We are hearing more and more about the so-called experience economy, whereby the opening up of the web is creating an environment in which businesses no longer desperately seek customers via marketing, but instead are now able to provide “experiences”: moments linked to the relationship that make the customer want to share them.
From a time when we assumed that people would only bother to post negative comments on the social networks about businesses, and that positive perceptions were considered the norm, and therefore not worthy of mention, that contact was managed on the basis of “man bites dog”, we are moving toward a more progressive approach, with an increase in positive comments, a tendency that some brands are trying to encourage by adopting an increasingly conversational tone online, in many cases becoming shining success stories in the process.
But in many cases, the client’s experience is very different, to the extent that many people now believe we need a generational change if we are going to alter certain attitudes. Think about the way in which interaction between a client and, for example, a telecoms or insurance company, or many other businesses in a range of sectors, takes place: all, absolutely all, interaction between a company and a client, from beginning to the end, take place in a profoundly disagreeable context.
The client sees contact with a company as an “attack”, as part of an offensive, as some kind of bothersome “pop-up” interfering with their day. This hardly surprising: the company’s objective is not to offer or share some kind of experience, but simply to sell its services. The vocabulary used: campaign, target, etc, are quasi military, centered on “capturing”, on the short-term objective of “selling more” at any cost, often sacrificing the sustainability of the relationship in the process.
Each time my telecoms company has contacted me recently I have reacted with the same disagreeable feeling; and each time I have been justified: when it wasn’t to sell an additional service it was to try to trick me by selling me something I neither want nor need, trying to place a product that would change the conditions of my contract, prolonging my relationship with the company on the basis of penalizations for breaking the contract, or offering me a series of conditions that automatically make you think: “and if you are able to offer me this tariff now, why on earth were you offering me the other before… aside from to rob me and betray my trust?”
Telecoms companies are licensed to cheat: when they aren’t waiting for you to put one foot out of the country so as to hit you with an eye-watering bill, they are offering marvelous conditions to new customers that they don’t offer to their existing client base. Not that there is anything new in all this, insurance companies are even worse: a recent attempt to get a home insurance policy cancelled prompted a counterattack by the company of a 50 percent discount on my policy. The outcome? I unequivocally decided to cancel the range of policies I had with an outfit that quite simply had been shown to have been cheating me for years.
These type of relationships were once considered normal: customers accepted that this was the way things were done, and that all companies’ relationships were essentially predatory, and that the client should therefore do everything possible to negotiate the best price, the best tariff, and the best conditions each step of the way, making sure that nobody else was getting a better deal, their finger on the trigger ready to fire: all in all, an exhausting process. Now, with each passing day, this type of treatment, this poor customer experience, this effort by companies to maximize the relationship in pursuit of short-term gains, prompts a tweet or a comment on a social network, naming the company and accusing it of cheating. As the web has increasingly become a two-way street, it has forced a change in the way that companies see clients, along with the application of ethical values by businesses, values that in many ways are based on the Cluetrain Manifesto, but which many companies still stubbornly refuse to adapt to, persisting in attitudes that make you feel you are still living in the last century.
Needless to say, a change in attitude does not necessarily mean fewer profits: in general it tends to lead to more sustainable earnings, in greater client loyalty, or in establishing new preferences. Contrary to the mercantilist attitudes that merely encourage clients to look for the best deal, more positive attitudes are now emerging, focused more on other aspects, more on the search for an experience, on a situation that can be experienced, and that converts the client almost into an apostle, into somebody that will actively recommend a brand on the web. What needs to happen so that these kinds of attitudes, repeated ad nauseam in business schools around the world and in text books, are finally adopted by companies?