Denta +: A Case Study of
Exceptional customer experience and Russia seem as similar as going to the dentist and being happy about it. Yet, Denta+, an Omsk Russia dental clinic, seeks to "wow" customers. Denta+ is more than a dental clinic. The firm has made going to the dentist not only an experience in receiving exceptional service but also a memorable one. The firm is not just "world class" in providing dental care and interventions. It is also a world class provider of "memorable experiences." Denta+ has lessons for not only Healthcare firms but any business that wants to improve customer retention and attraction, word-of-mouth marketing and seeking to provide new economic offerings.
Characterizing Experience Offerings
What is an enterprise that provides "memorable experiences?" What makes an experience offering different from a service? In The Experience Economy, Pine and Gilmore suggest there are five economic offerings. Exhibit I illustrates the differences in four of them. The final is transformational. The customer is the product. He or she pays the firm for a specific change or a result.
Exhibit I - Economic Offerings
Service involves providing certain intangible offerings. Denta+ provides various services. Experience is different. The customer pays for a set of intangible activities and services, that are performed for him or her, but also experiences a series of "wowing" and enjoyable events that the firm stages. These events engage the customer in a personal way.
Experience is also different from customer service. The latter involves performing a set of intangible activities that is pleasing to customers. It involves satisfying customer needs, solving their problems, providing a good customer guarantee or promise and exceeding customer expectations in performing the intangible set of activities associated with a service. Happy customers is the goal.
Staging memorable experience transcends customer happiness. A customer can be happy with the quality of dental service. However, the customer's experience entering the office, interacting with staff, waiting for and experiencing the dental intervention may not be a memorable one. In fact, a customer may be happy with the service provided while still not happy about the thought of his or her next appointment. This can also be the case with other professional and nonprofessional services such as legal, auto-repair, tax preparation, accounting and consulting. Wal-Mart, for example, provides exceptional customer service. However, a Wal-Mart shopping trip is hardly a "memorable experience."
Experiencing the Virgin Air and StarBucks of Dentistry
Customers are greeted by a smiling receptionist when entering Denta+. She presents them with feet covers when their shoes are dirty and/or wet from snow. She asks to hang-up their coats. They are also asked what they care to drink and/or eat. They are provided with choices. They are escorted to the waiting room. They aren't asked the, "Do you have the cash" question before they sit down and are given coffee and tasteful pastries and cookies.
The waiting space is a dental and art museum. The furniture is tasteful and comfortable. Nadya, the owner, has an appreciation of the "sitting experience." It contained plants as did most of the rooms. Plants improve air quality by removing potential office pollutants. They can also improve people's moods. This has enhanced the customer's "waiting experience" as have other things such as art, displays, TV and a stereo system.
This appreciation of "ingness" is a first good step for creating a memorable experience. Nadya's appreciation is not unique. The auto industry is spending millions to improve "the driving experience." With Virgin Air, Richard Branson created a successful enterprise by revisioning the business person's "flying experience" as did Howard Schwartz with Starbuck's reimaging the "coffee drinker's experience."
Experience offerings involve four dimensions: education, escapist, entertainment and esthetic. Exhibit II characterizes each. The best offering involves all four.
Exhibit II - Experience Realm Characterization
Denta+ has done this. Denta+'s educational dimension involves its merchandising, informative posters and staff informing clients about interventions and products. The escapist dimension takes the form of being in an enriching space and having the option to watch TV, a video or listen to music. The waiting room and dental furniture are comfortable. This allows the client to escape from the problems of Russian life. He or she can also escape the normal waiting boredom. It is also entertaining as is the artwork and the waiting space that contains various dental items that Nadya has collected during her global education and training. The clinic is filled with various artworks. They range from the humorous, a large lip picture, to tasteful pictures. These are esthetic dimension examples as are the tasteful furniture, plants and furnishings. These are esthetically pleasing for Russian women.
Work spaces contain art and plants. They also contain charts, exhibits, models and professional certifications. The latter serve to enrich customer knowledge of staff competencies and skills. The former are used to educate customers. Some are even used, for example, to entertain frightened children or to present a bit of humor through the use a large tooth model.
It also illustrates the importance of considering what props will be used in a firm's various performances. It underlines the usefulness of scripting work as that of a play or a movie. Both scripts and props are critical to putting forth a successful performance that results in a successful memorable experience.
The firm has product manufacturing facilities. The commodities used for product production are high quality. The use of quality commodities and the provision of good service are critical for successful experiences. Experience firms such as Planet Hollywood have suffered because of the mediocre quality of their products, food, and manufacturing processes, when compared to their high cost.
The firm's experiences can be customized. Exhibit III illustrates the four forms while Exhibit IV illustrates when they ought to be used. Customization is illustrated by the entertainment alternatives. Customers engage in an adaptive form when they are able to select the form of entertainment they desire during their dental intervention. Cosmetic customization can come into play when dental interventions are being explained. Some may wish a detailed presentation using props such as a large tooth or x-rays. Some may wish a brief one while still others may not want a presentation at all. Transparent experiences may take place when a customer is served the beverage type preferred without being asked.
