are those who seek EXPERIENCE. Getting this right will define whether you'll be celebrated or die of depression, Literally.
It is painful to work with customers who only want things cheap, and their only criteria are to find a cheaper supplier. If you work with them, you will end up in depression. They don't value your effort, contribution, or relationship. In recent times, Digital payment companies burned a big hole trying to woe these customers. Since these customers have no loyalty, they keep moving to the other brands. So, once the discount is over, they move to another payment app.
The next is a customer who seeks value, they are demanding, but they also push you to deliver more for their bucks. They are quality conscious but don't believe in frills, they are not even cheap they need more information and details. They ask too many questions, and you need to answer them. If they find your logic and effectiveness in your product and services, they will be happy to do business with you.
The third kind is an evolved customer, and they only seek experiences. They will work with you just because working itself is an experience. They value your association and know what value you add to their life. They are the sophisticated kinds. They will visit your organisation, soak up your organisational culture, and will be happy in doing business with you.
With the rising income, more people are seeking experience over products or services. In a recent study on Indian consumers by the Boston Consulting Group, they highlighted how consumer attitudes are changing as a result of rising income, new ideas, and technology. In the survey, 56% of respondents are said to have paid extra for customisation, and 77% of them have paid for three or more different kinds of experiences.
What surprises me is that even today, the business fails to understand the importance of customer experience. To save some money, the company lays off its customer support team, or they ask the customer support team to cut the call short. On the other hand, we have the likes of Zappos, now a part of Amazon. At Zappos, call centre employees are trained to build relationships and not sales. One of their customer support team members has clocked 10 hours and 43 minutes on a customer support call and made headlines in multiple publications.
In 2009, my Samsung Corby - then the best-selling smartphone got damaged, and I took it to the Samsung Service Centre and my experience pushed me out of that brand. Then I discovered Apple, and I intuitively knew how to use the phone, I never read the user manual. In 2011 my Macbook Pro's screen got damaged; the cost of the screen is 70% of the price of a new Macbook. I called Apple customer support and explained that even my Apple Protection Plan has expired. The customer support team asked for a couple of hours to figure out a solution instead of turning me down. Four hours later, he called back and said, and "we have extended your Apple Protection Plan to cover you from this damage." Yes, they did it for me, absolutely free. I didn't pay a penny, and that's not all, he called me back a week later to check if my Mac was working fine. Till date, I have never looked at any other brand.
The million-dollar question that still intrigues me is why customer experience is always the last priority for companies? We have plenty of statistics and research which showcases that keeping the customer is an essential task for businesses. As a brand when you don't focus on customer experience you not only break a promise, you also prove your influencers wrong. These are the people who stood by you and without any condition they stand up for you in every circumstance and when you do the unthinkable you remove your silver lining. The only possible explanation I can think of is that companies may have had bad experiences with Cheap customers and then got demotivated to focus on customer experience.
As humans, we will always value experience, the memories that get etched in mind. They last longer than features and unique selling propositions. In the new era, the brands which get their experience right will be lifted by their followers. Designing customer experience is the new marketing. It is the journey from awareness to advocacy which is more about relationship than selling. It is about delivering memorable experience and being a part of their life and their memories. It's about finding the best spot for the billboard- their mind.
1. Jain, N., Sanghi, K. and Jain, A. (2019). Ten Trends That Are Altering Consumer Behavior in India.
[online] https://www.bcg.com. Available at: https://www.bcg.com/publications/2019/ten-trends-altering-consumer-behavior-india.aspx [Accessed 15 Oct. 2019]
2. The Experience Economy book - by B Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore