Welcome to the experience economy
July 25, 2001
I've been meaning to get around to reading "The Experience Economy," since even though web sites and software can be products, they're better thought of as "services"—and in services it's the experience of the interaction that marks the difference between a typical visit to Nordstroms vs. the Department of Motor Vehicles. But in the meantime I ran across a reprint of a Havard Business Review article where the same authors summarize their interesting thoughts. [Note: the links from this page all seem to be broken].

The good news is that the authors understand the value of the "good experience." The bad news is they mostly talk in terms of "atmosphere"—for example the various theme restaurants, such as the Hard Rock Cafe—and only touch lightly on the quality of the service itself, although they state that it's a critical component. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt on that issue, since good customer service has been talked about extensively in business circles, even if it's sometimes sorely lacking in the ways businesses actually operate.

But "atmosphere" is one of the three main components of a site (along with functionality and information) and the authors offer some interesting thoughts in this area:

One way to think about experiences is across two dimensions. The first corresponds to customer participation. At one end of the spectrum lies passive participation, in which customers don't affect the performance at all. Such participants include symphony-goers, for example, who experience the event as observers or listeners. At the other end of the spectrum lies active participation, in which customers play key roles in creating the performance or event that yields the experience. These participants include skiers. But even people who turn out to watch a ski race are not completely passive participants; simply by being there, they contribute to the visual and aural event that others experience.

The second dimension of experience describes the connection, or environmental relationship, that unites customers with the event or performance. At one end of the connection spectrum lies absorption, at the other end, immersion. People viewing the Kentucky Derby from the grandstand can absorb the event taking place beneath and in front of them; meanwhile, people standing in the infield are immersed in the sights, sounds, and smells that surround them. Furiously scribbling notes while listening to a physics lecture is more absorbing than reading a textbook; seeing a film at the theater with an audience, large screen, and stereophonic sound is more immersing than watching the same film on video at home.

These two dimensions create four broad categories, and the authors argue that richest experiences—such as the stereotypical going to Disneyland, or gambling in Las Vegas—tend to encompass all four, with a "sweet spot" where they converge. ::

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