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Success = Relationships + experiences

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My Android device died recently, and I decided to fall in line and make the switch to an iPhone. I dropped by the office of the MACPA's tech god, Doug Shaner, to talk about the switch, and he said something interesting.

Android phones offer a dizzying array of features, many of which put the iPhone to shame. What the iPhone offers, Doug said, is an experience. There's a feeling that comes with using an iPhone -- a feeling of simplicity, beauty and being on the cutting edge -- that you can't get with any other device. That experience is powerful and creates fierce loyalty among Apple fans.

Welcome to The Experience Economy.

Business success today depends in part on your ability to create a memorable, positive experience for your customers. Do that and you'll find yourself with fiercely loyal customers who are willing to pay a premium for your services.

So says Bob Dean, anyway. Bob is a thought leader and instructor with the Business Learning Institute, and he's a disciple of "The Experience Economy," a 1999 book (revised in 2011) by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore.

Dean explains it this way:

When he was a kid, Dean's grandmother would make fantastic birthday cakes for him after spending nothing more than pennies for the ingredients. Later, his mother took an easier route by paying a bit more for the simplicty of a Betty Crocker cake mix. Eventually, his wife took it a step further by ordering a custom-made cake from the local grocery store ... but even that wasn't enough. Eventually, they outsourced the whole birthday experience -- the cake, the games, the fun -- to Chuck E. Cheese.

That's the experience economy in action.

CPAs can play the experience game, too. According to Dean, they simply have to ask themselves four questions:

  • How do we solve problems for our clients? Do we do it in a way that's reactive and prescriptive, or do we do it in a way that's proactive and collaborative?

  • How do we bring visionary insights to our clients? Do we do it in a historical way, or do we do it in a way that is truly leading-edge, using the latest thinking our clients need?

  • What does our performance space say about you? For CPAs, that space can be anything from your lobby to your nicest conference room to, perhaps, the local Starbucks where you take clients for coffee. Use the space to create an experience.

  • What is our commitment to the relationship? Do we want to be (a) an expert for hire, or (b) a true trusted partner? Here's a hint: The correct answer is (b).

"We all know that services can be customized for us," Dean said. "We expect it in professional services as well."

There it is again -- that notion that our success depends not on profits, or EBITA, or marketing, but on relationships. Dean and Pine and Gilmore might call it an Experience Economy, but it's really more of a People Economy, isn't it? The social revolution goes way beyond social media. It puts people squarely at the center of everything we do.

If we're not building and nuturing those relationships, we're lost.

Listen to more of Dean's insights here:

Want to learn more?
Check out Bob Dean's one-hour BLI webcast titled, "Business Innovation in The Experience Economy." It focuses on one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves these days: How can we differentiate our businesses by shifting from providing commoditized goods and services to staging memorable and compelling customer experiences? Get details here.

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