Reimagining the Experience Ecosystem

We live in a world of continuous evolution, and one of the most striking characteristics of this hyper-digital world is the co-relation between “experience” and “business growth”. And yet, the term “experience” does not have one consistent definition and can mean different things to different people in different contexts. For instance, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines experience as “direct observation of or participation in events as a basis of knowledge”, while the Oxford dictionary describes experience as “an event or occurrence which leaves an impression on someone”. With the advent of technology, experiences tend to become exceptionally personalized and are being formed quite rapidly at the click of a few buttons.

Let’s take a couple of examples. When a prospective employee is considering which role to take, they are likely to look at Glassdoor to get a sense of organizational culture, LinkedIn to get a sense of leadership and chat with connections to get a sense of growth prospects, the company website to look at investor reports and public data on DEI, alignment with purpose and statistics about mobility, Instagram pages to look at what is celebrated, amongst other sources. When a buyer (individual or enterprise) is looking at buying a product or service, they are likely to look at the digital profile of the company to understand what kind of product or service quality and innovation they provide, what their customer reviews are saying about them, how they deal with mistakes and failures, what they invest in and what they shy away from, etc.

We propose to define experience as the journey of exploration, interaction and evaluation as a virtuous cycle. This could be with a product, a service, a person, a group of people, an enterprise, or a brand, which could be well-known or partially known or unknown. The intent of the interaction could be mani-fold and is likely to change from time to time. For instance, at one stage, it could be about employment; at another stage, it could be about a personal purchase decision; and at a third stage, it could be about referral. This journey straddles multiple points in time and is a virtuous cycle because it continues to build as you interact, whether frequently or infrequently, personally or through those in your trusted inner circle, experience and evaluate the brand’s ability to deliver on expectations, both stated and unstated.

Given this definition of experience, it stands to reason that customer experience and employee experience, two of the most spoken and written about subjects of the last decade, are, in fact, two sides of the same coin. In her book “The Experience Mindset”, Tiffani Bova leverages insights from across industries to emphasise that Customer Experience and Employee Experience go hand-in-hand. The analogy that we would cite is that if you wanted to eat a salad for lunch, your choice of where to go is likely to be determined by the appeal of the menu and reviews or past experience of the restaurant. Your experience in that meal will be determined by the flavours and visual impact of the dish served to you, the freshness of the produce, how the dish was customized to your palette, the manner in which you were served and the ambience of where you are seated when you sampled the dish. This, in turn, will translate into your review of the establishment, be it on a digital platform or in your interactions. Your feedback will influence others, and their experiences will likely continue to impact you as well. This virtuous cycle of exploration, interaction and evaluation keeps the journey of experience alive, and the digital ecosystem substantially accelerates it. Platforms like Zomato and Swiggy are live cases in point.

The Impact of Experience

We live in the era of data and insights, so let’s look at some data …

  • Top 3 CEO and CFO priorities: Growth, Technology, Talent (2023 Gartner CEO and Senior Business Executive Survey)
  • Top 5 CHRO priorities: Leader and Manager Development, Organizational Culture, HR Technology, Change Management, Career Management and Internal Mobility (Gartner 2024 Report) 
  • Top 10 most empathetic companies increased their financial value more than twice the bottom 10 companies (Harvard Business Review)
  • 87% of customers actively avoid buying from brands they don’t trust (Sinch)
  • Businesses that foster emotional connections with customers exceed their competitors’ sales growth by 85% (Harvard Business Review)
  • 70% of brands see a direct connection between customer service and performance. (Zendesk)
  • 95% of consumers say customer service impacts their brand loyalty, naming easy access, self-service, and professional agents as important factors (NICE)
  • When the C-suite prioritises Employee Experience (EX), the company experiences 1.3 times more growth. And when the C-suite prioritises Customer Experience (CX), the organization experiences 1.4 times more growth. The results are even higher when both occur together. 61% of C-suites say that good EX equals good CX (Salesforce)

The Trust Equation put forward by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green and Robert M. Galford in their book ” The Trusted Advisor” is even more relevant in this world driven by experience. The equation defines trust as the sum of credibility, reliability and intimacy divided by self-interest. And the data points mentioned above amplify the applicability of these dimensions in the context of architecting high-impact experiences.