Exhibit III - Mass Customization Types
Exhibit IV - Mass Customization: Application Contexts
Customization has also allowed her to reduce customer sacrifice by providing various alternatives. Customer sacrifice is the difference between what the customer wants and what the customer settles for. Customer entertainment wants can be met. They can choose their music, video or TV choice. Exhibit V summarizes the key ideas used by Nadya that can be used by any business, government organization and/or nonprofit to reduce customer sacrifice.
Exhibit V - Customer Sacrifice Reduction Key Ideas
Denta+ also illustrates customer surprise. Most people expect high quality dental services. However, they don't expect a "memorable experience." They don't expect to be able to watch their favorite TV show at the dentist. They don't expect to wait for their appointment in an interesting and comfortable space. Most expect uncomfortable seating and a boring space that is found in most dental clinics and even alternative Healthcare practitioners who speak about treating the whole person. However, most ignore that people's attitudes can be improved by a beautiful space while stressing a positive attitude. Nadya understands that it's important to transcend expectations. This is an idea that needs to be used by those who speak about customer satisfaction.
Most businesses also fail to understand that beautiful space can support customer retention and in the case of, for example, retail and dining, enhance the customer's desire to stay in a space. Maslow and Minitz found in their study of the effects of beautiful versus ugly rooms that the nature of the room did affect the states of being of their study participants. People in the beautiful room experienced feelings of comfort, pleasure, enjoyment, energy, and the desire to continue being in the room performing required activities. Persons performing their activities in the ugly room tended to experience a sense of monotony, low energy, irritability, and a desire to discontinue the activities. Maslow and Minitz's research also suggest a beautiful space will likely improve employee performance.
The Experience Economy and Business
The Experience Economy has had a major impact in answering such questions as, What is our business? And what is my business model? The second question's answer is that a firm's business model is theater. Employees are performers. Managers are directors. The firm's business is to stage memorable experiences for customers. Exhibit VI summarizes an experience offering development process and/or supporting a team in improving their customers' experience.
Exhibit V - Experience Offering Design
I . Theme the Experience
II. Realms of Experience
III. Work as Theater
IV. Continuous and Discontinuous Improvement
V. Mass Customization and One-to-One Marketing
Denta+ is not only in the dental business. It's also in the entertainment, education and the "escape the everyday problems of Russian life" business. Nadya recognized people hated going to the dentist. She recognized that just providing good service wasn't the answer. She hit upon the theme of a dental salon. Nadya designed the clinic to be a relaxing, entertaining and enriching place where the customer would feel better leaving than before entering. She recognized the importance of props in conducting a great performance and work as theater in her use of the model, graphs and exhibits. Nadya also understands a great performance engages the senses to improve the experience. Props engage the customer visually; thereby augmenting the verbal and enriching the performance.
Nadya role models how employees ought to perform. She is continuously improving her professional knowledge; thereby allowing her to improve the educational experience realm. She shares this knowledge with her associates. Nadya treats customers as if they are dear friends. She educates her employees in how customers are to be treated. She is entertaining in her educational performances. Finally, she had an intuitive sense of the value of dramaturg. These individuals advise and assist a director with the drama. Consultants are business dramaturg. We engaged in a long dialogue about her strategy and how to improve or refresh the experience.
Denta+ has refreshed its experience through customer suspense. This can be characterized as changing something that the customer remembers. The firm wants the customer to wonder what will be added and/or changed. Denta+ didn't begin, for example, with its full entertainment experience menu of video, CD, tape and radio. It has added these items through time. There have been additions to the art, product displays and museum items. This staging through time has supported customers in expecting refreshing and yet, not being actually sure what forms of enrichment will appear.
Refreshing, Improving and Transforming Denta+
What can be done to improve, refresh and transform Denta+? First, there is the potential for Denta+ to provide a transformational offering. This would represent a discontinuous improvement based on Gilmore and Pine's economic offering typology. Dentistry, as with other Healthcare professionals, tends to focus on disease treatment and problem solving. Dentists may stage a brief performance during a visit about dental hygiene. They may also stage educational experiences. However, they charge for and gain the vast majority of their revenues, as do other Healthcare professionals, from services and goods. They are, therefore, in the service and goods business. This also tends to be the case with Denta+.
Transformational offerings would require charging for "demonstrated outcomes" based on client aspirations. Denta+ would have to be revisioned from that of primarily focusing on disease care to dental health. Denta+ would have to create a new drama. This drama or story would be that of not only performing disease treatment but actually providing dental Healthcare. Denta+ would be selling "peace of mind" of not having to be concerned about spending large sums of money on personal and/or family dental treatments. The Denta+ brand would stand for the conviction of prevention, saving customers the economic cost and personal suffering of dental problems. Clients would be charged for health, specific results as agreed upon by Denta+ and the client, such as not having to experience a disease care treatment for three years. They would also be charged for transformational experiences.
Revisioning would also involve designing a three stage process. The first would be "assessing client aspirations." Its purpose would be discovering customer dental aspirations and the gap between them and their current state. New experience, script, staff development and training and performance rehearsals would have to be developed.
