B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, the authors of a groundbreaking article in the Harvard Business Review in 1998, followed up in 1999 with their influential book – “The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business A Stage”. (The book was later updated with a 2011 edition.)
The original article and book were widely credited with establishing the field of customer experience management and the idea that a successful business relationship involves more than just delivering the goods or services promised.
As the summary of the original article says:
“In this article, co-authors B. Joseph Pine II and James Gilmore … preview the likely characteristics of the experience economy and the kinds of changes it will force companies to make. First there was agriculture, then manufactured goods, and eventually services. Each change represented a step up in economic value – a way for producers to distinguish their products from increasingly undifferentiated competitive offerings. Now, as services are in their turn becoming commoditized, companies are looking for the next higher value in an economic offering. Leading-edge companies are finding that it lies in staging experiences.
“An experience occurs when a company uses services as the stage – and goods as props – for engaging individuals in a way that creates a memorable event. And while experiences have always been at the heart of the entertainment business, any company stages an experience when it engages customers in a personal, memorable way.”
These memorable moments stick with people and cause them to comment favorably to others. To help them remember, many companies even provide souvenirs – another form of experience. When business people think of souvenirs, it is not necessarily something elaborate. For example, what one business would hand out as a simple receipt a smarter, more experience-oriented business would provide as an elaborate document, perhaps even on thicker parchment-like paper.
The books go into great detail and elaborate these ideas beyond the simple summary I’ve provided here. It’s worth the time to read.
And the kind of thinking presented by Pine and Gilmore has had a big impact in the business world. Many of the modern heroes of the economy, such as the late Steve Jobs of Apple, were known for the way they built their success on customer experiences.
Yet, the ideas in the Experience Economy have had only a small impact on the public sector and few pubic officials are sensitive to the experience their constituents are having. This is somewhat surprising for several reasons.
First, as a matter of electoral survival, incumbent office holders want the residents of their community (i.e., the voters) to have favorable memories of the experience of being a citizen. Indeed, professional campaign consultants have heard stories of public officials who “did everything right” – these politicians did what the public wanted – but were rejected anyway because people were unhappy with the experience of being a citizen in that jurisdiction.
In the broadest sense, this is about making a difference in the lives of citizens – something that drew many officials to public service in the first place.
Second, in a world where people have increasing choices about where they might live or travel to, the experience of being in a city or state will have a big impact on the economy there. If it’s a positive, memorable experience, more people will want to be there and the economy will grow – as will funding for the government. If not, bad experiences will lead to worse experiences for those trying to lead a community with declining population and declining revenues.
Although great experiences are not everyday events even in the business world, it is not necessarily that difficult to create these experiences. Think about the typical interaction between a citizen and the government. What would it take to turn that into a positive, memorable experience? Not a lot of money; just an increased sensitivity to the experience from the citizen’s side.
And public officials might also find that their staff, rather than resisting the changing to make the workplace more fun and memorable, would become more motivated.
I’d like to continue this conversation by elaborating on how the ideas of the Experience Economy can be applied in the public sector. Let me know if you want to see this and, of course, please share any examples you have of memorable public sector experiences.
© 2014 Norman Jacknis