Welcome to the era of the ExConomy!

Source: Data News (18 September 2015). Author: Frederik Tibau

Although we live in a digital age, there is still a great deal of ambiguity as to the consequences of that in a business context. “Our focus has shifted from what we are selling to how we are selling it. To many people, the term ‘digital’ remains rather vague in terms of its definition,” explains Professor Stijn Viaene of Vlerick Business School. “Are we referring to technology, such as big data, social media, the cloud and the internet of things, or does the definition of ‘digital’ extend beyond these concepts?”

To provide a somewhat more restrictive answer to this question, Vlerick is coining a new term: the ExConomy. “This defines what the concept of ‘digital’ could or should mean from a commercial perspective, and explains why management boards would be better off taking this it into account.”

“The digital economy is founded upon four key principles,” continues Viaene. “The most important of these is the customer experience. The products and services themselves are no longer sufficiently convincing: the total experience is the most valuable asset you have to win consumers over. Or do you really think that the shoes Zalando sells are better than the ones sold at the shoe shop around the corner?”

Another principle is that you have to continually try out new things and view things from different angles. Additionally, the best decisions you make are based on analyses derived from the data you gather. A company like Spotify excels at that. It is a start-up that adores experimentation and unleashes new features on its users almost every week.

Viaene adds: “A third principle is collaboration. As big, slow-moving organisations are seldom able to reinvent themselves, this provides an impetus for the formation of strategic partnerships. Mastercard is an excellent example of this. The company aims to be one of the leading players in mobile payments, and offers a standardised platform that banks can package as their very own e-wallet. Samsung, for example, uses Mastercard payment technology for its Samsung Pay service.”

The last principle hinges upon the growing importance of digital ecosystems. “Take a look at General Electric. This company’s key weapon in the ‘internet of things’ arena is called Predix, a software program to which you can link numerous apps and devices through the open API. Leaders in digitisation are making their key digital assets increasingly accessible to an ever-broadening range of partners. Co-creation is no longer a dirty word: on the contrary.”

Digital Leadership programme

To help organisations better acquaint themselves with the above principles, Vlerick organised a Digital Leadership Summer School focusing on this theme last August in collaboration with Data News.

One of the sessions attended by the participants - a group of some 30 executives, transformation leaders and high-potential young businesspeople - focused on customer experience. The dean of Vlerick, Professor Marion Debruyne, explained why what you are selling is becoming less important than how you sell it.

“Customer expectations are becoming increasingly more complex”, explains Debruyne. “And if something is unsatisfactory, these same customers will be the first ones to announce their dissatisfaction to the entire world.”

The seminar also discussed methods of identifying and optimising the various stages of customer experience. “The magic starts the minute you tell your children that they will be going to Disneyland”, she continues. “When defining customer experience, you are referring to the entire process, from end to end, including the parts you have no control over.”

The dean illustrated this using Bankshopper.be as an example. This site was built by a leading bank, but nonetheless gives neutral information about the various financial services provided by various banks.

“Customer experience does not start when the customer arrives at your bank’s website; it starts as soon as he or she starts searching for information. The concept behind Bankshopper.be shows a clear understanding of this principle.”

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