Designing a series of transformational experiences for attaining the customer aspirations and/or desired outcomes would be required for second stage development. This would be characterized in a "transformation plan of action." This plan might be revised as required by changing conditions and customer aspirations. This might take the form of regularly scheduled assessment sessions, workshops, customized information packages and suggestions on new products that would support customer aspirations. This would need to be personalized. However, mass customization could be deployed. Customers with the same aspirations and needs might be placed in portfolios. This would allow the firm to provide workshops, for example, for a portfolio. Finally, experiences ought to involve all four realms. Educational workshops might be more like an enjoyable social gathering than a boring Powerpoint presentation. This would fit nicely with the Russian business custom of refreshment before and during a meeting. It might also be held in a beautiful space. The escapist would be deployed by engaging and involving the participants in the session. In other words, how can our workshop get people actively engaged as actors in the performance? This would also tap into togetherness and friendship market. The image is that of Starbucks, an Irish Pub and/or author events at bookstores where people come to meet friends and experience togetherness.
Follow-up would be the final. This stage involves answering the questions, "What must be done to strengthen the customer's aspirations, achievements, desires and maintain what has been gained?" Dentists, for example, have tried to do this through suggesting "regular visits" and suggesting such services as dental cleaning sessions. These have tended to be ineffective. Denta+ has also experienced this problem. However, economics and attitude of only going to the dentist when there is a problem have been the primary reasons, as opposed to the view presented by cynical Americans who see it as a revenue generating tactic rather than a necessary thing. A poor dental experience is most often encountered. This cynicism, for example, has been reinforced by dentists who tend to not proactively respond to customer concerns about AIDS and their prevention procedures.
This illustrates that dental and other professional communities tend to lack a key attribute of transformational providers. They must care. This must be heart felt and not staged as Pine and Gilmore state. Denta+ understands this. A customer stated that a "caring experience" is common phenomena.
Second, Denta+ engages in continuous improvement. However, experience offering has been largely intuitive and informal. There is not necessarily anything wrong with this. It is a small firm. Intuitive decision making and informality tends to be commonplace with small enterprises. However, Denta+ could benefit from formalization. This could be done by creating internal experiences such as continuous refreshing, surprise and reducing customer sacrifice meetings. Drama, strategy and events might also be formalized using experiences such as a Search conference. Scripts could be formalized and changed for customer suspense purposes. Rehearsals could be defined as that and just not training. Finally, a referral program, as suggested, might be implemented as well as a marketing plan focusing on securing "right customers."
Finally, Denta+ needs to discover a means for charging for its experience rather than just its services and products. Currently, experience is primarily a marketing strategy. Consulting and charging for "creating experience marketing tours" with a performance about the strategies and processes for doing so might be one strategy. Business owners could be charged for touring the clinic and experiencing a performance about experience marketing. Omsk is a cultural center. It has, for example, numerous tourist firms. Most tend to be in the service business. However, they could be transformed into experience enterprises. This could improve their profitability.
Research indicates people are increasingly seeking experience tourism. They also have the potential to become transformational enterprises. Select individuals see eco-tourism as a transformational experience. In fact, experiences might become a community core competency. Admission could be charged for educational and escapist tours of the city's cultural centers and Siberia's wondrous ecology. However, for the reader, the lesson to be learned is, "How can we charge for admission to our establishment be it a retail establishment, factory and/or even our community?" Just asking and dialoguing about this question ought to create countless customer experience improvement ideas.
In summary, using the experience economy idea requires thinking about the business as theater. The key questions are: How can we provide customers with an ongoing unforgettable experience? How can we refresh the experience so customers won't become bored? How can we customize our offering so the customer does not experience customer sacrifice? Finally, team members must think of themselves as actors in a real life performance. Theater is not a metaphor. It is a way of doing business.
Jenso, R. (1999). The Dream Society. NY, NY: McGraw Hill.
Pine, B. and J. Gilmore. (1999). The Experience Economy. Boston, Ma: Harvard Business School Press.
Learn about creating exceptional spaces in my article, "Creating a learning room that works Space and learning," The Journal for Quality and Participation, at: www.geocities.com/Athens/Delphi/7527/discontinuous.html.
Pine and Gilmore's site: http://www.customization.com.
Bob Holder is a development consultant. His St. Louis area based consulting firm works with profit and non-profit organizations and small enterprises. He was a contributor to the book, After Atlantis: Working, Managing and Leading in Turbulent Times. His, Requisite for Future Success ... Discontinuous Improvement in the Journal for Quality and Participation with Ned Hamson was the lead article in the launching of Emerald Management, the trade name for MCB Publishing in the United Kingdom. His articles have appeared in ODJ, ODP, Quality Digest, CI Magazine, Journal for Quality and Participation and Quality Journal. Bob has been devoting the last two years to teaching and doing paid and volunteer consulting in Russia. He consults, speaks and writes about innovation, strategic visioning and human systems design.
Contact Bob J. Holder at: