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Saturday, 5 June 2010

Emergence and Customer Experience

You have to forgive me for this post as I'm moving into much more complex ideas and articulating it is a challenge.

In my last post, I discussed the notion of variety in a system and the fact that delivering contextual value means inviting a whole lot of customer variety of contextual use into the system. This may render the system to be non-viable as the firm isn't able to absorb it. Either that or the firm attenuates the customer variety of use contexts which may result in an unhappy customer.

In some of my work, I am beginning to see that customer experience is emergent (I posted this earlier but will expand on it here). What do I mean?

1. Emergent properties of a system are properties that exhibited at the system level, which does not exist at the component level. That is the very nature of customer experience. Customer experience does not sit with the firm, or the customer. It emerges from the interactions between the 2.

2. Emergent properties exist because of the interactions. This means that interactions themselves are an asset, a unit of analysis. In a system of A+B+C, the '+' between A and B and the '+' between B and C (could be different interactions) hold the key to the emergence. Customer experience is a result of interactions between the components. Thus customer experience is an emergent outcome, even while a system is tasked to deliver functional outputs.

3. Emergent properties is the reason why a system is greater than the sum of its parts. That is why even when functional value is delivered (or not), customer experience still exists. It is emergent from the system. It makes the system greater (or not).

4. Emergent properties can not be deterministically designed (its emergent... doh)

So back to my ATM example.

Case A. You walk up to an ATM and you want to withdraw £200 and you wish to have 20 £10 bills (value of the ATM in context). You know you cannot get an ATM to do that so you attentuate your own variety and live with the 10 $20 bills that came out. You get a functional output you're not that satisfied with but you live with it. Your customer experience is just so-so (come on, its an ATM machine!)

Case B. You decided to go the teller to withdraw £200 and asked for 2o £10 bills.

(a) The teller smiles very nicely at you and say 'sorry sir, but i just don't have that many £10 bills today. But if I did, i would certainly give it to you!' You leave the bank again with a functional output you're not that satisfied with, but you had a nice experience.
(b) The teller gives you a surly look, pulls open a drawer, counts the bills and gives it to you and continues to chat with the teller next to her, ignoring you. You leave the bank with a functional output you're satisfied with, but didn't have a good experience at all.

There are two thoughts here (and this stems from some of my own research). First, functional value seem to be a different construct from customer experience. Secondly, both constructs are achieved differently. Functional value could be achieved through deterministically designing a service and delivering on outputs. Customer experience, however, can only be achieved through a system of interactions resulting in emergent outcomes. By implication, delivering to FV could result in satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) but its the interactions that result in CE. That means the system that delivers functional value is not the same system that delivers customer experience.

Some firms do think that if they deliver functional value accurately and all the time, they would have happy customers. They probably would. But they may not have designed the interactions to have good customer experiences. That means they probably have designed only half the system. Or they could have accidentally delivered good interactions. Or they think that designing to functional value and to customer experience is the same system. It's not. One is deterministic, the other is emergent.

A final note on variety, to tie it back to my first paragraph of this post. Customer contextual variety is not necessary a bad thing. In fact, I would say the variety existing in customer contextual value is an opportunity for the firm to improve customer experience, since it means having interactions. A customer whose contextual value has little variety (e.g. taking the same bus every day) probably doesn't have much to say about his/her experience. So the greater the variety of contextual value, the more a firm has to design for both functional value and interactions with human resources (since human resources can absorb variety best), and the greater the opportunity for a great customer experience. I might just write a paper about this some day.

So, the bottomline is that a system can only be greater than the sum of its parts if you factor in the interactions. So my current fascination is on interactions. My work now is building a taxonomy of interactions, developing the notion of interactions as assets (within a collaborative system). With a taxonomy of interactions, we can discover what interventions can impede or facilitate what type of interactions (since interactions drive emergence, and since emergence can't be deterministically achieved, we need to work on interventions). Some might call this the co-creation of value. But in this work, I avoid the co-creators or the value that is co-created. I am interested in the 'combustion process', the 'chemical reaction', the 'glue', the 'interstitials', the 'dark matter'. And yes, you can call me mad.