The Writing On The Wall: Transform Your Business Before It's Too Late

A few weeks ago, I walked into a Borders store. What I experienced were the final days of a once-magnificent chain. Two stories, filled with beautifully organized books and music, were now condensed to a “garage sale” on a half floor. In hindsight, was the writing on the wall for this organization?  

Reflecting upon the Borders example made me realize that, like many others, I often enjoyed spending hours browsing through books and magazines in bookstores. However, times have changed and I hardly go to the bookstore anymore since online shopping is much more cost- and time-efficient. To survive in today’s hyper-competitive market, companies need to reinvent themselves. Many big and established companies lose to new competitors in domains they've owned for years. Look at Sony versus Apple in the battle to lead with portable music, or Blockbuster versus Netflix in making it easier and less expensive to receive a movie in the mail or streamed directly to your TV than running to a physical store.

Explore the Road Less Traveled

In many cases, the signs and opportunities are there, but global organizations still struggle with finding the key identifiers to remain proactive in managing new customer needs and expectations. Sometimes the insight is available, but organizations often have a difficult time transforming themselves before it’s too late. For instance, some companies are so ingrained in how successful they’ve been with past products and business models that they end up avoiding taking risks with new ones. In today’s market, failing to change may be the greater risk.

Last week, I attended a customer experience conference where I heard some great scenarios of how senior leaders¾responsible for understanding and acting on customer insights¾are taking those insights and transforming their organizations. One example was a session I heard from Rosetta Stone. This company, which has been successful in the past with producing and selling CDs for self language instruction, realized that in today’s new social environment people like to learn together. An immersive, interactive environment is much more appealing and addictive. Based on these insights, it has been transforming its business into what I would consider an online interactive language school¾where you can be in a virtual classroom with somebody from Korea, Brazil and Russia, all learning Spanish together. Seems like a powerful new direction leveraging how consumers like to interact today even if it may require some significant organizational restructuring from its traditional self-tutoring CD business.

As the world is mourning the loss of Steve Jobs, a big part of his legacy is knowing how to get back up after failures. He wasn’t afraid of taking risks. If a product didn’t take off, he collected the valuable lessons and went back to the drawing board. But maybe even more importantly he didn’t get entrenched in his past success. For example, Apple could have stayed strong selling the iMac notebooks and iPods. Yet, the company still took a big risk and introduced the iPhone and iPad¾and as a result, this move excelled Apple into becoming the most valuable company in the world. Consumers may not have explicitly cried out that they wanted an iPhone or an iPad, but Steve Jobs and Apple knew how to identify existing customer pains, simplify the complexities in many consumer electronics products and take the necessary risks with a very careful and detailed focus on the end-to-end customer experience.

Map Your Next Move

There is no magic crystal ball, but one element that can help organizations monitor these emerging trends and help them decide when it's time to reinvent themselves is listening to the collective voices of their customers. This is nothing new but it is worth repeating as it’s a trend that can dramatically impact and serve as a catalyst for successful businesses in today’s competitive environment. Access all channels and touch points, and then continue to monitor and survey your customers regularly. A good way to start is to ask yourself if you were to start a business, would it look like the one you have today, even if it is successful, or would it look different and more relevant to meet the new and emerging needs and voices you are hearing from your customers? After all, your biggest risk may be not taking any risks at all.

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