I've been living in San Francisco for three weeks now. People have asked if I was concerned about earthquakes, and to be perfectly honest, I hadn't given it a thought. But April 18th was the 100-year anniversary of the Great Quake of 1906, and I've been reading and watching about how another Big One is predicted to hit within the next 25 years. Experts say that the greatest threat to Bay Area residents is not the actual quake, but complacency. We believe that it won't be that bad, or that it won't happen in our lifetimes. Yet the threat is real.
Whether it's the threat of an earthquake, deregulation or an upstart competitor, most of us succumb to complacency. I worked on the GTE account when they were going through telecom deregulation. They made no visible changes to their business before the ruling passed, despite indications that up to 80% of their customers would defect to new providers. The same thing is now happening with the cable TV industry as legislatures rethink local franchise laws that would quicken the phone companies' entry into the television market. If the comments and emails on my Comcast blog post are any indication, Comcast has been complacent about investing in their customer experience... and they'll pay the price when competition hits.
Healthcare and education should expect major quakes as well... along with any other business that is basking in the perceived security of size, market position, government regulation or subsidies. We all lip-synch "there's no constant but change," yet most businesses are structured with the kind of rigidity that prevents any kind of meaningful response to a shake-up in their industries.
The bad news about earthquakes is that there's no way to predict when it will hit. Yet a shake-up in business can be predicted, so there's really no excuse. Here's a quick checklist for 'business shake-up preparedness:'
- Find bedrock. Where is the unmet need that your company can uniquely fulfill?
- Monitor. Are you tracking customer perceptions of your business over time?
- Identify fault lines. Where are your vulnerable points?
- Reinforce. Are you investing in customer support, usability and/or other table-stake attributes that will strengthen customer loyalty?
- Take small tremors seriously. Is there a new company in your space that's "too small to take seriously" yet is attracting customers and buzz? What can you learn from them?
- Retrofit. Are you evaluating new technologies or processes that will help you withstand changes in your industry? What are you doing about the web 2.0 trend? How can you instill some flexibility, openness and collaboration into your processes?
Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami, and the 100-year anniversary of the Great Quake have been categorized as wake-up calls. And yet we still go through our lives with blinders on -- myself included. How differently would we live, love and work if we were open to all the inevitabilities of life? If we lived in anticipation of change instead of in denial or complacency?
Or better yet... instead of anticipating a shake-up, why not initiate one? That's so much more exciting than the status quo. It's going to happen anyway... you might as well be the one in control.