Digital Technology
Feb 07, 2018

Disrupt or be disrupted: Using design thinking to re-imagine customer experiences

To thrive in today’s age of accelerations, companies must learn how to disrupt or… eventually be disrupted.  IDC says that banks which ignore digital transformation will perish.  Forrester research found that only 18% of U.S. brands provide good or excellent customer experiences.

With apologies to Mr. Dylan, companies not busy innovating to create new experiences are busy dying.  And the corollary:  those companies not trying to disrupt themselves will eventually be disrupted.  This article describes how Design Thinking is a key enabler for companies to go on the offensive and improve their ability to become a disrupter.

A study from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services and the Genpact Research Institute found the biggest obstacle to accelerating the pace and impact of digital transformation is the inability to experiment quickly.  Design thinking and rapid prototyping enable even the largest enterprises to innovate like start-ups and to develop breakthrough customer experiences.

Lessons from the leading disrupter

Many companies are being disrupted these days, but one disrupter stands above the crowd.  Amazon is the company mentioned most in corporate earnings calls (over 2,000 times in 2017), and it surpassed Google who used to be the leader in this regard.  Forbes has written about the 12 major industries which Amazon has disrupted and/or is trying to disrupt.

Consider how Amazon does it:   fundamentally, it revolves around creating new—and, often times, far superior—customer experiences.  Amazon eCommerce.  Amazon Web Services.  Amazon Alexa.  Amazon Fresh.  They have a track record of delivering breakthrough experiences which creates disruption opportunities.  You can learn more about Amazon’s experimentation culture and why Jeff Bezos says, “It is always day 1 here” (hint:  because day 2 is irrelevance followed by decline and death).

So how can companies better compete?  Answer:  develop the culture and tools to put your company into position to create breakthrough customer experiences.  Easier said than done, but your company better to start today because future disrupters are already working on it.

Example of design thinking-led breakthrough

Companies looking to disrupt often face problems which require tools that are not incremental and/or for process optimization.  Status quo must be avoided at all costs, and some are unable to rise above day-to-day business problems.  This type of transformative challenge, which is often within the realm of unknown unknowns, is well-suited for Design Thinking.

Design Thinking helped a 100+ year-old Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) company reimagine their order management process which was diluting the transformative impact of its supply chain innovations.  By enhancing its end-to-end supply chain performance, this CPG company wanted to improve both its retailer and end consumer experience.

The CPG Order Manager got involved with tasks of optimizing the supply chain, facilitating reduction in working capital, making data a more strategic asset and maximizing end consumer in-store experience.  On a typical day, the Order Manager received hundreds of emails, many phone calls, needed to quickly check multiple system elements in order to optimize the loading of products on trucks to various distribution centers and, ultimately, to get to retailers.  This job is very stressful.  And it doesn’t stop.

Using Design Thinking, we observed and deeply understand these challenges, as we tried to “fall in love with the problem” before proposing potential solutions.  The challenge was reframed as a data problem which we surrounded with analytics, AI and other digital technologies.  In this way, the Order Manager role was completely reimagined end-to-end from shelf data all the way back to product supply.

Design thinking was critical to discover latent sources of value for key process stakeholders and enabled fast, iterative testing of intermediate solutions.  Rapid prototyping gave way to the creation of a new digital solution specifically built to transform the company’s order management function.

This CPG company acted like a start-up to disrupt a key business function, generated the potential of $100M of bottom-line impact per year, and, most importantly, created breakthrough experiences for its Order Managers, retailers and end consumers.

In summary, Clayton Christensen from Harvard Business School said, “Disruptive innovation can hurt, if you are not the one doing the disruption.”  By investing in Design Thinking capability and developing an experimentation culture, your company can become a disrupter.  And this is much better than the alternative.

The blog was first published in TechNative

About the author

Dan Glessner

Dan Glessner

Vice President, Digital

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