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Every business is vulnerable to threats like running out of cash or getting outcompeted, but too few entrepreneurs consider simply becoming irrelevant as technology and trends advance. Business environments are always evolving, with new technologies on the horizon and constantly changing consumer demands and preferences wreaking havoc on the best-laid plans. If you want your business to have the best possible chance to survive, you need to future-proof it.
I spoke with customer experience and machine learning expert Rajat Mishra to uncover some of the answers. Mishra is vice president, worldwide services strategy for Cisco, and he’s held leadership roles in startups, global firms, and everything in between. His unique perspective on using technology in combination with better customer experiences has led him to prioritize the future of operations.
The Key Threats
Let’s start by identifying the three main existential businesses face in the future:
1. Machine learning and AI: First, there’s the massive potential of machine learning and AI. These technologies are advancing quickly, and they’ve shifted in ways most business owners haven’t been able to predict or prepare for. If a competitor leverages it better than you, your business could become irrelevant. If you don’t use it at all, your business could become irrelevant. If you suffer from misconceptions about how it works or how it should be harnessed (as most do), you might waste money with little to show for it. For example, Rajat Mishra describes one of the most common misconceptions as “thinking of AI as a hammer and then look[ing] for nails,” instead of identifying your core business problems, then finding the right AI tools to solve them.
2. Irrelevance due to cheaper or simpler alternatives: Businesses can also suffer if — or when — their competitors are able to offer the same products or services in a simpler or cheaper way for consumers. All other factors being equal, customers will gravitate toward the service that costs less or the one that can serve them faster. Accordingly, if one of your competitors discovers a breakthrough in production or uses automation to dramatically cut costs, you’ll need to scramble if you want to survive.
3. Disruptive tech tools: There’s also the threat of disruption. “Disruption” is, of course, a buzzword that’s been thrown around when it doesn’t deserve to be, but true disruption does exist, and it can threaten your business. True disruptors offer a fundamentally different kind of product or experience, reaching entirely different demographics or turning the industry on its head — like what Netflix did for streaming services in an industry dominated by cable. This is an especially powerful threat because disruptors often emerge unexpectedly after competitors refuse to take them seriously.
The Customer Experience Approach
The solution to all these existential risks is thinking in terms of customer experience. Mishra says, “What is CX? Customer Experience (CX) is the customers’ perception of the brand. This perception is developed by interactions at every step of the lifecycle, including purchase, onboard, implement, use, adopt and renewal…CX takes a customer from ‘choosing’ to ‘using’ to ‘loving’ your products and solutions.”
In other words, perfecting your customer experience strategy is about building and maintaining a relationship with your customers; once you establish that bond, it will be much harder for them to switch to a competitor — even if they have a compelling, high-tech offering or a similar product that costs less.
Rahul Varshneya, the co-founder of Arkenea, a customer software development firm, explains that roadmapping and prototyping the user experience is one key to making sure your route to maintaining a strong relationship makes sense. “Roadmapping will help you save money that you would otherwise spend on building a bloated product your customers may not fully use,” he says. It also redirects your team when you’re focusing on aspects that don’t matter to customers — and that may signal you’re not paying attention.
CX is also a strategy best implemented at every level of your organization, not just within one department. “CX is not the responsibility of a particular group in the company. CX is the responsibility of every employee in the company,” says Mishra. “From the product manager who makes the product to the account manager who sells it.”
Additionally, CX is best implemented by harnessing the very tools that would otherwise threaten your business. Rather than allow your competitors to use machine learning and AI to offer more efficient services or less costly products, get ahead of them by investing in a machine learning-driven CX strategy. Mishra gives two examples of this in action:
“First, building a recommender engine to help the CX team anticipate and respond to needs of the customer at different steps in the lifecycle. Eg., reaching out to a customer with common implementation/usage issues for that customer segment at the time the customer will implement the product. Think Dollar Shave Club reaching out to customers before the shave butter runs out.
Second, moving from reactive to proactive and pre-emptive support. E.g., Cisco Predictive Services predicted a network outage 28 hours before the outage occurred in a large bank. A ‘Minority Report‘-like experience — fixing problems before they occur.”
Even incorporating Mishra’s advice, watching tech trends carefully, and investing more resources into CX above all else, it isn’t possible to guard your business against every existential threat it may face in the future. The best entrepreneurs and most sustainable businesses are the ones that remain flexible and agile enough to adapt when a new tech tool or competitor comes along to disrupt the market.
January 29, 2019 at 05:23AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs