Disruptors vs Incumbents: The Driving Force of Customer Experience Innovation

Product features and benefits once ruled the day. Success of a department store depended on what brands it stocked. Success of a network depended on what shows it broadcast.

In the age of digital, this is no longer the case. Customer experience reigns supreme. New, up-and-coming brands that focus on the best experience for their specific markets are quickly taking away market share from incumbent industry leaders.

Digital has commoditized and democratized product. Consumers can buy practically anything, from anywhere, anytime. There is a brand for every persona and a product for every demographic of consumer. There are networks and shows catered for every interest and topic that audiences can dream of. There is a benefit for every need.

The list of relatively new entrants that have been able to significantly disrupt incumbent industry giants in a fairly short period of time is endless. These 'disruptor' organizations have products and services that are similar to those of the incumbents, but they often win by putting customer experience first.

Traditional organizations that achieved success by having a product-first mindset are understanding that to compete in an increasingly digital, customer-driven world, CX needs to be top of mind. Disruptors, many of whom are digital native, are often build for CX from the ground up. This means cultivating a CX mindset, where the focus on the customer journey extends across all functions of the organizations, not just within one department or under a single portfolio. This holistic approach also enables a greater focus on data and measurement of CX-specific KPIs throughout every customer touchpoint, and not just simply on the bottom line. The most effective organizations know the importance of using CX measurements like Net Promoter Scores, which can then be tied back to ROI.

However, CX isn’t just limited to digital, and it’s often the omnichannel journey that really hits the high notes with customers. Despite the trend towards disruption, many industries are seeing a pattern in which organizations take the best traits of incumbents and pair them with the innovative qualities of newer market entrants. For example, in the retail industry, digital-first disruptors are building out brick and mortar stores, while incumbents are investing in developing their own digital experience platforms or spinning off wholly separate 'innovation' brands.

Both disruptors and incumbents are quickly realizing that while product and service quality continues to be valuable and crucial, the customer journey is what drives loyalty, engagement and ultimately brand survival. The companies that make this a priority through any and all customer touchpoints they use are the ones that will thrive in today’s consumer-driven world.


By Nick So
VP of Delivery at WiderFunnel Marketing and a member of the CMA Customer Experience Council.

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