Customer Engagement is the New Competitive Advantage

Oct 30 13:33 2010 Kate Feather Print This Article

The American economy has evolved into a system that rewards those who provide extraordinary customer experiences. Customer Engagement, rather than price or service, now determines customer loyalty and long-term financial success. This article reviews the shift in economic focus and explains how companies can succeed in this brave new customer experience-based economy.

A major shift is underway in the business landscape.  For evidence of this transition,Guest Posting one need only read the major papers, such as the New York Times, which recently ran a piece titled "But will it make you happy?" This article argued that consumers are no longer focusing on price, quality, or even service. Now they're making buying decisions based on the purchasing experience--how the act of buying the product makes them feel.  Like never before, customers’ emotions are at the center of business success. Companies who fully engage customers during the purchasing experience are seeing higher profits and better ROI. Joseph Pine is among those who predicted this conversion. This article examines his approach. A review of Pine’s concept of The Experience Economy will be followed by a discussion of which tools businesses need to thrive in this new era of experience-driven growth.In their book The Experience Economy, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore propose that businesses must provide unique experiences to thrive in the modern world. In a TED presentation titled, "What do consumers really want?" Joseph Pine reviews the progress of economic value that got us to this point. At first, he explains, raw materials drove the economy. In this agrarian economy, commodities (animals, vegetables, and minerals) were extracted from the earth and purchased according to availability. Businesses competed to provide supply in more areas. With the Industrial Revolution, goods became the "predominant economic offering." Commodities were widely available, so businesses that built those raw materials into appealing products saw success. Next, goods became commoditized. Consumers didn't care who made the goods; all they cared about was price. How could businesses distinguish themselves in the sea of mass production? Through customization. Customized goods became services. Businesses competed by improving service quality. In the past couple of decades, however, even services have become commoditized. Phone companies, airlines, and internet providers are examples of service industries that now compete almost entirely on price. Today’s business leaders know that price, product, and service are no longer enough to preserve customer loyalty and win new customers. Through customizing services, forward-thinking businesses are creating unique experiences. Providing an exceptional customer experience is the new pathway to business success. We are entering the experience economy.As an example of the striking earning differences between the different levels of this economic progress pyramid, Pine and Gilmore review the coffee market. They point out that, as a raw material (a commodity), coffee is worth a dollar or two per pound, which translates to 2-3 cents per cup. However, if you package that coffee and sell it in a supermarket (as a good) the consumer price jumps to somewhere between 5 and 25 cents per cup. When a business turns that good into a service, the consumer might pay a dollar per cup. But when the same service becomes an experience, the price per cup can jump to upwards of $5 per cup. Starbucks has succeeded in creating a unique, appealing customer experience. Pine and Gilmore share that a friend once spent more than $15 per cup of coffee--and felt it was well worth it, since he and his companion had lingered over their cups in "Europe’s Drawing Room"--Piazza San Marco in Venice. That was an extraordinary experience, and the customer felt it was worth the much higher price.To compete in the experience economy, Pine claims, the first important question is: How can we provide a unique, engaging customer experience?  Once the compelling experience is established, the ongoing concern is: How can we render authenticity? If a customer finds the experience is not real--because the service or product is not what was promised, for example, or because the company doesn't stand behind its ideals--he or she is unlikely to stay loyal to that brand. Winning in the experience economy requires that companies understand how their customers feel about the product or service, and that customers feel the remarkable experience is as authentic as possible. Indeed, PeopleMetrics’ 2010 Most Engaged Customers report verifies that being genuine is a crucial ingredient in achieving high Customer Engagement levels.Certain tools are required to navigate the uncharted territory of the experience economy. First, businesses must understand customers’ needs, gripes, and suggestions. An effective, closed-loop customer feedback program must be in place to provide ongoing direction for the company.  Customer satisfaction experience research provides businesses with a good understanding of their customers’ emotions. We initiate the customer/company conversation with a quick "baseline" study of proven questions that have been tied to business outcomes. Ongoing brief check-in surveys ensure the lines of communication stay open. Second, managers must have the ability to quickly spot and respond to customer concerns and compliments. PeopleMetrics empowers managers to do this by providing Action Alerts, according to the type of feedback received. For instance, if a certain customer’s loyalty is waning, a Recover Alert is tripped, and the manager immediately knows about the situation. Finally, it’s not enough to simply gather and distribute customer feedback--managers and company leaders must also understand how to engage and retain customers. Our solution is a library of best practices for maximizing customer engagement.Some businesses will always provide a commodity. Others will operate at the goods level, or will provide a service. But those who provide an extraordinary experience will see higher profits, better ROI, and more share-of-market. To win in the experience economy, you must excel at delivering Customer Engagement through authentic experiences.~Kate Feather, 2010

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About Article Author

Kate Feather
Kate Feather

Kate Feather is the Executive VP of PeopleMetrics.
PeopleMetrics' 2010 Most Engaged Customers study, an annual report providing customer satisfaction experience research insights, reveals why the top brands succeed. Contact PeopleMetrics to learn which companies earned the highest  customer engagement scores in your industry.

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