We believe that for an impactful brand experience, a few questions need to be frequently asked, the data reflected upon and appropriate actions taken. These questions are:

  • How are we bringing to life what we stand for (our vision, our purpose, our values) in how we are engaging with our Customers?
  • Do our Customers view us the same way we view ourselves?
  • How are we bringing to life what we stand for (our vision, our purpose, our values) in how we are engaging with our People?
  • Are our Leaders true custodians and role models of our vision, our purpose and our values, or have we diluted accountability at the top for these aspects by prioritizing numbers-related metrics?
  • In our interactions with and service of our Customers, do our People live our vision, our purpose and our values? How are we enabling that, or how are we derailing that sense of accountability?
  • Do our People truly experience the ethos that we talk about?   
  • Do we have a simple, consistent and uniformly understood way of articulating the experience that we want to live every day through every single touchpoint, irrespective of the stakeholder?

The questions are deceptively simple, and the truth is often difficult to digest. And yet organizations like HP Inc, WPP, S&P Global and several others are working in a focused and systematic manner to bring these aspects to life every day through their structures, policies and ways of working but even more through their leadership DNA and cultural ethos. 

Bringing to life The Experience Ecosystem 

If we look at people or customer life cycles, often each stage is viewed independently with limited flow-through. Structurally, this may be the result of different individuals or teams being accountable for different outcomes and limited communication between them. Alternately, it may be the outcome of a culture of significant internal competition with limited focus on how the internal dynamics impact the customer. For instance, when the sales organization is organized on the principle of hunters and miners, the key account strategy may be a pressure point, and the client may be interacting with different teams that are selling the products or services of their Lines of Services and not taking the integrated capability portfolio of the end-to-end organizational context. In another example, when an employee gets hired, the recruitment team does a hand-over at the induction stage with the expectation that the manager and HR Business Partner will take care of the employee. The employee is cast into a sea of the unknown, which is easier to navigate if the Manager is hands-on and supportive but challenging to manage in an era of multiple emails and self-service tickets and requests. In each of these cases, the fulcrum for action is the role boundary and not the experience of the stakeholder in question. These are just two of an infinite universe of examples that could come in the way of creating compelling experiences.

We propose that it is crucial to adopt an experience ecosystem mindset while thinking about strategy and the operational plan. An ecosystem mindset considers the end-to-end environment, the various players involved and the overall impact we seek to create. It factors in vulnerabilities and strengths, motivations and interconnections. It necessitates the investment of time and resources to focus on what our stakeholders want and need rather than what we want to sell. One of the biggest tools at our disposal today is the power of technology and data analytics. Mining data from multiple sources, creating correlations that transcend functional boundaries and structuring ways of working based on the impact we want to deliver (and not vice versa) is the way to go.   

Let’s take two generations of the world of work – Millennials and Gen Z. India is witnessing a higher share of millennials and Gen Z as a percentage of the total population as compared to developed economies. As of 2021, the share of millennials and Gen Z in India stood at 52% of our population vs the global average of 47%. This trend is expected to maintain momentum till 2030, when the share of India’s Gen Z and Millennial population will be 50% vs. the world average of 46%.

According to research, Gen Z and Millennials are characterized as technology savvy and use social media sites daily. Passion-oriented, development-focused, driven to make a difference, and motivated by entrepreneurship are some of the other characteristics of these two generations. Gen Z are those born between 1995 and 2012, while Millennials are those born between 1980 and 1994. Gen Z is characterized as being pragmatic, being risk-takers, highly valued authenticity, preferring person-to-person contact, and being involved with the community. Millennials, on the other hand, are likely to be internet-dependent, upbeat and receptive, atheists or agnostics, comfortable mixing business with pleasure, and of the belief that money cannot buy happiness. Due to the influence of apps and speedier technology, Gen Z tend to have shorter attention spans as compared to Millennials. As compared to Millennials, those from Gen Z are more difficult to reach by advertisements since many of them are on multiple platforms and are more active in using adblocking software. Gen Z looks for more quality relationships, while Millennials’ quantity-based friendships result in less genuine conversations. The working personality of most Millennials veers towards independence, while that of Gen Z reflects the team player attitude. Millennials tend to be more frugal than Gen Z and have higher preferences for visiting a website to get a discount coupon and following product ads. Compared to Millennials, Gen Z thinkers are better at multitasking since their brains have been conditioned to perceive various stimuli largely caused by newer apps and devices. Millennials think of entering higher education much more. At the same time, Gen Z are uncomfortable with the traditional educational system and prefer to enrol online and launch their careers early on. Gen Z entrepreneurs are more adventurous with a greater desire to start businesses than Millennials.

