What do I mean by partners ? They are of three kinds
– upstream ones : mainly suppliers
– downstream ones : mainly resellers, retailers
The partner is an outside enterprise with its own culture, value and even experience platform. So he’s often overlooked when one reinvents its own business model with an experience-driven approach and this mistake can have huge consequences.
Experience starts upstream in the value chain
At a time when ecosystems and cross-businesses collaboration are an imperative, when co-construction/design/innovation mechanisms are key, sharing an experience and values framework with one’s partners becomes essential.
As a matter of fact, how can partners come in a short amount of time with offers consistent with what we want to deliver if they are not aware of what we expect in terms of experience ? Should it be about physical products, online or offline services, I may even suggest that experience (employee or customer) should be one of the major constraints mentioned in any RFP or specifications.
If upstream partners must understand their corporate client’s experience contract, the buyer must also deliver to their suppliers an experience in line with what he want to offer to his own customers and employees. As in employee experience, the rule is that you get out of it what you put in it : what your partner delivers is consistent with what you deliver to him. That reminds me of what a C-Level person told me years ago. He was complaining about his company’s incapability to manage suppliers relationship in a sustainable way, what obviously has a significant impact on the bottom line : quality differences, misunderstandings, turnover etc. After many tries to identify the root cause of the problem he came to the conclusion that the problem came from the purchasing function. Too zealous, these people were playing the role of experience breakers between the negotiation and the delivery stages. He summed it up this way “we want a kind of 5 stars hotel experience and we treat our suppliers like campings. In they end, unconsciously, they make us pay“.
Treat co-performers like employees
Now let’s talk about co-performers partners. Here, things are more obvious because they are often on the front line of you production process, with you own employees, even sometimes in front of the client. Here the rules of employee experience applies. But too many businesses intensively relying on external partners and providers still treat them like “under-employees” with the impact we can imagine. They will never be able to deliver what’s expected from them for one reason : they don’t experience it.
Let’s end with the most visible side : downstream partners. In this category I mainly think about retailers, resellers and you’ll easily get how important this point is.
Your dealership networks own your perceived experience
Either by choice or obligation, some businesses have very little contact with their customers who buy their products or services at a retailer’s. Example are many : airlines and travel agencies, fashion or cosmetics with retailers. In the same way some businesses outsource their customer service.
If the brand experience is not at the heart of the contract between a brand and its distribution network, all the work done upstream will be ruined by people who will have neither the will nor the means to keep the promise made to the customer. Moreover we’ve seen a couple of brands insourcing distribution activities or, at least, establishing “proprietary touchpoints” in addition to their existing networks. Allowing outsiders to own 100% of the perceived experience without providing them with the means to keep the promise is like having the village idiot representing you at a date. The best way to stay single.
Partners experience : between constraint and empowerment
From my perspective there are two things to keep in mind about the role of partners in the brand experience.
The first is that experience is a constraint brought by your business model hand if you have successfully dealt with it inside your organization, the constraint has not necessarily disappeared. It has moved upstream or downstream in your ecosystem.
The second is the importance of finding the right mix between constraint and empowerment. The respect of the experience contract must be a prerequisite to any partnership and, consequently, be a constrained mentioned in any contract in addition to the usual clauses. But a constraint is useless if people are not provided with the means to do thing right. So it becomes a matter of partners education and training. It comes with a cost…and that may be reason why it’s often overlooked.