The Experience Economy – Does It Apply To Chiropractic?

In 1998, James Gilmore and Joe Pine of the Harvard Business Review wrote an article that tracked the development of consumerism over decades. It was called “Welcome to the Experience Economy” and it introduced a powerful phenomenon that has changed the face of how we shop, not just for goods but for services as well. Commodities alone aren’t good enough for consumers anymore. They are looking for more than a product now. They’re looking for an authentic experience. 

Joe Pine has since become a keynote speaker, covering the experience economy on stages across the world. He talks about how the tastes of the consumer have changed, and how businesses need to respond in order to attract and maintain these customers.  

 

So What is the Experience Economy? 

“Coffee at its core is what? It’s beans. It’s coffee beans. When treated as a commodity as a bean, it’s worth 2 or 3 cents per cup. That’s it. But grind it, roast it, package it and put it on a grocery store shelf and it’s worth 10 or 15 cents when you treat it as a good. Take that same good and perform the service of actually brewing it for a customer in a corner diner … or kiosk somewhere and you’ll get 50 cents or maybe a buck per cup of coffee. But surround the brewing of that coffee with the ambiance of a Starbucks, with the authentic theatre that goes inside of there. Because of that authentic experience you can charge 2, 3, 4, 5 bucks per cup of coffee.”

The expectations of consumers have developed over time, from the agrarian era when it was all about commodities, until now. In his lecture on “What customers want, ” Joe Pine broke it down like this [1]:

Type of EconomyTo the business its about…For the consumer its about…

CommoditiesSupplyingAvailability

GoodsControllingCost

ServiceImprovingQuality

ExperienceRenderingAuthenticity

Chiropractic offers a unique experience that our practice members can’t get anywhere else. Our offering is no longer about supply or availability. It is not about controlling cost. It isn’t even just about quality. According to experts like Pine, there is more to it. The consumer in the experience economy is after one thing: authenticity. 

“There are two dimensions to authenticity – inward facing authenticity where you are being true to yourself, and outward facing authenticity where you are being what you say you are to others. It’s about getting your customer to believe the experience you offer them is real [2].”

 

Does the Concept of the Experience Economy Matter to Chiropractic? 

In his explanation of the topic, Pine asks some probing questions: Are the economic offerings you are providing true to themselves? Are they what they say they are to others?

If not, it is not true to itself and it is not what it says it is. The key to authenticity is knowing who you are as a business.

This is something that resonates strongly with chiropractic coach Mark Postles: “Authenticity is in the culture. It’s driven by the values of the business, the values of the profession and the delivery mechanism. This is where chiropractic is really losing traction: it’s trying to be everything to everyone. It’s trying to meet the medical model as they try to corner the market, and chiropractors have acquiesced to that. This is to become beige. But no one rallies around beige. They rally around remarkable. If you create something remarkable, it’s memorable. It’s palpable. It’s real. You don’t have to explain it, it’s just there.”

This notion of ‘remarkability’ is at the heart of the experience economy: that is, if you can create a remarkable experience, that will work to attract and retain practice members. You don’t need to offer a huge breadth of services. You can, in fact, do one thing, do it well and surround it in an experience that is congruent with the product.

Mark Postles, author of The Innate Model and the man behind Quest Chiropractic Coaching, believes branding, or clarity around what we are delivering, is important so people don’t have confusion about what they are getting into. “In many respects this has been a problem in chiropractic. We have tried to productise it, and be one modality in a range of modalities that we want to offer in the hope that we can be everything to everyone. There’s a factor of trying to please everyone to trying to provide products that cover the whole gamut rather than looking at the power of what our greatest deliverable is – and that is the adjustment.”

Knowing, understanding and being true to our greatest deliverable doesn’t mean that we can’t integrate the experience into our practices. In fact, Postles asserts that the two can be very much in line. It starts with being clear on what is at the heart of our practice. “When you look at a successful business, they are quite clear about what they deliver. When you are in an Apple store, you know you are in an Apple store.” They might not have a wide product range, but what they have is remarkable – even down to the pristine packaging. They’ve created a culture around impeccable standards. It has a zero-defect feel to it and you know it works.

 

So how does this tie in to chiropractic? 

“In the chiropractic context, it’s about people being able to come in, walk into the practice and have an undeniable sense of being in the right place. The philosophy of the office is really clear. The purpose is very clear. The chiropractors and their team know why they are there and what they are delivering. They know who their ideal client is. They know the character traits that are high value for them. That exudes out of every part of the practice. You have order, structure, procedures, and policies in place.

All the processing stuff is automatic and it frees people up to meet people where they are at, and actually notice people, rather than be worrying over files and other dramas. They have to be free to personalise the experience.”

CA’s have an incredibly influential role to play in personalising the experience, and according to Mark, this is essential. He’s also passionate about ensuring a ‘person-centred practice.’ This puts the person in an empowered place where they call the shots when it comes to their health, and it comes across in their experience. For Mark, even the term ‘patient-centred’ is an oxymoron, because the word carries an inference of GP’s and specialists making decisions that are handed down. The chiropractic culture is different and that, in itself, is powerful.

“You can’t teach a culture. You have to live it. It has to be integrated in kinaesthetically. The culture needs to reach to impeccable standards of technique, adjustments and protocols, with appropriate schedules of care that allow you to see magnificent changes in people’s lives. When we start to work with it as an identifiable system or attitude it naturally moves us into the space of an experience rather than just one product.

We are not selling adjustments. We are selling a community experience. The design and layout of the practice is specific to that. The attitude of the practice is that the person is the centre of the circle. Product allegiance can hold attention to a certain extent, but the experience needs to be congruent in order to hold it long term [3]. ”

He goes on to talk about ways in which practice members can be empowered, not only through adjustments, but through health talks, empowering information and even events in which the chiropractors and practice members come together to give back to the community. It connects them to something greater – not just a chiropractor, but a friend, a community and even in some cases a sense of family. There is a world of ways to increase the experience of the practice-member without diluting the power of the adjustment that lies at the heart of the profession.

The wisdom of Mark Postles lines up seamlessly with Pine and Gilmore’s notions of the experience economy. We don’t need to worry about being everything to everyone. We just need to deliver our greatest service (the adjustment) in the most authentic way we can.

“Increasingly what will make us (consumers) happy is spending our time and money satisfying the desire for authenticity [2].”

We know chiropractic has a powerful service to offer. To render authenticity is to stay close to the heart of what that means, and to make sure that every time a person comes into contact with your practice, their experience is remarkable.