The theme of "The Experience Economy" by B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore is very dramatic: "Work is theatre and every business a stage".
Every marketing student learns about the importance of the shopping experience. Sometimes it's more important than what you're actually buying, or at least adds a lot to the value. When you go to the Ralph Lauren store and you're encouraged to relax on the sofa and enjoy a glass of wine as they bring the clothes to you --- that's the experience.
You can buy pretty much the same things in a lot of places these days; even in the comfort of your home. Not all customers put the same value on a product's benefits and features, and many customers really don't pay attention to them. But a great shopping experience can bathe them in a warm, memorable total package.
Pine and Gilmore quote Dave Power III of J. D. Power and Associates: "When we measure satisfaction what we're really measuring is the difference between what a customer expects and what a customer perceives he gets." The authors suggest that every purchase of ready-made products involves some sacrifice; rarely, if ever, is something precisely what you would want and provided exactly the way you'd prefer. Unique experiences help marketers go beyond expectations in ways customers often can't predict.
I just came back from a short trip to Washington, D.C. on United Airlines. A $25 charge for my one suitcase. Slow boarding procedures. Not so much as a peanut unless you pay for it. No pillow, no blanket. Boxed food available for a ridiculous price, in limited quantities. And no cash accepted; only credit and debit cards. Worst of all, not so much as a smile from the flight attendants. They looked stressed and unhappy. If you watch the TV show "PanAm" you can see what flying could be like. Obviously United execs don't watch the program.
It all comes back to understanding the customer. Which we now can do better than ever, thanks to social media.
The next time you go to a store, ask yourself: instead of the experience they do offer, is there an experience you'd rather have? What would make it better, and what would you be willing to give up?
They used to say that the customer is always right. Now we'd better realize that without a good experience, the customer isn't always a customer.