Trevor Schulze likes to think of things in terms of birthday cakes.
Actually, not everything, but he does like to think of economic evolution in terms of birthday cakes. To Schulze, CIO of RingCentral, the Agrarian Economy represents how the first cakes were packaged and sold. In the beginning, in fact, they weren’t packaged at all. Consumers went to a market to purchase all the individual components (salt, flour, whatever else a cake is made of) and made the cake from scratch. It was a relatively inexpensive endeavor, he reckons.
But then came the Industrial Economy, and with it the need for greater scale and efficiency. Cakes became pre-packaged—all the ingredients in a box. Just add water. And for consumers, the result of that scale and production efficiency was a higher price tag. As we entered the Service Economy, we went a step further. We wanted the cake. We just didn’t want to make the cake, giving rise to the pre-made variety. And we threw in a little customization with names written out in icing. Again, the perceived value of the cake increased, as did its cost.
Which brings us to today and the Experience Economy, where it’s become about so much more than the cake. The cake now represents just one piece of an overall experience that carries even greater value that consumers are willing to pay for—the party at Chuck E. Cheese or Dave & Buster’s. And costs started to soar into the hundreds of dollars.
The Digital Experience Economy: Personalization to the nth degree
And Schulze sees it going a step further. Our digital world has completely rewritten the rules of the Experience Economy. His 14-year-old son’s idea of a birthday, for example, didn’t even include a cake. “He’s a gamer,” says Schulze. “He wanted a birthday that was online. It was virtual. It was individualized. His cake was an in-game loot crate.” No surprise: a virtual party costs a lotta loot.
Schulze’s son’s example highlights that the new economy goes well beyond the personalization of previous eras, the CIO says. This has dramatic ramifications for customer service. “What people are really looking for when they engage with the businesses,” he says, “is that they want to engage with the business where things are hyper-individualized.
“I mean everything about what I’m trying to do with a company, I want them to absolutely know me. It’s not personalization. It’s hyper-personalization.”
Systems of Experience™ and the new digital economy
This shift requires systems that can support this kind of knowledge accumulation, says Schulze, who made his comments during a recent virtual roundtable. He dubs these “Systems of Experience,” and they have a few critical characteristics. “They need to be immersive,” he says. “People are busy. They don’t want to have to understand how things work when they engage with you.”
Importantly, they also need to build intelligence about customers from multiple sources. “It has to be something that learns about who they are and what they’re doing,” he says. “It has to be omnichannel.” He adds: “It doesn’t matter if it’s social, chat, texting, video, voice. We should no longer dictate how a customer or employee engages to seek answers.”
The ability to deploy systems that learn about customers from those channels will be critical, Schulze says. “It has to be something that learns about who [customers] are and what they’re doing.”
The link between employee experience and customer experience
Schulze also says this shift will have important implications for CIOs. First and foremost, he believes CIOs need to be much more focused on driving profitability for their organizations. Next, he says CIOs should pay much closer attention to systems that build the relationship between employee engagement and customer engagement. “The companies that did not invest in modern digital experiences for employees and customers struggle,” he says. “Those who made those investments I think will thrive.”
Ultimately, the new era of customer engagement puts the power in the hands of the customer and forces organizations to be proactive. In the past, says Schulze, customer service was too company-centric. “It was 9-5, voice, email, chat. It was reactive and knowledge-based. Some people called it the service of the many. Companies tried to group knowledge to support a customer in a reactive mode.”
Today’s brands need to understand the unique qualities of each customer. “Know them,” Schulze says. “Learn and be intelligent. Gather info about them so you can anticipate what they’re looking for. It becomes like they’re engaging with their best friend.”
To hear more about how to build Systems of Experience, watch Schulze’s virtual roundtable discussion, “Excelling in the Experience Economy.”
Originally published Jun 23, 2020, updated Dec 30, 2022