Technological and digital innovations have changed many industries beyond recognition. From retail with its wide adoption of e-commerce, financial services and its increasing digitization, to traditionally offline industries such as agriculture—it seems no sector has escaped the rise of technology.
For established firms and sectors, this disruption often comes as a shock. Even firms with an apparent stranglehold on their sector have crumbled as new upstarts have emerged. For instance, Blockbuster has gone bankrupt, while Netflix has gone global.
Missing the warning signs
A common lament among these businesses is “we didn’t see it coming.” But the signs are normally there. Netflix actually approached Blockbuster just to be rebuffed.
Firms often miss these signs because they’re looking in the wrong places. Many expect mega-disruptors such as an Uber, an Airbnb or an Amazon. The reality is often less dramatic.
In recent years, the most interesting and successful innovations have come not from exciting new product developments, but from business models and customer experience. More commonly, a firm has simply listened to what its customers need and taken steps to meet their expectations. Uber, for instance, recognized that consumers wanted a cheaper, on-demand taxi service—and delivered it.
What could work better?
The secret is not to try and pre-empt what you think customers will want, but to listen to what they actually want. Once you’ve identified unmet needs, you can start to plug these gaps. This is a strategy firms of all sizes can follow.
Organizations tend to think that withstanding disruption means large investment in the latest tech. But often small changes can make a big difference to overcoming customer frustrations and keeping their business.
You need to talk to customer to understand their pain points. These could be anything from having a generic website contact form that makes it difficult for customers to reach relevant people within the firm, to a physical store that’s open when customers are at work. Just adding a contact name or an “about us” section on your website could reduce customer frustration and improve lead generation. Small changes can have a big impact.
Managers and other decision makers spend much of their time focused on achieving their immediate targets, whether that’s scouring sales reports or haggling with suppliers. They can get caught up with the daily grind and along the way miss what customers really want. This can lead to services or products that are good enough, but not exceptional.
People will often put up with products that are clunky simply because no one has suggested a better one. Exploring these areas can transform customer experience. Until Heinz developed easy squeeze ketchup bottles in the 1980s, customers had long put up with coaxing the condiment out of unyielding glass bottles by either bashing the top or inserting a knife into the bottle. Consider whether you’re really addressing the underlying problem, or simply alleviating the symptoms. If someone else does come up with a product that genuinely solves a problem, the chances are your customers will opt for that.
Look around and listen
If you’re going to avoid disruption, really listening to customers can prove more important than examining what regional sales reports say. You should also keep track of what your competitors are doing. What improvements are they making that you might be able to follow? You could look outside your industry for inspiration too.
Uber wasn’t invented by a taxi driver, or Airbnb by a hotelier. These companies were able to look at the respective industries from a detached vantage point and apply best practice from tech to transform customer experience.
Last, but not least, pay attention to your employees. They’re often the first point of contact with the outside world and can provide invaluable feedback about how seemingly mundane processes can be streamlined for the ultimate benefit of the customer.
If you actively listen to those around you, you’re more likely to see what’s coming.