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Gaining Experience

Last month, I attended ELAN Home Systems’ first ELAN TRIO Dealer Summit, an impressive event that brought together 400 of the manufacturer’s top dealers, VIA! integration partners and independent sales reps in Lexington, Kentucky, for business, sales and technical training.

James Gilmore, co-author of The Experience Economy, delivered the Summit’s most noteworthy keynote speech titled, “Create Compelling Customer Experiences Everyday! Customers Just Want to Have Fun.” This presentation was designed to teach attendees how to create rich, compelling experiences that will “excite and delight” their clientele, from the moment they enter the showroom to the last contact they have with their company.

Gilmore began by explaining that just as the Industrial Economy supplanted the Agrarian Economy and was in turn supplanted by the Service Economy, we are now shifting to an Experience Economy. In this new economic era, he explained, all businesses must orchestrate memorable events for their customers that engage each one of them in an inherently personal way. “Goods and services are no longer enough,” he explained. “To be successful in today’s increasingly competitive environment, companies must learn to stage experiences for each one of their individual customers.”

The author provided several compelling examples of businesses that already have jumped feet first into this new era. For example, he described how a cup of coffee could start out costing only a few cents when it is harvested as beans in Brazil, but then increases to a dollar when added to hot water in a McDonald’s restaurant or New Jersey diner. Add “atmosphere” to that same cup of coffee, however, and many customers will be willing to spend four or five dollars at a Starbucks or as much as 16 bucks at Caf Florian in Venice, Italy’s Piazza San Marco. A customer’s willingness to spend more for flavored water in one place and not another reinforces Gilmore’s notion that goods and services are becoming a “prop” to the experience itself.

Taking the concept further, Gilmore said that the most successful “experiential” businesses manage to hit a sweet spot that draws richly from the four E’s of Entertainment, Educational, Esthetic and Escapist. He described such destinations as Holland’s “Keukenhof,” where millions of flowering bulbs are displayed in the perfection of artistry all over a lovely park. The flowers and two-tone grass in this example provide the Esthetic. A giant maze of shrubbery provides Escapism. Name markers on all of the flowers offer an Educational opportunity and water fountains synchronized to music provide some of the park’s Entertainment value.

Closer to home, Gilmore described the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas as a harmonious blend of the four E’s. The casino’s esthetic can be defined by its lobby ceiling which is adorned in a display of 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers, a fine art gallery provides educational opportunities for its visitors, then Cirque du Soleil’s “O” and a requisite casino offer a combination of escapism and entertainment.

What’s the sweet spot in the work that you do? You could start by providing what your customer wants exactly, instead of what he or she settles for. In your demo room, you could try to engage all five senses of your customers, not just sight and sound. Or, take a your cue from Steinway pianos which stages a professional concert in the home of every customer that invests in a top-of-the-line $100,000 piano. Steinway gets a list of their customer’s friends and family, prints up and mails invitations for the performance and then brings in an accomplished pianist to perform the show. Sounds like something that might work for your best home theater clientele, doesn’t it? I imagine that the referrals that you will gain from a successful “movie premiere” at your customer’s home easily would be worth the cost of invitations and catering.

If James Gilmore has it right about our next economic era, then you’re already in a good business to succeed. Just remember to create magic every time that you design and install a system. Exceed your client’s expectations and “wow” them with the experience that only your company can create.