Some 15 years ago Prine and Gilmore wrote the article „Welcome to the Experience Economy“. Their point was, roughly, that customers are willing to pay more for a complete package that creates an experience than for the parts that compose the package.

Customer Experience xm-insituteAnd true enough edutainment (shopping as entertainment), the retail experience, the online experience, etc. have all been expanded on and improved. Users leave bad websites, and swarm to good ones. A pair of my students separately reviewed the website ____ this semester and both described it as so bad that user might immediately leave! (I would have to agree.)

One person in particular, Dr. Y. Kosaka has systematically tied experience to user satisfaction. As a former neuroscientist, he has connected his findings to the process of activating various parts of the brain creating a neural pathway of connections. Satisfaction is a pale word to use. The Japanese concept is yorokobi 悦び. In this concept, the customer eventually becomes bound emotionally to the ability of the business and staff. „Where would I be without them?“ they ask. The staff are mentors and guides to the customer. It is a supportive and mutual relationship that breeds yorokobi.

These ideas help us understand why some small personalized stores survive against large efficient operations. In my adoptive US city of Baltimore, I rarely shopped at the huge national hardware chain. If possible I preferred to pay more for the neighborhood shop. This shop was family run. The manager was about 50 and operated the shop with a partner of similar age and his son, about 25. The father and partner were encyclopedias of info that homeowners like me needed. Example: „If you want the paint to last, take the following steps… use this paint not that one … be sure to make the whole effort between about 12 degrees and 30 degrees, take these safety and clean up steps.“

His son, tattooed and pierced, meanwhile interacted heavily with the art and design students nearby. Example: „If you use this hinge it will not be strong enough, try this one. Try this low contrast color for that project. Use this cheap adhesive for a temporary project, use this one for a permanent item…“

In the back, Grandad frequently watched and helped when busy or added deeper wisdom to customers mature enough for it. (Wow, some great advice!)

Great shop. But not great about price. And not always fast: sometimes they had to order things while you waited a week. But the customers loved them. And it was pretty fun to listen to the conversations.

They had naturally developed the right process and interactions and skills for their customers. But can we engineer this? Can we design interactions and experiences such that they satisfy the customer on several level…some in their deep psychology and some that more superficial? Will the invested time and effort increase the bottom line appropriately?

Prine and Gilmore challenged us to think about what changes we would make if we sold admission tickets to our businesses.

Kosaka goes further. He asks us how we would change the business so that the customer is happy to pay. How would it be if the customer brought gifts as a thank you? Crazy? (Not so crazy, I am so happy about the raisin and nut shop that I go to because they are low price and high quality and fun that I bring them a cake once a year made with their products…and I soak the raisins in bourbon, but that is another story.) Kosaka works with mainly small family sized retail operations, over 1500 in Japan. These approaches may be adaptable in larger operations, in other business settings.