It is nice to maintain the fiction that we are responsible for our business and our clients’ customer experience. In reality, creating customer experience is rapidly developing so that less and less of it is in a company’s own hands, and even to the point where they lose direct contact with customer experience. Nowadays, companies mostly operate as part of a larger ecosystem in which customer experience depends on how different players in the ecosystem succeed in cooperation and in their own customer encounters.
In addition to customers, a customer experience ecosystem includes employees, suppliers, distributors, subcontractors, partners, competitors, working environments and all their related interactions.
However, the customer doesn’t see it this way. The customer sees only one customer experience, good or bad.
A successful ecosystem customer experience has three common denominators. To control these steps, a company needs an effective ecosystem strategy.
The central objective of an ecosystem strategy is to get ecosystem players a) to acknowledge their roles in the ecosystem, b) to understand shared goals and commit to them and c) to know how to act to achieve common goals.
1. Succeed in encounters where you can make a difference
A good starting point for success is to understand the customer path from the early familiarization phase to the purchase event and even further to the end of the product or service life cycle. But it is impossible to control different encounters along every customer path, so it is essential to be able to recognize all the most important touchpoints.
By identifying the most crucial touchpoints along the customer path, a company can effectively deploy its available resources. And what really are the most important touchpoints? They are the ones that actively help customers reach their goal (suggested reading: https://hbr.org/2016/09/know-your-customers-jobs-to-be-done). And perhaps also the touchpoints that are closely related to achieving the goal. The points that realize the value that the product or service creates for your customer.
You must be better at those points that anyone else, that’s the reason a customer will buy. And will buy a second time as well.
2. Create the best possible conditions for others to succeed
Every ecosystem player has a role that is interconnected. Customers may do business directly or indirectly, consciously or inadvertently with different members of an ecosystem. For an ecosystem to produce a good customer experience, it must work in concert toward a shared goal, play the same way, pull in the same direction and so on.
Cause-and-effect relationships lie behind different touchpoints: what one party does affects how another part of the ecosystem performs and in turn how a third party succeeds. Because of this, ecosystem members must have a shared understanding of each other’s role in achieving common goals. It is important to take care of your own business as well as possible (point 1), because it also assists others and the operations of the entire ecosystem. On top of this, transparency plays a key role: knowledge, investment, management and benefit. Transparency gives rise to trust, which in turn significantly contributes to ecosystem functionality and the execution of ecosystem strategy.
3. Assume responsibility for the entire ecosystem
At no stage can any part of the ecosystem shirk responsibility or assign blame to another actor, even when tempted to do so. The “I only work here” attitude will immediately undermine customer experience. And the benefit of the entire ecosystem to the customer and to the ecosystem itself.
When customer experience is produced in an ecosystem, responsibility should also be jointly carried. The ecosystem is a single touchpoint for the customer, and it is therefore a single responsibility interface for the customer. Shared responsibility becomes easier when thinking evolves from the value produced by a single company to the value produced by the entire ecosystem. A functional ecosystem only has winners.
Every organization needs to thoroughly understand that customer experience will no longer be in their exclusive control. It is therefore important to understand the unique customer experience ecosystem in which the company operates. The faster it understands this, the bigger its competitive advantage.
An ecosystem strategy makes it possible for actors to understand their roles in the big picture and to do their best to ensure the achievement of shared goals. An ecosystem strategy maximizes the benefit generated for the customer as well as ecosystem members. Once a strategy is carefully and realistically planned, it is time to turn words into action.
The time to act is now. Although it may not be simple, getting to work will eventually yield results.
Sara Toivakainen is a customer-focused business developer who always looks beyond the present. Sara’s genuine passion is management and measurement of customer-centric business activity and customer experience. Sara has helped several customers in different sectors to systematically develop and manage customer experience to the point where both customers and company become winners.