Experience is the next cloud

When everything is in the cloud, how do we differentiate our products? By moving from Customer Experience (CX) to the Business of Experience (BX).

This year has clearly proven what probably didn’t need any further proof: everything that can move to the cloud will move to the cloud, sooner rather than later. This includes things like management: your boss turned into a face on a screen. Or education: online teaching and learning got a considerable boost. The same is true from a more technological perspective: every system that was already in the cloud at the beginning of 2020 continued to work seamlessly during lockdowns. Those that weren’t? Not so much.

But that move has its downsides, as has also become clear. For starters, when everything is in the cloud, the competition becomes everything else. How do you differentiate your product (or service) in a cloud-dominated world? We’re already drowning in a sea of sameness, because a good customer experience (CX) has become mainstream. Throughout a quarter-century, specific standards for CX emerged, leading to commoditization. Today, more than four out of five brands report languishing growth from their investments in CX, and 85% of elite brands’ CX scores remain stagnant.

How can we escape this trap?

Towards the Business of Experience

The short answer is found by moving backwards through the alphabet, from CX, to the Business of Experience (BX). While CX was the realm of the CMO, or maybe the COO, BX is, quite literally, the business of the CEO: it is about every aspect of a company’s operations. In Accenture’s latest research, 77% of CEOs said their company will fundamentally change the way it engages and interacts with its customers. But many organizations seem to be out of sync: too rigid or moving at a pace that is slower than consumer change.

In our research, around 41% of CEOs said they believe an inability to respond quickly to changing market conditions and customer habits is a critical barrier in responding to the Covid-19 crisis. For all these reasons, the customer experience needs to become the focal point of the entire company. It’s no longer just about the façade, the consumer touchpoints, while products and services remain basically unchanged. It’s about innovation with a clear purpose, values and human needs.

While CX has been commoditised, BX has the potential to differentiate products and services. Let’s look at a few key characteristics.

Ecosystems

When all services are in the cloud, they’re always just an API call away. Hence, you need to design your product as an ecosystem from the outside-in. This is precisely the opposite of many companies’ reality, which design products from the inside-out, with enterprise solutions at the core. The users and their experience need to be first. And beyond the technological aspect, you need to think of your business more as an ecosystem, too. It is about connecting all internal services of a company with external partners as an integrated offering to create value for people.

This change of perspective leads inevitably to shifting the focus from the experience of a specific service (think: an online shop) to the overall system’s experience (think: Shopify). The focus shifts from the customer experience to the Business of Experience. The starting point is the desired customer experience around a specific purpose. From here, work your way back into processes and technology. But don’t stop there. Think beyond the legacy product and company boundaries. It’s about the experience of the entire ecosystem.

The essence of the internet is, well, its network character. Everything is remotely connected, and corona, as well as the cloud, are the boosters here once again. For example, over 80% of consumers who increased their digital usage during the pandemic expect to sustain these levels moving forward. To create compelling customer experiences, it’s not the single moment (of truth) or the chain of interactions that is decisive. Instead, it’s crucial to develop a distinctive, differentiated experience by unfolding new value from a company’s existing resources by fusing additional services.

Marketing

In the future, the three layers of content, media, and data must all be interconnected. But this will not be enough. It’s not just about promotion, it’s about all 4 Ps of McCarthy’s marketing mix: product, place, promotion, and price purpose. And again, the “place” is not just the spot on the web, but the platform and the ecosystem. If marketers want to deliver a relevant value contribution to their customers from the experience angle, they must not limit themselves to the promotion space.

Marketers also need to take care of the product experience, e-commerce (place), and purpose. Vertical integration across the entire set of Ps is the main lever of developing differentiating products, and in making them successful in the marketplace. At the same time, they need to tell stories and communicate effectively across the digital space. This is what we call the Business of Experience.

Brands

When Interbrand published its “Best Global Brands 2020” report, the rock stars were:

  • Amazon (60% growth)
  • Microsoft (53%)
  • Spotify (52%)
  • Netflix (41%)
  • Adobe (41%)
  • PayPal (38%)
  • Apple (38%)
  • Salesforce (34%)
  • Nintendo (31%)

The fault lines in society, accelerated by the pandemic, are also reflected in a further polarization among the brands: the best brands had an increase of 43%, the rest of the pack recorded a decrease of 57% – the most significant drop in history.

This year’s winners are characterized by remarkably rapid growth; the average increase among the top 3 brands alone was 50%. Through the Covid effect, these brands have benefited across sectors from digital transformation trends such as cloud-based technology and streaming. The dominance of technology-first brands has further increased compared to previous years.

Crises renegotiate the implicit contract between companies and people. People expect more from the brands they choose. Consumers are beginning to view their consumption decisions as a vote of confidence. Today, eight in 10 consumers say the purpose is at least as important to them as CX.

An example of this is the remarkable revival of Microsoft. Satya Nadella argues that in the future “you’ll only have permission to profit as a business if you have the consent of customers.” As people begin to hold business to account, the choice is morphing into consent, and brands mediate the commitments a business makes to its constituents. In this mix, a brand is still a promise, but a promise of something more profound. Done right, brands offer an equilibrium between brands and humans – a set of shared values.

Matthias Schrader is the founder of the NEXT Conference. Since 2018, he has led Accenture Interactive in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Russia.

Photo by Kenrick Mills on Unsplash