Is the experience the story?
Maurice Duffy

Written by Maurice Duffy

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things.”  Steve Jobs

On a recent shopping expedition–yes I do shop—I wandered into an Apple store. An “Experience” with plenty of shiny screens and opportunities to test and play. I stayed over 30 minutes. I could not help but relate that to the normal experiences I get (admittedly at airports) of other gadget shops where most devices are locked behind glass doors or nailed down to a counter.

Each time Karen (my wife) and I travel to the office together I head for Starbucks and she goes to Costa for our normal morning coffee hit. We both enjoy the “Experience” albeit with different brands.  We both also pass a couple of other coffee shops where I know the coffee will be cheaper. Why? Because the Apple “Experience” and the Starbucks “Experience” gives me a multi-sensory engagement and I am prepared to pay more for that privilege.

I was recently speaking to the NHS about this factor “The Experience” and contextualizing it by saying why do I, each year, get a BUPA MOT check-up which costs me £900 when this is a free service with the NHS — You guessed it — “The Experience” factor again.

A key question here is why are one company’s retail stores multi-billion dollar businesses while others don’t even show up in their annual report? The difference is these retail or service experiences have created something very different from the cold, "hands-off" nature of traditional high-end stores.

In sociological terms, Apple has very deliberately changed the "experience" of shopping. When I initiate a discussion on this with audiences, the cynics immediately point to the luxury aspects involved. However “the experience” has nothing to do with luxury shopping. In London yesterday I watched the demographics of those who bought coffee or bought in the Apple store and my simple sanity check demonstrated that the customers represented a very diverse social grouping. Other cynics might point to the herd instinct—others are doing it and so it is the cool thing to do!

I challenge both of these assumptions by stating that in order to create “the experience” and getting you to pay a premium price for it, businesses need to develop a number of competencies. To truly design a great experience companies need to look beyond the field of design to sociology, economics, organisational behaviour, and even theatre, to deliver these 6 things which will go a long way to create that sense of “experience” that will have a profound impact on your business:

  1. Create alignment—Align your people, including their incentives and motivations, with the desired “experience”. The core passion, creativity, enthusiasm actors can put into a play, the greater the performance and experience for the audience. So it is also in business ---for an “Experience” to work it does not start with the customer but with your people. What is their experience of you as an employer? What is their experience with you as a leader?
  2. Empathy—really understanding client needs not just wants. Too often we listen to our clients too closely. The “experience” is about delighting them not just satisfying them.
  3. Customer Sacrifice—do not expect a client to make a sacrifice-- tailor the solution around them personally! Many of our mass produced products or even bespoke services ask the client to sacrifice something rather than compensate them for being our customer.
  4. Theatre—introduce a sense of theatre where we combine entertainment, humour and sets. To reinforce the engagement, think of the whole experience as a “play,” including the cast, costumes, set and props. Look around you in Apple and in Starbucks and their set is there for you to perform in.
  5. No substitute—do the ordinary in an extraordinary way. Too often we focus on innovation and change. Yes we must have them---however we must also have a huge appetite to do the ordinary in an extraordinary way
  6. Intimacy—create an intimate and personal engagement with the customer and ensure they know it’s all personal to them. For people to trust us we must be authentic, credible and reliable and have an intimate relationship. So it is with our customers, they too must trust us and have a very one-on-one relationship.

In our lives, “experiences” that stand out are often those that change the existing scripts and can be recounted as a story. Storytelling is a traditional and even ancient means of passing on wisdom, knowledge and culture. A good story retold can make you; a bad one can kill you dead. These days even very short stories on twitter can have that impact. Yet organisations value too often harder forms of knowledge that can be classified, categorised, calculated and analysed.

In recent years, however, there has been an increasing focus by organisations on the role and value of narrative and anecdotal information conveyed in the form of stories. This renewed interest in an ancient genre of communication is perhaps a result of the realisation of the importance of stories and that stories come from “experiences” customers and employees have with your business.

Make sure every employee, and customer has a good story to tell about their “experience” with you.

 “Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”J. K. Rowling