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Daily RC Article 121

Crafting Customer Experiences: Dimensions and Categories

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Before a company can charge admission, it must design an experience that customers judge to be worth the price. Yet experiences, like goods and services, have their own distinct qualities and characteristics and present their own design challenges.

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One way to think about experiences is across two dimensions. The first corresponds to customer participation. At one end of the spectrum lies passive participation, in which customers don’t affect the performance at all. Such participants include symphony-goers, for example, who experience the event as observers or listeners. At the other end of the spectrum lies active participation, in which customers play key roles in creating the performance or event that yields the experience. These participants include skiers. But even people who turn out to watch a ski race are not completely passive participants; simply by being there, they contribute to the visual and aural event that others experience.

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The second dimension of experience describes the connection, or environmental relationship, that unites customers with the event or performance. At one end of the connection spectrum lies absorption, at the other end, immersion. People viewing the Kentucky Derby from the grandstand can absorb the event taking place beneath and in front of them; meanwhile, people standing in the infield are immersed in the sights, sounds, and smells that surround them. Furiously scribbling notes while listening to a physics lecture is more absorbing than reading a textbook; seeing a film at the theater with an audience, large screen, and stereophonic sound is more immersing than watching the same film on video at home.

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We can sort experiences into four broad categories according to where they fall along the spectra of the two dimensions. The kinds of experiences most people think of as entertainment—watching television, attending a concert – tend to be those in which customers participate more passively than actively; their connection with the event is more likely one of absorption than of immersion. Educational events – attending a class, taking a ski lesson – tend to involve more active participation, but students or customers are still more outside the event than immersed in the action. Escapist experiences can teach just as well as educational events can, or amuse just as well as entertainment, but they involve greater customer immersion. Acting in a play, playing in an orchestra, or descending the Grand Canyon involve both active participation and immersion in the experience. If you minimize the customers’ active participation, however, an escapist event becomes an experience of the fourth kind – the aesthetic. Here customers or participants are immersed in an activity or environment, but they themselves have little or no effect on it – like a tourist who merely views the Grand Canyon from its rim or like a visitor to an art gallery.

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Generally, we find that the richest experiences – such as going to an amusement park like Disney World or gambling in a Las Vegas casino – encompass aspects of all four realms, forming a “sweet spot” around the area where the spectra meet. But still, the universe of possible experiences is vast. Eventually, the most significant question managers can ask themselves is “What specific experience will my company offer?” That experience will come to define their business.

The article explores designing customer experiences by categorizing them across two dimensions: participation and connection. It highlights four broad types of experiences?entertainment, educational, escapist, and aesthetic?based on where they fall along these dimensions. It emphasizes that the most impactful experiences often encompass aspects from multiple realms and suggests that defining a specific experience is crucial for businesses.
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