Leading businesses already know they are expected to become technology companies, regardless of what industry they are in. That means they must deploy technology wisely throughout their organization to create flawless experiences, internally and externally. Many business leaders also realize that companies that embody and embrace design outperform their peers. But what they don’t know is that if they want to be in business tomorrow, they must marry technology and design to become an experience-led company today.
An experience company combines technology and design to orchestrate memorable events for everyone who interacts with their brand — from customers and prospects to employees and partners — at every juncture of their journey. These events, and the resulting memories, are the product: the experience.
Today, only a handful of companies are adequately prioritizing experiences. But that is changing quickly. Experiences are becoming the new competitive advantage, a step beyond a quality product or exceptional service. They are the key to fostering brand loyalty and the secret to why retailers like Starbucks on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile can charge $12 for a cup of coffee.
So, how can your business prepare for the future by becoming an experience-led organization today? Let’s consider these important steps.
1. Change the way you think.
Companies often strategize about how to sell more of their products or services. Experience companies shift from this inside-out thinking to an outside-in mindset, in which they consider customers’ needs first, then work backward.
To do this requires empathy and letting go of preconceived notions. Don’t assume you know what your customers want. You must invest in qualitative and quantitative research to truly understand their mindset and needs. Additionally, consider what customers are really looking for from your brand, beyond what they are asking for. Then consider the experiences you can create to fulfill that need.
Starbucks realizes its customers aren’t coming for the coffee alone. They like the atmosphere and the ambiance, and they may be looking to treat themselves or find comfort, solace or companionship. Or take Airbnb as an example. Its customers aren’t just looking for a place to stay; they are searching for an experience that is at once unique and authentic. That’s why they choose Airbnb rather than book a hotel room. They get to customize their travel and live like locals, without the stress or financial burden of buying or renting a property. It is customization without commitment.
2. Prioritize and communicate.
An experience-led company believes everything is in service to the experience — every person, process and technology. And they communicate this belief with their entire team. This last point is important. Business maturation won’t happen without buy-in from your employees. Companies spent $1.3 trillion on digital transformations in 2018, 70% of which was wasted on failed initiatives, according to CNBC. Investments fail, in part, because companies fail to communicate their goals and strategies with everyone. So prioritize the experience but also communication.
Also, remember that technology alone isn’t enough. You are not investing in technology for technology’s sake. Challenge yourself and your team to consider the experience as you assess any new initiative or investment. Remember the design aspect, too.
Technology and design are enablers of surprising, memorable experiences you will use to capture market share and drive repeat sales. The Airbnb app, for example, makes it easy to search for lodging, experiences and adventures. Users get a sense of control and customization as they plan their ideal trip, as well as safety and security, thanks to the easy-to-navigate host reviews. And it wouldn’t be possible without technology and design.
3. Consider middle and back-office experiences.
Experience companies realize user-facing experiences are just the tip of the iceberg. Below the waterline lies middle and back-office experiences, and those matter just as much. From how long someone is on hold if they call customer service, to how much time it takes for an order to process online, to how long it takes to receive an order confirmation after a customer has completed a purchase — these are all touchpoints that impact a consumers’ brand perception and opportunities to orchestrate favorable experiences.
Adopt end-to-end thinking. Remember, you can’t deliver impressive front-end customer experiences unless you have the back-end processes, technology and people to support them. Even facets of the organization you wouldn’t expect, like the finance team, are experience enablers. Your CFO, for example, should be thinking about every touchpoint the finance team has with a client or partner. How fast are invoices sent or paid? How do they onboard new third-party partners? Do these experiences align with what you want to represent as a brand?
4. Remember employee experiences matter just as much.
Your own employees are as important as your customers. They are your brand ambassadors, and creating a seamless employee experience is part and parcel of being an experience-led company. To create these experiences, you must take an honest look at your team members’ day-to-day and consider what you can do to improve it.
Neither Southwest Airlines nor Zappos would be able to deliver their award-winning customer service if their employees weren’t onboard. By improving internal experiences, your team will be better able to execute exceptional external ones.
It is not easy to drum up demand for your product or service. Over the years, companies have tried investing in features, benefits, branding, customer service… and none of these things alone are enough. The bar keeps rising. Customer expectations have evolved. They want — and expect — unique, seamless experiences.
Why do people pay $12 for a cup of coffee? Because they get a memorable, one-of-a-kind experience from the minute they walk through that door — from the store ambiance to the coffee cup design, to the barista’s friendly smile. The experience is what allows the brand to charge more and win more market share. Experience is the new competitive advantage. If you want your company to stay relevant, it is time to start creating and executing yours.