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How Systems of Experience Will Become the New Competitive Differentiator


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As his son approached his 14th birthday, Trevor Schulze, RingCentral’s chief information officer, asked his child how he’d like to celebrate. “Dave & Buster’s?” he asked. As is often the case with 14-year-olds, his son responded with an epic eye roll. “Daaaaaad,” he said. “C’mon. Not Dave & Buster’s. That’s lame.”

Ok, Schulze thought, if not sugar-amped kids playing Pop-a-Shot, then what? The answer surprised him. It turns out, his son didn’t want a “traditional” party. In fact, it could be argued what his son wanted wasn’t technically a party at all. An avid game player, Schulze’s son wanted to host his friends from around the world for a marathon session of the latest Tom Clancy video game. No birthday cake required, the son said. “For him,” said the elder Schulze, “the cake is a loot crate in a Tom Clancy video game.”

Shifting to a digital experience economy

It was a startling revelation for Schulze, one that solidified a strong opinion he’d been forming about a new shift in “the experience economy.” (To learn more about technology’s role in the experience economy, register for HMG’s upcoming webinar, Excelling in the Experience Economy). In the late 90s, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore coined the term in a Harvard Business Review article. The two management advisors saw the experience economy as the successor to the agrarian, industrial, and service economies the US had already built. In this new landscape, they said, successful businesses wouldn’t just sell products. They’d build memorable, customized experiences for their customers that would surround those products. In fact, these experiences would become integral parts of the products themselves, which could then be sold at higher prices. 

For Schulze, his son’s party represented an evolution from what he considered the “analog” experience economy, which involved a physical gathering for the party with customized components, like a birthday cake. In a digital experience economy, that experience becomes entirely virtual—and quite profitable. 

What are “systems of experience?”

As he continued to explore this new digital economy, Schulze became convinced that to succeed, companies needed to make a fundamental technology shift to support these customer experiences. He dubbed the new technology “systems of experience,” which he believes have a number of common traits, including hyper-individualization, immersive, a sense of community, intelligence, simplicity, and more. Effective systems of experience, he said, should accomplish three main objectives:

  1. Increase existing product revenue
  2. Improve the customer experience
  3. Improve the employee experience

Systems of experience and driving revenue

Schulze’s son’s virtual birthday party provides the clearest example of how systems of experience can drive revenue. The ability to have friends around the world simultaneously running missions to save the planet comes at a price. As Schulze aptly notes, “My son spends a lot of money on videogame platforms.” 

Systems of experience and customer engagement

The customer experience dynamic has changed radically in recent years and will continue to do so, said Schulze. Customer systems must keep pace. Businesses no longer control the conversation, said Schulze, noting that customers won’t be satisfied using communications channels of the brand’s preference. Today, customers decide when and how to reach their favorite brands—social media, text message, phone, whatever. 

Systems of experience and employee engagement

For Schulze, employee engagement is the most important—and most frequently overlooked—component of a systems of experience strategy. That’s because the other two components fall in line when employees feel engaged. “When you have engaged employees that don’t use old technology, you drive better customer experience,” he said. “When you drive better customer experience, you have a better brand. And when you have a better brand, you sell more product.”

To learn more about systems of experience, and to hear RingCentral’s Trevor Schulze discuss systems of experience, register for HMG’s upcoming webinar, Excelling in the Experience Economy.

Originally published May 05, 2020, updated Dec 30, 2022

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