Digital and experience : from recycling to waste

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Digital transformation brought experience back under the highlights. Back, because digital regained control over an old concept. To mention but one example, the first edition of The Experience Economy, by Joe Pine dates from 1999 and the fact an updated edition was issued in 2011 means something : what used to be a subject for those who get it has now become mandatory under the digital pressure.

The problem with experience until now was that it was a resource consuming resource to put at work at scale. It required time and attention, not even mentioning the preliminary work needed to learn to think in terms of experience.

Back to what Joe Pine wrote : at the beginning you have commodities, when you customize commodities your get a good, when you customize a good you get a service and when you customize a service you get an experience. Each move from one step to another comes with a greater value. The ultimate purpose is transformation : a customized experience aims at transforming the person experiencing it.

Digital allows to customize experiences at scale

The problem lies in the idea of mass customization. How to mass customize at scale ? Customization can be put in the hands of the customer, of the producer, in both hands but in the end it requires significant effort. Digital allows new things, one of them being to multiply the channels delivering and experience but its main contribution est to allow the delivery of customized experiences at scale at zero marginal cost. Either by empowering the customer or embedding customization in the system, digital allows mass customization at scale and that’s what matters. It also allow to multiply data sources to improve customer understanding to deliver more customized experiences.

In digital times, experience is not an option but the least courtesy. And everyone understands that digital is a lever of choice to jump into the upper category in terms of delivered value.

If it did not invent experience, the digital world has recycled it wisely. But I doubt this recycling will be sustainable.

The “Wow” effect looks and smells like an experience but isn’t one

The proper of an experience is, among others, to be memorable in, ideally, to transform the customer. But we’re in the digital world, a world of instant, disposable and ephemeral delight. A world that focuses on the Wow effet and the 140 characters punch line instead of deep and sustainable dynamics. Digital goes fast, is delighted by the present, dreams of tomorrow and despises yesterday. Like it or not, that’s how things works and the consequences are serious.

According to my own approach to experience and what Joe Pine wrote, experience is a business model, an economical model that translates into a thinking and execution model. Experience is not something a company do but something its becomes. An experience company. That’s, from my perspective, the way any business that successfully made the leap to the experience economy. With the concept becoming more and more popular, its digital side and the usual vendors discourse saying “my solution will turn your communication into an experience”, which is the modern version of turning lead into gold, I’m afraid that window-dressing low cost experiences will become the norm.

Yes it’s normal to start with communication. Then tackle services, then the product, then operating models, then design processes. From the simplest to the most structuring. But I’m afraid many will focus on the simplest and won’t go further, won’t do anything structuring. With its impressive potential, digital may divert the idea of experience and isolate it in the field of appearances. Short term memorable, not sustainable.

For some, experience will never be more than one more layer on the top of an unchanged product/service, aiming at doing “as if” while changing nothing. They consider product as the starting point while it’s the end point.

Experience is for builders, not for those who focus on appearance

Does it matter ? So bad for those who’ll rely on minimum service and a simplistic approach, so good for those that follow the entire process to the end. But I fear the end will be the same as for many promising but poorly implemented concepts, with no respect for their philosophy : we’ll throw out the baby with the bath water and say “it does not work”. Experience is a well recycled concept but not in a sustainable way.

Bottom line : if you want to move forward with experience in the context of your digital transformation, put in in the hands of people who want to transform and build, not of those who want to make instant-impressions and focus on appearances.

That’s not because digital makes things simpler that we must take them in a simplistic way;

Image crédit : recycling by studioVin via Shutterstock