The Experience Economy

By: Ron Kaufman

I have just dialed into a large (very large) retail organization to check on a pending order.  I am greeted by an interactive voice response (IVR) system. I only need an answer to two short questions from the salesperson from whom I recently purchased an item. But I am routed away from my familiar store location, into a large call center, in an unknown location.

I listen to the seemingly endless voice prompt instructions, none of which offer me a single source to speak with a human being. I pick the most suitable choice and find myself thrown further into the IVR maze, with more choices, even further from the answer I desire.

I begin hitting the “0” key repeatedly. The automated script, perhaps sensing my frustration, sends me back to the start! I am pretty sure this system is punishing me for my lack of patience.

I begin again. This time I make different selections. Finally, to my surprise and delight, after a long series of hopeful button presses on the second round, I am speaking with a real person! Great joy! I am so excited! I quickly fire off all my questions.

There is a pause… then he apologizes and explains these questions must be answered by my local store, and he needs to transfer me back to that location – which is the number I dialed in the first place. Before I can say anything more, he puts me into another IVR system which prompts me to enter my zip code to help identify my local store… and off I go to the “correct store location” that I first dialed. Once again I hear the commands of an IVR, and once again I navigate eventually to a living, breathing (and hopefully serving!) human. Finally, I find someone who can answer my questions, in the store location I originally called, at the store where I originally made my purchase.

Wikipedia states that the term “The Experience Economy” was first described in an article published in 1998 by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore. In the article, they described an experience economy as the next wave of economic development following the agrarian economy, the industrial economy, and the most recent service economy.

My recent IVR experience made me reflect: Is our economy developing to deliver a better experience, or is the customer experience being sacrificed in the name of better “economy”. Has the recent financial crisis altered our ways of thinking about delivering service? Are companies now choosing to use the word “economy” as an excuse that degrades the experience of clients, customers and colleagues?

When a client or potential client reaches out to you, they want to interact with you as their supplier, partner, or trusted advisor.  They have a concern, an important question, an urgent problem or even a complaint. Each interaction has a powerful impact on your customer’s view and their opinion of your organization.  What is the impact of this person being tangled in an IVR web? Or receiving an automated email response stating that the person they need is out of the office for a week? How have these shortcuts, in pursuit of greater economy, impacted the ultimate experience?

If you are in service, are you still committed to serving?

This post was originally published on the Uplifting Service blog.