It is significant to factor these insights into how we define experiences, be it people experience or customer experience, to ensure that they resonate and deliver the value we want to create. The reality of organizations is that decision-makers are starting to have Millennials in their ranks. At the same time, the true recipients of the impact of those decisions are Millennials and Gen Z.

To maximize value addition, experiences need to take an ecosystem view and be:

  • Simple and targeted with ample scope for personalization … different people view experiences differently, and attention spans are short. As such, things need to make sense intuitively. Whether you are buying a product on a website or delivering a recognition that is valuable to the employee in question, there needs to be a judicious blend of customization with the benefits of scale
  • Tech enabled and easy to experience … gone are the days of complex user manuals and time-consuming practices. Experiences need to be at the cutting edge of the digital narrative and as simple as using WhatsApp. If the digital interface feels jaded and old, you will lose out, be it in an online shopping context or an employee self-service context
  • Interconnected and flowing … the whole needs to be greater than the sum of the parts, and that requires communication, taking a big-picture view, and not being limited by static structures that perpetuate the status quo. Structures need to enable impact and at the heart of that is defining and nurturing a culture of service. Be it responding to employee queries or customer concerns, the spirit of adding value and going beyond the manual needs to be role modelled, celebrated and rewarded consistently
  • Constantly updated based on data-backed insights … gut feel is no longer good enough to chart the course of things because it is both expensive and prone to error. Setting up strong data capturing mechanisms, converting data into insights and testing for corelations beyond the obvious are crucial to cut through the clutter and arrive at experiences that matter

Conclusion Albert Einstein famously said – “Information is not knowledge. The only source of knowledge is experience. You need experience to gain wisdom.” We live in the Knowledge Era, and this has now evolved to be the Experience Era, where simplicity blended with technology will be the core differentiators. The question is – will we evolve by choice, or will circumstances propel us towards this inevitable direction?

References

  1. https://www.superoffice.com/blog/customer-experience-statistics/
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2023/03/03/the-connection-between-employee-experience-and-quality-customer-experience/?sh=1809bcdb582e
  3. https://www.workday.com/content/dam/web/en-us/documents/feature-stories/feature-story-ceo-care-about.pdf
  4. https://www.gartner.com/en/articles/what-matters-to-ceos-and-cfos-right-now
  5. https://emt.gartnerweb.com/ngw/globalassets/en/human-resources/documents/trends/hr-top-priorities-ebook-2024.pdf?_gl=1*221vu8*_ga*MTMzNjU4MjgwNi4xNjI5OTc1MTE1*_ga_R1W5CE5FEV*MTcwMzY1ODI5Mi41LjEuMTcwMzY1ODU1MS40MS4wLjA.
  6. https://hbr.org/2022/03/research-how-employee-experience-impacts-your-bottom-line
  7. https://trustedadvisor.com/why-trust-matters/understanding-trust/understanding-the-trust-equation
  8. https://www.cmswire.com/customer-experience/why-great-employee-experience-leads-to-great-customer-experience/
  9. http://www.differencebetween.net/editor-pick/difference-between-gen-z-and-millennials/
https://www.business-standard.com/article/technology/gen-z-and-millennials-reshaping-the-future-of-the-indian-workforce-122121800633_1.html
Bhavna Batra (She / Her)

Bhavna Batra (She / Her)

Executive Director – People, Global People Planning Leader for their Market Intelligence Division.
S&P Global
She is a passionate learner, inclusion evangelist and transformation enabler. Bhavna is passionate about developing future-ready talent and enterprise ecosystems. Throughout her 19+ years career, she has partnered with Leadership Teams and Boards of Directors to conceptualize and drive meaningful business transformation and growth by focusing on the pillars of culture, structure, systems, people and ways of working.

Sachin Dhamija (He / Him)

Sachin Dhamija (He / Him)

Global Head of Marketing
Alliance Worldwide Health Tech.
As a Business Leader with deep expertise in strategy, marketing and communications, Sachin is a passionate design thinker with a penchant for continuous learning. He is a rainmaker with an appetite for risk-taking, and his professional journey over the last 20 years has been about contributing to building high-velocity brands and driving sustainable business growth. He enjoys leveraging the principles of entrepreneurship, ecosystem thinking, marketing and brand management, and communications strategy to foster innovation, drive excellence and consistently deliver measurable and sustainable impact.

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