Esteban Kolsky: What is an Experience Continuum (and how do I get one)?

Esteban Kolsky: What is an Experience Continuum (and how do I get one)?

Using customer lifecycles to build interactions no longer works because the customer has control of the interaction. There are no more lifecycles; there is now an Experience Continuum.

Most organisations have embraced the concept of customer lifecycles (target-acquire-support-retain, see figure 1) to build interactions with their customers. Each step in the cycle is tied to a specific interaction; each interaction is transformed over time into an experience.
Figure 1: target-acquire-support-retain
This model has served us very well for quite some time and we even built entire enterprise applications (CRM) around the model. Alas, the emerging Generation C and the social evolution make it not so useful anymore; it is company-centric and assumes a passive customer – two things we no longer have in a social business model.
When the organisation can no longer dictate how and where the customer gets to interact with it, as we have had done throughout business 1.0, the model falls apart. A customer can no longer be told that they need to call back, or that a specific transaction cannot be completed via a specific channel (of course, compliance rules still apply), or that a specific "experience" is the only way they can interact with the organisation: they will find ways to make sure they still control the interaction through their communities, changing the balance of power between organisation and customer.
Turning the model inside out means the model does not work anymore, not that the customer is now in control of the interactions; means that the organisation needs to come up with a new way to do things and to remain in control of their data and their systems (I can already hear the screams from the Social Kumbayah crowd: 'control' is a bad word! Well, if you want any business to succeed, it has to have some level of control over its destiny). 
This is where the experience continuum comes in (see figure 2). The customer controls the interaction (when, where, and how) and the organisation strives to provide an ever-evolving experience based on their feedback. There are no more lifecycles; there is now an Experience Continuum.
Figure 2: a social business model
Sure, you say – that is easy enough to say, but how do we implement something like that? Looks like we can never do what we need to do to service the customers – it is a recipe for failure. Well, it could very well be – if you let it. The secret to implementing something like this is to understand how it works, how the data flows, how the actions happen.
Organisations today are doing a reduced model of this continuum (in the form of the lifecycle), so we are simply talking about augmenting what you are already doing – extending it from a single business unit to the rest of the organisation. Contrary to the lifecycle, which aims to make things easier for the company, the experience continuum has two purposes: serve awesome experiences to the customer, and provide actionable insights (via feedback) back to the organisation. 
How does it do this? Glad you asked.
First, let’s see how we used to do it until now: an organisation took an interaction and transformed it into an experience (fine, abracadabra! – there, it happened), delivered that experience to the client (usually via a single channel, for a single function) and collected feedback on the performance (are you satisfied? Will you remain loyal?). They used this feedback, in the best cases, to improve that experience, and the cycle repeats. Figure 3 shows the traditional lifecycle approach to how these experiences were delivered.
Figure 3: traditional lifecycle approach
Now, let’s see the critical pieces that the Experience Continuum brings to this process. First, it moves from single-process experience to true experiences – end-to-end processes. Second, it constantly collects feedback – both in structured mode via surveys as well as in unstructured mode (via communities – this closes the loop on the external side) and directly from operational metrics. The feedback collected is analysed and transformed into actionable insights (now the organisation can act on them). 
Finally, it is all fed to internal communities (or even hybrid communities working together with customers) to improve the different areas of the end-to-end process. This new and improved end-to-end process continues to feed a better-now experience (repeat in an iterative cycle, also referred to as a continuum).
Reaching the limit of what I can write in this short article, but let’s see how we move to the Experience Continuum:
1)     Get a forklift – just kidding!
2)     Document end-to-end processes to replace single-function processes.
3)     Understand the concept of an Experience Continuum and the different components, look at what you are already have and what you are missing.
4)     Deploy the internal, external, and hybrid (internal and external communities working together) communities to close the loop.
5)     Begin migrating to end-to-end processes while ensuring that there are feedback mechanisms (operational metrics, structured and unstructured feedback) to understand efficiency and effectiveness.
6)     Analyse the feedback collected, create actionable insights, implement the necessary changes.
7)     Repeat 4 through 6, as needed, ad-finite, in a continuum.
Well, hard to condense into a short article, but hopefully you get the idea. What do you think? Would love to get your comments…

Esteban Kolsky is the founder of ThinkJar where he works with vendors to create go-to market strategies for Customer Service and CRM and with end-users leveraging his results-driven, dynamic Customer Experience Management methodology to earn and retain loyal customers. Previously he was a well-known Gartner analyst and created a strategic consulting practice at eVergance. Esteban also regularly blogs at CRM intelligence & strategy.

Comments

Great ideas Esteban.

I would also like to applaud your assertion that "if you want any business to succeed, it has to have some level of control over its destiny"in response to the increasingly widespread idea that control is a negative thing.

Businesses still need to manage and control if they are to be successful and whenever i hear all this talk about how firms should roll over and let customers do their own thing, it drives me wild. Don't get me wrong, i'm sure orgs don't have the power over the consumer they used to, but to suggest they now have 'control' of the conversation is ludicrous.

Orgs just need to change their conversation and interaction to maximise teh value - not concede control. That won't help anyone!

H

 Henry,

Thanks for the comment-- it always amazes me how many companies are willing to throw the baby out with the bath water (to speak in generic terms) when it comes to adopting new concepts.  Fascinating how business has changed little at the core, but we are always looking for the new, better, different way to do what we have been doing for centuries.

Glad that someone shares the concept!

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