A Conversation with Dennis Moseley-Williams
by Peter van Aartrijk
You’ve heard the terms “customer experience,” or CX, as well as “Experience Economy.” But how do they relate with insurance? This isn’t a simple, straightforward or fun product offering such as cappuccino, haircuts, new cars or amusement parks. And how do you build “an experience” around something individuals, families or businesses really don’t want to hang around with?
Ah, grasshopper. Get ready for an attitude adjustment. This is key to how successful insurance providers will interact with consumers.
I recently enjoyed a fascinating conversation with speaker and blogger Dennis Moseley-Williams, who flies the Experience Economy flag like a maniac. He’s from Ottawa, eh? Here is an edited version of our conversation:
How do you make the shift?
Dennis Moseley-Williams (DM-W): An Air Canada pilot once told me that flying is one of the hardest things to learn, but then one of the easiest things to do.
That’s how I think about the Experience Economy. Its deceptively hard to learn, in part because most people assume that they already understand it, but once you understand the framework of the Experience Economy, it’s easy to do. In my case, it’s hard to not do it. I’m constantly observing the Experience Economy every day of my life.
To make the shift, we must commit to staging an authentic experience that delights and engages our client in an inherently personal and meaningful way.
I hear “authenticity” all the time. It’s not a new word, but it seems to be having its moment.
DM-W: That’s a good way to think about it. Authenticity is rising.
As the economy evolves, creating newer and better stuff, consumer sensibility also changes. By that I mean the criteria that we use to determine whether we’re going to buy it.
When you buy scrap metal, your sensibility is cost. When you buy a car, your sensibility is quality. When you buy mechanical services, your sensibility is efficiency. And when you are paying for the experience, your sensibility is authenticity. You want to have a real, authentic experience.
When I think “staged experience,” I think “fake.” And with “fake,” I don’t easily make the connection to “authentic.” It’s like “faking sincerity.”
For example, Disney is an authentic experience, but it’s also fake. It’s not really a magic kingdom, and the castle isn’t real. The whole thing is a movie set. In fact, even the behind-the-scenes-movie-set-themed entertainment like the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular is in fact a fake behind-the-scenes event. It’s a double faker!
What is real, however, is what Disney promises you they are. No matter who you are, when you go to Disney, you are blown away. You are completely caught up and immersed in the experience.
For something to be authentic, it must be true to itself — to what it says it is. And secondly, it must be true to what it tells others it is.
Staging like this makes insurance people uncomfortable. But you must be committed to the experience. Let’s say you want your customers to feel like family. Your entire staff comes to greet a customer and his family when they come into the agency. It’s staged, but the love is real.
Give some more examples.
DM-W: Patagonia products are worn by the real serious outdoor people, and the company was founded by climbers and surfers who had a true minimalist approach to dressing for outdoor adventure. Patagonia has a progressive environmental stand, and they let people know about it. The clothes themselves are made to last, and their process to make them wastes very little. They have a used market called Worn Wear where you can buy used stuff. They give away a percentage of their profits to environmental causes. Patagonia is expensive, but their customers are less concerned about this because the benefits to owning their products outweigh the costs.
I have a client who sells health and pension benefits to companies. He competes with other companies for the same customers selling the same products and services. However, Kevin McFadden focuses on wellness. Once he brings you on as a client, he works with your company to encourage you to do some smart and great things for your company. Kevin gets his clients to put in vending machines that are full of truly healthy options. He gets his companies to plant urban gardens. He gets his clients to get a bunch of bikes to ride and share. I spoke at his conference — remember he sells life and health benefits, but he didn’t have a single financial update. He hosted a symposium on wellness, and all the sponsors were in the health business.
Your business must have a purpose beyond its obvious objective of making a profit.”
Kevin believes not only in health and wellness, [but] he believes in promoting it. His entire business is about promoting health — he doesn’t worry about traditional business building. He believes in promoting health and wellness to his clients. That’s all he worries about, and of course this is also how his business builds. He makes a big difference in people’s lives. He is not just another guy competing on price.
You gotta want to do this though. It must be authentic.
DM-W: Absolutely. You can’t fake it. You have to really want to stage the experience you are staging if you want to be successful in the Experience Economy. Your business must be about something, which means it must have a purpose beyond its obvious objective of making a profit.
The experience has nothing to do with the product or service, which are commodities. The commitment is real.
Because if you don’t, you’re faking it.
DM-W: Exactly. We agreed earlier that to be authentic you should first be true to yourself, so you can’t fake it. You have to really believe in it. Secondly, you must be true about who and what you say you are. If you make a promise you can’t keep, you’re going to be perceived as being fake.
Your business must align with who you are personally to be perceived as being authentic. So, the more personal the reason — purpose — the better for having success in the Experience Economy.
Is this like a mission statement — this purpose?
DM-W: They are cousins, not siblings.
In Experience Economy, we call this purpose the theme — and the theme is a secret kept by the company. The theme informs the mission statement. The theme is the conceptual law behind everything the business will do strategically.
The mission statement of Starbucks is to sell coffee, but the theme of Starbucks is to become the third place that a person feels they belong. The first two are home and work, so the theme is to make you feel at home at Starbucks, to make you feel like staying, like lingering, and if possible to take them away with you.
So, the objective is to sell coffee, but the theme informing the strategy is to “be the third place.” Whatever expenditure Starbucks is evaluating, they measure it up against their theme. “If we do this, will it help people feel at home here?”
So, to be true to yourself, you need something to be true to — a purpose or theme. How do you get one?
DM-W: This is tricky. We hide in goods and services. But we have to let people into the “why” of what we do. For some people, they get happy when they say, “I want to sit people down and help them.” Others don’t want to be vulnerable.
Everyone wants to do work that matters. They want to contribute to people’s lives that goes beyond goods and services. They want to do more. That’s why the sponsor Little League baseball teams; it’s not all about insurance.
The challenge for all of us is that it’s not about goods and services. It’s about the experience.”
Find the secret you can use in your business to teach others. Ask better questions. What is the secret you know that you are going to use your business to teach? Aside from the obvious benefits of your products and services, what do your clients really hire you for? What business are you really in?
This is why the Experience Economy is so hard. When you sell goods and services, you have to worry about quality and efficiency. You just must make sure your products keep getting a little better, a little cleaner, a little cheaper, a little more of something, and you’re always working to improve the delivery of services.
The problem is after a while, you will become a commodity. You will work harder and harder to get the products and services tuned up, and you’ll sell them for less anyway. Everything gets better. And everything gets cheaper.
The challenge for all of us is that it’s not about goods and services. It’s about the experience.
So, we should stop hiding behind goods and services, and get honest about something bigger, something more meaningful. We must get in touch with our purpose, and for some people this is scary. It’s scary because its personal. It’s scary because it’s not about the goods and services.
You can’t fake it. You must be honest with yourself and then your audience. You must say, “I believe in this.”
So, a business finds its secret theme. What’s next? How does it take shape?
DM-W: Ask yourself what kinds of impressions you want to make, where, when and how.
I touched on this earlier — I met an agency owner who told me he wanted everyone to feel like they are family; he wanted them to feel the love. That’s his theme — make them feel like family.
He said that more than anything else — all mother-in-law and sibling jokes aside — you know that family is there for you. These guys, no matter what, have your back.
Experience Economy isn’t just a fun idea;
it’s probably the only thing that will save you from the ravages of commoditization.”
So, one simple impression he wants to make is, “We are there for you.” And among the many ways that he demonstrates this, one of them is that when you walk into his office someone on the team is waiting for you. It’s not just the receptionist — that’s not someone waiting for you; that’s a check-in person. That’s the same thing that happens when someone calls you to the counter at the DMV. Instead, it’s someone the client knows, who is on the team, is standing and waiting in the lobby. I think that’s really powerful.
What else is essential here?
DM-W: Your clients are the loneliest people in the world. They’re not literally lonely. But they love talking with financial services providers. Your clients may make a lot of money, but they have no one riding shotgun with them to bounce ideas around with.
It’s my personal belief that an excellent, authentic experience is the best marketing left on the planet. Staging experiences that are so inherently personal and meaningful that people feel compelled to speak of them and share them.
Experience Economy isn’t just a fun idea; it’s probably the only thing that will save you from the ravages of commoditization.
Don’t be afraid. Don’t hide behind the goods and services.
Stop telling people what you do, start telling them who you are, and why you do your work. Your products must be relevant — and insurance is relevant, we all need it, the need for it isn’t going away. You personally must be relatable, people should feel they know you, what you are about and what you stand for.
And finally, you have to be discoverable. Make it easy for people to find you, and for those who already know you to endorse and introduce you.