by Mark Bonchek, Gene Cornfield
APRIL 28, 2016 | Harvard Business Review
Every company these days seems to be either contemplating or pursuing digital transformation. Most cite the need to keep up with disruptive and well-established competitors. But perhaps this focus is too narrow. We believe the greatest challenge to companies today is not keeping up with their competitors, but with their own customers.
One reason is that individuals are transforming to digital faster than organizations. Think for a moment about people as tiny enterprises. They've redesigned their core processes in the area of procurement (online shopping), talent acquisition (marketplaces), collaboration (social networking), market research (peer reviews), finance (mobile payments) and travel (room and ride sharing). Have you reinvented your core processes to the same degree?
Customers expectations are also more liquid and no longer based on industry boundaries. Customers — whether consumers or business buyers - don't compare your customer service to that of your competitors, but to the best customer service they receive from anywhere. The same is true for their expectations of your website, mobile app, loyalty program, branding, and even social responsibility.
So how can you keep up with your customers? You have to start thinking like them.
Customers don't think in or; they think in and. You have to transcend trade-offs.
The adage used to be that you could pick any two combinations of "cheap, good, or fast." But today's customer doesn't want to make tradeoffs. They want it cheap, good, and fast. As leaders, we are accustomed to thinking of business being about making tough decisions between competing objectives. But we need to think more like our customers. Instead of focusing on how to make tradeoffs, we need to focus on how to transcend them.
Some of the tradeoffs that are most suited to digital transcendence are:
Customers want to be empowered, not controlled. You have to act with empathy.
Business used to be about getting customers to do what you wanted them to do. But customers don't accept this anymore. They don't like to be told what to do. They want relationships based on reciprocity, transparency and authenticity. If you want to keep up with your customer, you can't be focused on getting them to do what you want, but instead on helping them do what they want.
This evolution from control to empowerment means a change in the basic building blocks of customer engagement.
Customers don't think in straight lines. You need to be non-linear.
To keep up with your customer, you have to let go of linear thinking. Customers today expect you to be where they are, deliver what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. If they're browsing your website on their laptop, they will expect that when they next come to your site from their mobile device or tablet, or talk to a sales person in your store, branch or call center, you will pick up right where they left off. Business has become like that old game of Twister. You have to be flexible if you are going to win.
This requires rethinking and redesigning core disciplines:
It's a significant shift in mindset and practice to reorient from keeping up with competitors to keeping up with customers.
We suggest getting started by assessing where you are.
Next, look at where to focus your attention.
Creating sustainable advantage is more elusive than ever. The new game is designing customer-driven journeys across touch points to help them achieve their intent, and to create more multidimensional relationships. To win this game, stop thinking about just keeping up with your competitors, and start thinking about keeping up with your customers.
Mark Bonchek is the Founder and CEO (Chief Epiphany Officer) of Shift Thinking. He works with leaders and organizations to update their thinking for a digital age. Sign up for the Shift newsletter and follow Mark on Twitter at @MarkBonchek.
Gene Cornfield is Managing Director at Accenture Interactive, where he helps global organizations transform their customer experiences, organizations, and business outcomes.