ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK: Technology revolution proves that the customer is still king
There is a clear golden thread that runs through those disruptive companies — they deliver a superb customer experience
The problem with synonyms is that they don't make for great business models; they shed little light on what makes for a disruptive model, and even less on what makes an industry vulnerable to disruption.
However, there is a clear golden thread that runs through those cliche companies: they are able to reach more people than ever before by allowing them to do what they have always done, but in a simpler, quicker, more streamlined and more efficient manner. In short, they deliver a superb customer experience.
In this light, it is glaringly obvious when industries are ripe for disruption: they provide a poor customer experience.
Think telecommunications, where the biggest customer-carrying companies in the world can't deliver a decent call-centre experience. Think government, where the institutions that separate more money from citizens than any other in the world are unable to streamline services that require people to stand in endless lines.
"Disruption is not a technology thing," agrees Wayne Hull, MD of Accenture Digital for South and sub-Saharan Africa. "It's rethinking the customer experience, enabled by technology but not led by technology."
When you look at it from this point of view, he says, you also start seeing which industries are ripest for disruption.
"Automotive is obvious: the way the brand will interact with the customer will change, and the way people buy cars will change. The dealership has to reinvent itself. The brand's communication with customers has to reinvent itself. And between both, they have to come up with more efficiency so that they can transfer that efficiency, for example in terms of discounts to customers.
"If you want to sell cars in an environment where the exchange rate and interest rate are going up, you have to create an environment with a better commercial model for customers. Unless you just want them to buy used cars in the future."
Accommodation, he says, is equally obvious, although not for all sectors of the market.
"But for certain segments, the customer has choice. What is the hotel industry's rebuttal to customers having a choice between Airbnb and hotels? They have to rethink how they capture the customer's attention. Is it around loyalty, or is it a broader experience?
"A core capability of hotels would have to become loyalty programmes integrated with campaign management. They will have to get deep into hyper-personalisation of customers, and talk to them about offers very specific to that customer."
He gives the example of a hotel in Johannesburg, which asks him if he has stayed there before - every time he stays there.
"You can't do that anymore."
The flip side of the coin is a hotel like the Protea Fire & Ice in Cape Town, which has a signboard in its foyer welcoming each return customer by name.
"It's called the customer segment of one," says Hull. "Customer experience is the real disruption."
• Goldstuck is the founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za.