When you binge-watch your favorite TV show on Netflix, you’re also spending some quality time with Amazon Web Services, the cloud platform that Netflix relies on to feed a steady stream of content into your life. The two brands are interconnected. If Amazon Web Services suffers an interruption, so does Netflix. They are examples of an experience ecosystem, or interlocking relationships created by standalone brands to make lovable products.

Adobe refers to these relationships as experience chains:

As I go from place to place or site to site or app to app on my phone, once I leave the context of the brand I was interacting with, I’m basically breaking whatever experience I was having and starting a new one. That’s where an “experience chain” is needed. The idea is that two or more related businesses . . . work together to create a seamless experience for their joint customers, which in turn helps all three companies succeed.

However they are labeled, these ecosystems on their best days can make two or more brands far more effective by creating a seamless, end-to-end lovable customer experience, more so than a business could accomplish on its own. And in a world increasingly interconnected by technologies such as cloud computing, experience ecosystems are becoming more of an accepted (and expected) way of doing business. But the advent of experience ecosystems also raises questions. For example:

  • How do businesses jointly design a successful shared customer experience?
  • What is the protocol for managing customer service problems that touch every company in the experience ecosystem?

I believe companies can set themselves up for success by following four essential rules. Let’s take a closer look at them.

Experience Ecosystems Defined

Experience ecosystems are built on both shared technologies (such as the cloud), siloed platforms and apps, and offline touch points such as retail stores. When experience ecosystems work well, the customer is not conscious of making a transition from one touchpoint to the next. Brands partner together to share a common understanding of their joint customer so that they can manage those shared customer interactions. Examples include:

The Dreamery by Casper

Mattress firm Casper recently opened a store front, the Dreamery, that gives people a place to nap for a cost of $25. Of course, customers get to enjoyed a restful nap on one of Casper’s signature mattresses. But Casper doesn’t limit the Dreamery to a comfortable mattress. Casper has joined up with Headspace and other brands to provide a complete relaxation experience that includes ambient music, food, and pajamas. While the user is enjoying their restful nap at the Dreamery, they can listen to Headspace recordings on a set of noise cancellations headphones. These experiences within an experience amplify the fact that no brand can go at it alone to achieve the level of a seamless customer experience. There is always going to be handoffs and extensions from the core experience.

United and Uber

United has partnered with Uber to provide a seamless exit or arrival experience from the airport. United recognize there was a joint customer held by both themselves and Uber. So United made it possible for travelers to get an Uber through the United app, which connects to Uber. Now this experience ecosystems can be extended to connect that same traveler to their hotel destination so that check-in is nothing more than walking up to your door.

Whole Foods and InstacartThe burden of having to buy groceries is alleviated using through an experience ecosystem provided by Whole Foods and Instacart. Whole Foods provides the retail experience, such as food tasting stations and in-store dining, with its vaunted healthy food selection at the core of the experience. Instacart complements the in-store experience with efficient delivery. This example shows the difference between creating an extension of your core business (groceries) and adding delivery to your customers via another service. In addition, Instacart’s brand enjoys a halo effect by being associated with Whole Foods.

It might sound like I’m talking about creating strategic partnerships. But experience ecosystems are different because the partners share a customer and the customer’s journey.

Four Rules of Experience Ecosystems

Experience ecosystems are not easy to create and manage. But they’re not impossible, either. I believe companies can set themselves up for success by following these four rules:

1 Understand that your competition is your user’s last best experience.

Successful experience ecosystems require a level of consideration around the type of experience. Consider your experience design efforts and what tenets or pillars form the foundation of that experience. Use them as a lens by which you evaluate thoughtful, smart, and natural extensions to other lovable experiences created with the same consideration and care.

2 Identify where the experience ecosystem will add the most value.

Think about what will provide net new value for your users. Doing so involves having a good idea of what people do before, during, and after they use or interact with your product or service. Identifying an experience ecosystem opportunity has to make business sense and be customer centric at the same time. When you evaluate the creation of an experience ecosystem, ask yourself two questions:

  • What do both parties in the ecosystem have in common? Where are we different?
  • Do we have a joint customers? If the answer is yes, then ask who is that joint customer?

As I noted, experience ecosystems are different because the partners share the customer and the customer’s journey. Considering the experience that needs to be created across the entire journey is a great way to facilitate partnership building through the ecosystem. For example, consider Netflix, which accounts for 15 percent of all streaming bandwidth. Do we believe Netflix knows what their customer is doing before, during, or after watching Orange Is the New Black? Looking at their journey, I believe movie snacks are probably a plausible guess. What if Netflix shared their customer journey to facilitate experience ecosystems with services such as FoxTrot (purveyor of curated snacks and groceries) to deliver and provide a curated set of movie snacks that their customer enjoys or may enhance a new dimension of the video they are watching? It is possible that FoxTrot and Netflix share the same joint customer?

3 Map your user’s journey through your ecosystem.

What if you made your user’s journey open source to attract and bring awareness to possible experience ecosystems in the market? Mapping your customer’s journey is a pivotal part of building your experience business, gaining empathy for your customers, and activating innovative solutions to keep your business relevant and growing. Audit your experience by walking in your customer’s shoes while documenting each step of the journey. Then build on that baseline by plotting additional front of and back of house events to create a single source of truth. (At Moonshot we conduct and design journey mapping activities for our clients all the time.)

4 Have a contingency plan for negative experiences.

What happens when Netflix stops working because your internet provider or Amazon Web Services stop working? The customer will become frustrated with Netflix while in reality Netflix may not be at fault. Here is where the difference between an experience ecosystem and a traditional partnership comes into play. With an experience ecosystem relationship, Netflix, Amazon Web Services, and the internet service provider recognize that they all share accountability because they have a joint customer with a shared journey.

The businesses in the experience ecosystem need to identify a contingency. As part of that contingency, Netflix could create friendly bridges to uphold the ecosystem. For example, Netflix could detect that the internet is down and could inform the user of ways and means of fixing it. The process could work both ways in which the ISP can work to ensure their streaming service is as strong as possible based on their bandwidth data they have access too. In this example each participant in the experience ecosystem upholding the ecosystem to ensure the user has the best possible experience when things are working or aren’t working.

It is important to understand the points of failure in your experience. We call these moments “the pits” — known moments where the experience can be improved as opposed to “peaks” (high moments in the journey). Identifying the pits within a journey is insightful to understand where the experience comes to a head. These moments are key for  getting the organization to work together to reframe this as a lovable experience.

Next Steps

Today, businesses must learn to organize themselves better to work with other brands and services to call themselves experience businesses. Experience businesses that are eager to operate in an experience economy will succeed as they help each other through experience ecosystems. The ecosystem is about delivering seamless, continuous, and personalized experiences that activate the right emotional triggers for users to take action, resulting in strong loyalty. At Moonshot we help our clients recognize and identify the peaks and pits of their customer journeys across their ecosystem. Using our FUEL methodology, we start with taking a peak or pit and discover how to create experience ecosystems we can deliver upon together. Contact Moonshot. We can help you.

Amish Desai

Amish Desai

Head of Experiences