Bernie Callaghan: Positive memories can translate into business growth

It’s not what we have, it’s what we do that’s important. The growing “experience economy” crystallises the importance of memories over materialism; of experiences over “things”

Bernie Callaghan
Bernie Callaghan

It’s not what we have, it’s what we do that’s important. The growing “experience economy” crystallises the importance of memories over materialism; of experiences over “things”.

So many aspects of global business in the 21st century are now part of the experience economy. In retail, tourism and leisure businesses, customer experience is increasingly important. In health care, legal, and finance services professions, clients value an excellent experience. These create positive memories which can translate into business growth.

Looking around, there are many examples in service and retail sectors of a fast-evolving focus on customer experience. America and Europe’s relatively affluent societies are leading the push, with consumers becoming increasingly choosy about how they spend their money. As a result, compelling experiences are being developed to create the elusive added value that underpins customer loyalty.

However, the factors influencing experience can be complex. Starbucks, the US coffee bar chain, had long been ranked highly for their personalised approach to customers, enabling it to charge premium prices for its products. However, in the Marketing Week table of customer experience for 2013, the company did not even feature in the Top 100 – due to questions raised over its taxation practices.

The Cooperative Bank was another company that disappeared from the list, again demonstrating that reputation can play a major part in consumers’ perceptions of experience.

Top spot in that league table was taken by retailer John Lewis, highlighting that personal trust and integrity are strong drivers in customer experience.

The focus on experience by multi-national and growing businesses is driven by a belief that those which deliver a persuasive experience are cushioned in a downturn – the last to fall and the first to recover. This resilience to economic hardship is said to differentiate “experiential” companies.

Universities worldwide are focusing on the student experience, to make individuals feel valued and supported. The success of faculties such as my own, in which the department of law has achieved 100% overall satisfaction from students in national tables, relies on the relationship between staff and students. We place the importance of community and belonging high on the agenda, and that makes a difference to students’ confidence.

We are now able to do more, learn new skills, live longer and explore careers and countries more easily than ever before. Those companies which place customer satisfaction way down the list of priorities should rethink fast. They may be in for an experience they will regret.

:: Professor Bernie Callaghan is dean of the faculty of business and law at the University of Sunderland

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