Tidbits from the Wise, #4

As I’ve mentioned, I am in the midst of reading many books at once. Not the best habit, but little else feeds the mind or fuels the creativity so well as a variety of voices sharing their wisdom. Therefore I’m doing a series sharing tidbits from these works in the hope it gives you some mental fuel. This is Part 3. See Part 1 on Friendship. Part 2 on Philosophy. Part 3 on Poetry

Tidbit #4: On Experience Engineering

“Whatchya reading?” I asked Josh, who wasn’t paying attention to the TV show we were watching. He looked up from is phone and said, “Oh, just this article talking about how Disney cast members have to barf inside their costumes if they get sick. There is no excuse for breaking that experience.”

I laughed, but I was not surprised. Both Josh and I have read a good deal about the renowned Disney code of customer service. They excel at making sure no trash stays on the ground, that no backstage door is ever left open, and that no two cast members in the same costume ever appear in the same place at the same time. They guard that sense of magic to a frightening level, even to the point that they would rather clean up vomit in the inside of Jiminy Cricket’s mask than let a child see the human within.

As charming as I’m sure you find this idea, we have to admit there is something admirable about the scrutiny with which Disney works to create experiences for its customers. Why is it that Disney stands alone amongst theme parks for quality? Why is it that families dream and save for years just to walk through its gates? Why is it that my in-laws can visit the parks every single year and still have a magical time? The answer: Disney goes beyond the rides and the merchandise; they have analyzed every step their visitors take and asked themselves, ‘How can we make that step more pleasant?’ 

The good news is that Disney does not have a corner on the market on experience creation. Any of us can ask this question about our customers or clients. What’s more, it looks like we might not survive in this economy if we fail to ask these questions and respond creatively. More and more, businesses are realizing that customers don’t just want stuff or services; they want good experiences. One of the many books I’m reading now, Change by Design, by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, discusses this shift. He describes how our consumer culture now expects businesses not only to meet basic needs but to create emotional resonance. “When we sit on an airplane, shop for groceries, or check into a hotel, we are not only carrying out a function but having an experience.” He goes on:

“The Walt Disney Company may be the clearest example of an experience business, and we should not assume that it is only about entertainment. Experiences are deeper and more meaningful. They imply active participation, not passive consumption, which can happen on many different levels. Sitting with your three-year-old daughter as she sings along with The Little Mermaid is an experience that goes well beyond entertainment. A family trip to Disney World may be quite stressful…but most visitors remember it as one of the great experiences of family life. 

“The real meaning of the ‘experience economy,’ then, is not primarily entertainment. The hierarchy of value–from commodities to services to experiences–corresponds to a fundamental shift in how we experience the world, from the primarily functional to the primarily emotional. Understanding this shift, many companies now invest in the delivery of experiences. Functional benefits alone, it seems, are no longer enough to capture customers or create the brand distinction to retain them.”

Brown goes on to show how Whole Foods, Virgin America Airlines, and the Mayo Clinic have benefited through engineering their customer’s experiences, proving that it is not just a feature of entertainment. Any of us who have patronized these companies can attest that they feel different, and they feel good, thoughtful, and respectful.  They make it easy for consumers to engage with their services. These companies have correctly identified, empathized with, and acted on these feelings, and therein lies their success.

I hope you find this discussion empowering. This paradigm shift might be a little tricky, as it is easy to say, “I have a great product, and people should want this product because it is great.” The problem is that this is not enough. People want to know why your product is great for them. They want to enjoy the process of learning about your product, purchasing your product, and experiencing it in action. This might be overwhelming, but this is actually good news. Products might not sell themselves, but great experiences will. You want repeat business? You want people getting excited about what you do? I’ve been to Disney World three times, and I expect to go many times more. Whole Foods might be painfully expensive, but I still tingle with culinary possibility just by walking through the door. Why? They’ve hit that emotional resonance. They’ve created a great experience. And so can we.


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