Disrupt your Industry. Or be Disrupted.

A customer called us recently. His call was answered really quickly. A repair was needed to his home. His problem was diagnosed with just a couple of questions. He was given a time and date for the repair. He was told it would be in two weeks time  – a part was needed that wasn’t in stock. He thanked the Advisor for the call and went away happy.

Pretty much textbook service.

Except – he called back 10 minutes later.

He had looked for the part on his smartphone and it was available at a local store, 5 minutes from his home. So he wanted to know – why will it take 2 weeks?

This is the just the beginning of the end of 20th Century customer service.

The 21st Century customer is smarter.

  • They can find things out quicker than we can.
  • They can install an app on their phones that can solve their problem in seconds.
  • They can draw all their data and applications into one place in the time it takes for us to say the words “Customer Relationship Management”.

And if they can do it. And you can’t. Then what if someone else comes along who can?

“We live in a moment of history where change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing.” – R.D Laing

This quote – and the context in which it is used – has made me re-evaluate everything I’m working on.

It’s used in Smart Customers , Stupid Companies , a book that I’m ever so slightly in love with.

The scenario it describes is pretty simple. Disruption is coming to the way we work. Massive disruption. And it’s all going to be caused by customers who are smarter than us.

The only question is – are you going to be one of the disruptors? Innovating and implementing change at a pace that the rest of your sector just can’t keep up with.

Or are you destined to be disrupted?  Losing ground and competitive advantage. Your customers regarding you as a dinosaur. Inching ever closer to redundancy and eventual oblivion.

The sector in which I work is ripe for disruption. Not because it’s bad. Not at all.

But it has loads of interactions with customers that could be made easier through smart technology and the removal of “pain points”.

A typical applicant for housing will speak to multiple people , multiple organisations and answer a thousand questions – before they even get the keys to a door.

The technology is here to reduce all of that to a single interaction with just one person focussed on the applicant. Or – if we wanted – we could remove the human element completely.

So if the technology exists, and it saves money , and it leads to better customer experience – why hasn’t anyone done it?

  • Because it’s difficult. ( Yes – very , very difficult)
  • Because no-one can disrupt the legal contract between landlord and tenant. (At the moment yes. But they should be able to. And they will be able to. )
  • And because we – in this speeded up moment of history – cannot see the present until it has begun to disappear.

But it’s a stark choice.  Disrupt your industry. Or face being disrupted.

I know where I want to be.


10 thoughts on “Disrupt your Industry. Or be Disrupted.

  1. You are absolutely right in that we need to adapt to smart customers.

    But we must not forget our other customers. The elderly and disabled and those not articulate enough to operate in a ‘smart phone’ world.

    We risk alienating vulnerable people at the cost of chasing trends. We should also be making it easier for the vulnerable to access services e.g. face-to-face and with one representative that can manage the issue through to the end.

    1. Leigh your are right. And I’m not suggesting that we exclude people. As you say – being “smart” isn’t all about technology and being online – it’s absolute ownership and manangement of the issue – and understanding it from a customers point of view. Not that of the business.

  2. As with other technologies, Automated Workflow suffers from the common misconception that automation of an activity will inevitably improve it. In fact, there are many problems associated with design and use that mean the business case is at best marginal when performance indicators such as Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) are considered.
    Although often justified on the grounds of cost savings, it is not uncommon for the total cost of a business process to increase through the implementation of such systems, due to costs such as:
    Design, purchase, installation, licensing, operating and maintenance costs of the hardware (such as scanners and storage area networks) and software (ICR, workflow
    Design, build, test, implementation, operation and maintenance of bespoke software solutions (such as business process workflows and system interfaces)
    The costs of exiting the solution (the inevitable upgrade to newer technology in the future)
    The addition of entirely new business processes (e.g. scanning and indexing) – which are often designed using “batch and queue” thinking requiring high bandwidth networks
    ‘Hidden’ costs due to poor performance of the technology, (e.g. illegible images, faulty auto-indexing, poor character recognition, system downtime/running slow etc).
    Automating business processes means that changes can only be delivered at a speed determined by the IT change lifecycle – typically 6-18 months. Changes in the customer landscape often result in workarounds. Continuous improvement is stifled by the high cost and long lead time of changes to the system. Even the implementation project lead time can mean that the solution is out of date before it has gone live.
    More common still are problems with the design of the overall solution that result not in improved customer service, but often in significant deterioration in service as perceived by the customer.

  3. Shalim – “changes can only be delivered at a speed determined by the IT change lifeycle – typically 6- 18months.” That’s what needs to change. How about reducing that to 4 weeks maximum? Alongside really intuitive simplification of the interface

    1. I agree, the dream scenario. However, The rush to automate ahead of simplifying processes, eliminating waste and combining value added steps is a fundamental flaw in seeking improvement from the customers perspective.

      The IT industry’s tendency to jump straight to Automate is the cause of many project delays and  overspends. Even business analysts who understand process improvement rarely understand that operations is more than just process – the design needs to take into account the operating model and the day-to-day needs of the operations managers and staff that will use the solution (Metrics, workflow management, resource flexibility, operations planning, etc).

      The system design should take into account the nature of the work being done, (single skill vs multi-skilled, transactional processing vs customer-facing knowledge workers, etc). In addition, system design must anticipate the operational needs of the business and allow for key operations-focused metrics, such as end-to-end time, rework levels, right first time quality and total cost to serve.

  4. Great post Paul. If we don’t disrupt and innovate, we end up like Kodak. The world didn’t fall out of love with taking pictures… Just the way we did it changed and they didn’t adapt. This is *such* an exciting time for social housing – the power is shifting and we learn to thrive through co-production, open networks, open innovation and sharing. Man I live the new world much more than the old one. Rock on fellow radical, rock on 🙂

    1. Thanks Jayne. “co-production, open networks, open innovation and sharing” It’s great to hear that someone else finds this exciting . We are living through genuinely transformative times – I’m with you – let’s make the most of it!

  5. Theory and most of the practical is fine and overall a great and thought-provoking read.

    Yet people deal with people and dont ‘interface’ with apps and people (tenants) want interaction with their landlord on such a personal basis and will not change at the pace of technological change. People are in that sense illogical and by being human they are fallible. Great customer service is a subjective issue and tends to mean speed of response for a landlord yet quality of response for a tenant and are two separate definitions.

    Over 20 years ago in IT there was a call for a ‘hybrid manager’ that meant a human who could explain the then mystical world of IT and its potential uses to the ordinary adult person in ordinary plain language and not have them go ‘glassy-eyed’ – concepts now hat a 5 year old fully understands. Yet its taken 20 years for a widespread understanding of IT and that we live in the Information Revolution and it will be seen as that in the same way we historically view the Agrarian and Industrial Revolutions of the past.

    I have no doubt that in 5 years or 10 years the apps interaction will be far more commonplace AND ‘acceptable’ to the tenant customer. So the only caution I have against the above is the time factor before such interactions become ‘acceptable’ to the tenant cusstomer. A process that may be speeded if terms such as “co-production” etc were NOT used

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