There is a trend coming and I hope you are already planning for it. Like many trends, this trend will emerge from necessity and from the need to address fundamental aspects of human behavior in business life. It is the “experience” trend, and it will give way to an all-inclusive approach to managing business relationships.
Surely you have already seen many companies (perhaps your own) adopt the idea of “customer experience” or Cx, and maybe even hire a Chief Customer Experience Officer. Many of the companies known for customer experience consulting, research, and training are now also promoting employee experience as the emerging business competency to embrace. What you may not see is that organizations tasked with managing interactions with channel partners, VARs, and distributors have their own channel and partner experience programs similar to what we are promoting with customers and employees. Which begs the question: why do we need customer, employee, and partner experience programs as separate efforts of the same company? The very fact that customer, employee, and partner management techniques have diverged at this junction independently is, in itself, a telling sign that experience management is not mutually exclusive. It is, instead, a fundamental aspect of building all business relationships. For that reason, we have to change our thinking away from the recipient (customer or employee or partner) and towards the skills required to manage the experiences that lead to strong business relationships. We have to consider that the isolated focus on customers or employees or partners can be counterproductive. Counterproductive because the components required to manage experience are the same for all three. All your business relationships expect you to deliver functionality, accessibility, and emotional connection. They all forge out of need and value. They all require definition to consolidate and exists. They all require a positive communication climate to engage. They all have service expectations and build trust based on how transparent you are in your business dealings. Experience is not just a customer or employee or partner thing. It is a people thing. Isolated focus can also become distracting because, in already siloed companies, the people trying to get budget for Cx efforts could be competing for investment attention with partner and employee engagement efforts.
To some extent, there are a couple of things already working against siloed experience efforts at your company. They should compel you to start thinking about “experience” more holistically:
1. Human Behavior Expects it. In his work with interpersonal relationships, George Levinger defines the phases relationships go through and the potential for interpersonal relationships to form or deteriorate. What I find interesting about the way Levinger describes close relationships is their similarity to how we pursue prospects and recruit employees and partners. Those similarities are not accidental. It is evidence that all relationships (personal and business) need the same clarity of the expectations and boundaries of the relationship, the channels required to co-create value, and the agreements that will define the relationship itself. Experience has to be about the skills you need to manage human behavior and the things business relationships require to flourish.
2. Business Modeling Demands It. In recent years the work of Osterwalder and Pigneur on Business Model Generation has inequitably proven that your business cannot survive without aligning the experiences of all the people that form your business. The relationships and experiences of the employees and partners that deliver value to your customer segments through customer relationship-building are weaved into the fabric of business itself. Revenue generation and cost management do not exist independent from the key partnerships, activities, and resources that deliver your value proposition. Experience has to be something you manage across all the relationships that keep your business model together. In fact, when you manage customer experience in isolation you neglect business experiences that could paralyze your Cx effort.
So what can you do next to prepare? Here are a few things you can do right away to start preparing for the Experience Trend:
1. Catch up to Customer Experience. Unfortunately, many companies are unaware of what is happening with customer experience and what many leaders are doing to help us understand how to measure it. Connect with the idea that people need you to give them functionality, accessibility, and enjoyment. Do it now. Do it fast. Asking experience questions like Did you get what you needed?Did we make it easy? and, Was it enjoyable? are not yet common behavior. Make them a part of all your business interactions. Not just your customer interactions.
2. Catch up to Employee Engagement. Just as Cx has taught us a lot about managing experiences, talent management and HR professionals have taught us a lot about the formal process of managing milestones in the employee journey that lead to greater connection and engagement. The proactive processes they use to document and manage the growth of employees has to transfer to what we do with customers and partners. You have to be proactive to understand what relationships need to grow and what cause them to deteriorate so you can plan to make them better. Employees, customers, and partners all have a journey you must understand. You will be surprised at how much of that journey employees, customers, and partners travel together through shared experiences.
3. Share the wealth. Every day I see companies shut down their customer experience effort. They wait a year expecting for a magic spreadsheet that shows how Cx decreased cost or increased revenue. This will continue to happen for as long as we see customer, employee, and partner experience only as a financial strategy. Managing experience is a skill that must become part of our business acumen as much as selling, marketing, and serving people. You don’t fire your accountants because sales are low. You expect them to advice you on the financial health of your company and give you options to resolve financial problems, proactively. That is what managing experience does. It is time to invest in people and resources who manage the entire experience ecosystem and work together across departments to give your company a view of all your business experience risks.
For those of you who are implementing customer, employee, and partner programs independently, take a moment right now to call or email your counterparts. If your company is not managing the experience of all your business relationships, I hope you are encouraged to start. I would love to hear about your progress.