Existence is experience. If we don’t experience, we don’t exist.
Many philosophical traditions operate from this point, and it’s impossible to refute. If there is no one to experience the universe, in what sense does it exist?
Bringing this down to the human level, everything we do, we do in pursuit of positive experiences and to avoid negative ones. Our memories are simply a catalogue of our experiences, and negative ones often carry more weight than positive ones.
Any product or service that we sell is nothing more than a set of experiences for the customer, and for our employees, as well.
Which brings me to the point.
All we sell is experience. It might be an entertainment or educational experience, or it might be something like the experience of solving a problem. It could be the experience of taste and satisfaction from a great meal, or the experience of community and connection from a great conversation. But in the end, all there is is experience.
What does this mean to a business person?
It means that you aren’t only selling your product or service. You’re selling the experience of buying that product, the experience of receiving that product, the experience of using it, touching it, even the experience of bragging about it to friends or posting on Facebook.
If your service is fantastic, but the experience of ordering it is clunky and unfriendly, you’ll lose business. If your advertising reflects poorly on the user, the experience of telling ones’ family and friends about it is ruined. A marriage counselor who advertises “Is your marriage a disaster? Call me to clean it up!” might get some calls, but their clients aren’t likely to tell a sister-in-law about the great help you were to their own ‘disaster’ marriage.
Steve Jobs is widely looked upon as a genius, an amazing creative force. But really, his gift was in being aware of his experience.
This is something that Buddhists practice, something called ‘mindfulness’ which is becoming quite a popular notion in the business world as we speak. But it’s more than simply paying attention to the present, focusing on your breath, etc. It’s about watching your own thoughts and feelings. It’s about noticing how you are feeling, then evaluating that feeling in a rational, objective way. Once you are no longer a slave to your feelings, you are free. You may feel fear, but simply acknowledge it, evaluate the real risk, then move forward, calmly, feeling the fear, but not fighting it, simply noticing it.
This skill has a fantastic benefit for business people. It allows you to notice and be aware of those micro-emotions that you get when you look at, touch, use your own product. And more importantly, it allows you to evaluate those feelings objectively.
Often, we have this sneaking feeling that something isn’t quite right, but we say, ‘Customers won’t notice that’ or ‘Customers don’t care about that.’ Steve Jobs’ genius was in his ability to notice those feelings and bring them out and look at them. People thought he was difficult or a perfectionist, and he was in a way. He wanted the experience of using his products to be as amazing and awe inspiring as possible. Anyone who has ever opened a piece of Apple equipment from the box is familiar with the way that experience is engineered. Every bit is in a perfect place, carefully created to give you the feeling that you are entering a better space, one where every detail has been considered.
It’s not easy, and doing it with your own business is hardest of all. So start with your daily routine. Notice the little negative and positive experiences that you have as you move throughout your day, as you buy goods and services. Notice the kludgy process your plumber uses to collect your payment and signature. The poor customer service at your doctor’s office. The way that an unclean bathroom affects your experience at the little restaurant you eat lunch at.
You’ll never get your business to perfection, but commit to always being better.
And think in terms of the customer’s experience of buying from you. Not just the product and the price, but the whole thing, from learning about your company via ads or word of mouth, to their own post purchase experience, and how they feel telling a friend about the amazing experience they had.
Experience is all there is, so make it amazing.