Innovate Before Your Customers Want You To Die

by Tamara Kleinberg

“I literally can’t wait for the entire rental car industry to go down in flames. This whole thing is archaic.” – annoyed guy in front of me at rental car pick up.

Innovate Before Your Customers Want You To Die

I’m in line waiting for a rental car. Two gentlemen in front of me are having a heated conversation about how they want to bring a swift, painful death to the rental car industry. When their turn at the counter came I expected them to tell the customer service representative exactly how they felt. In fact, I was kind of gearing up for an epic battle. The kind where a supervisor gets called in to handle the irate customers, pens are being thrown around, cuss words spewing everywhere and loud sounds as hands slam onto the counter.

But, they didn’t. In fact, they didn’t say a word. They smiled, got the keys to their mid-size car, said “thank you”  and moved on as quickly as possible. The only thing that gave their real feelings away was the secret eye roll one guy gave the other as they walked away.

It got me thinking. How many times are customers having these thoughts and conversations, and not sharing it?

How many of your customers are having these conversations behind your back?

How many customers deal with their frustrations because they feel as if they have no choice, while eagerly waiting for someone to come in and disrupt your business into oblivion?

When I posted about this experience on social media, I received dozens of comments and messages about all the industries people wished would experience an immediate death – airlines, museums, education, and even concerts. Within the experience, there was at least one element that became a source of frustration massive enough to pronounce a sentence of death.

This is what happens when your customer tolerates you while actively waiting for a break-through competitor to come in so they can willingly give them, not you, their money.

This isn’t about rewards programs (these guys had that) or faster lines (the wait wasn’t bad). It’s not about simply being better than the competition. I can promise you, in every line at this rental car pick up, customers were having similar conversations.

It’s about disrupting how you do business today to serve your customer better tomorrow.

As I often say when I speak to groups, “Disruption takes you by surprise if you aren’t the one disrupting.” I should add to that, “and your customer is in the cheering section anticipating that moment.”

The question I’m sure you are asking yourself is, “How do I disrupt my own business before someone else does?”  Here are three ways:

  1. Eat Your Own Dog Food: Experience your product or service as one of your customers. Go through the entire process from what we call, “quote to cash to use.” Being your own customer is eye-opening. I promise that if any of those rental car HQ employees went out and experienced the process they’d be thinking, “maybe I should just grab an Uber?”  What about those employees who are on the front lines, experiencing your customer’s pain every day, but nobody has ever asked them what their answer is? With the lens of the customer on, you’ll find ample room for innovation.
  2. Don’t Talk To Loyalists: One of my biggest frustrations with innovation projects is that we tend to want to talk to brand loyalists or customers that switched to our direct competitors. That’s all important, but still very myopic. How about talking to the people that have left the industry completely? They’ll give you tremendous insight into the scope of your real competition – alternative ways of doing things.
  3. Put Yourself Out Of Business: Sounds scary but, as I said before, if you don’t, someone else will. Don’t you want to be the one that keeps the business curve going? Wouldn’t that be better than being forced from it? One of my favorite things to do with clients is a “Day of Disruption” workshop. We image solutions that, if they existed, would totally disrupt their current state of business, if not make it entirely irrelevant. Be sure that right now, someone else out there is thinking about it too. AirBnB disrupted traditional hotels, Netflix shook up cable TV, Blue Apron shook up restaurant delivery. Imagine what would have happened had Blockbuster tried to get rid of their own late fees? Theirs might have been a story of reinvention instead of a famous cautionary tale.

Now imagine you’re at the re-invented rental car pick-up. Maybe there aren’t lines? Maybe they come to you curbside? Maybe it’s not even a traditional car you are renting? There are two people in front of you. This time one says to the other, “I just love this part. It’s the one thing I look forward to every time I travel.” The other replies with, “Yes when [ insert name of any traditional rental car business ] decided to shake things up I was so happy. I was looking for alternatives until that happened.”

Eventually, your customers will be having these types of conversations about you or about a competitor that you haven’t even heard of yet.

You make and control your own opportunities if you decided to be the one bold enough to disrupt your business as usual and change the conversation? It could lead to:

  1. Customers that don’t hope desperately for you to go out of business
  2. Rising above the competition through your own innovative initiatives
  3. Loyal customers that willingly open up their wallets for you and become your biggest evangelists

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Tamara KleinbergTamara Kleinberg of GoToLaunchStreet is a TED speaker and entrepreneur. From building and running multimillion dollar businesses, advising Fortune 500 like Disney, Procter and Gamble and RICOH on fostering innovative ideas and people. Tamara’s life is about breaking through the status quo for game-changing results, and that’s what her keynotes, online programs and assessments can do for you.

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