By Matt Pigott - September 18th, 2016

The fastest growing companies start with a customer-centric attitude. Discover why keeping up is vital to win the hearts and minds of modern consumers

Once-little-known digital brands have, by virtue of their ease of use and convenience, become household names, bandied about to the point that some are (in the same way the proper noun Hoover has come to be synonymous with the verb 'vacuum') on the cusp of becoming eponyms. And it’s happened incredibly fast. The likes of Uber and Airbnb rocketed into the unicorn list, and there they stay rubbing virtual shoulders with other companies that rank in the billions of dollars.

Use the tools at your disposal

But what’s interesting is that, in terms of service delivery, these new brands haven’t done anything radically new. They have simply used available tools to repurpose what was already there for the taking. Their assiduous implementation of technology combined with the intense global penetration of handheld devices (there are now more mobile contracts on the planet than people, and there are around two billion smartphones) to deliver services in fresh and innovative ways.

But the real disruption these brands have made isn’t so much in the arena of tech – though of course tech is vital to both business models – but in the arena of customer service.

Working the gaps

Sharp shooting startups are piggybacking existing mobile and online technologies, root-tapping into hairline cracks in existing markets and bloated businesses, and breaking legacy structures wide open. It had to happen.

However, they would be unable to achieve these things without the willing participation of the customers who are turning up at their virtual doorsteps each day in droves, eager to engage their services, enjoy new experiences, and in many cases save money. But top of the list of draw cards for these new companies, the real carrot that has customers making use of these apps – as opposed to lining up to use them – is seamless, frictionless convenience.

Airbnb and Uber: riding the unicorn of disruption

In a world that seems all too often fraught with resistance, usually from companies hamstrung by siloed departments and weighed down by an immovable legacy mentality, simply giving customers an easy passage (whether that’s a psychological or physical passage) from point A to point B is the number one game changer.

Uber made getting a ride as simple as tapping a phone. And frictionless: money flows from account to account precluding the need to go rooting between the seats for the errant dime that slipped away.

Likewise, for those that want a room for the night that won’t break the bank, or for those that want to stay with local people without the need to fill out long forms or leave large deposits, Airbnb devised an app and service that nudged open millions of previously closed doors – and customers are happily walking through them.

Smart brands are tapping into what’s already there

Brands tapping into redundant resources is proving lucrative. Beyond lucrative. Valuations of the two aforementioned companies verge on the obscene. And as surely as night follows day, other companies are now venturing out on the new virtual gold rush trail, with hopes of divining the next great opportunities. Armed with new software tweaked to take up the hitherto unseen slack, software that could potentially funnel billions of micropayments into the unicorn coffers, means that the stakes are high.

UX is the new customer experience

Uber and Airbnb have taken the traditional service slant and re-angled it in the digital realm, a realm where everything is visible and trackable in real time. And it’s the immense scale of these enterprises, facilitated by lightning fast global connectivity that has helped propel them to unicorn status. But, above all, these tech (not hotel or transportation) businesses, are all about customer service.

With both Airbnb and Uber, every stage of the customer journey, which opens and ends with service, has been fine-tuned to ensure customers return time and again. Retention by way of exemplary UX design – something that, in a faceless transactional world is swiftly becoming synonymous with customer service.

These are tech firms in the business of facilitating or brokering a deal between buyer and seller. Between need and hassle-free satisfaction of need. In short, these are tech firms with one key thing in mind: seamless functionality. And by default, seamless customer service.

Traditionalists could do worse than copy the startup strategy

Ticking the psychological boxes that satisfy the integral human propensity to take the path of least resistance is what has, in less than a decade, turned these two companies into household names. And what this highlights is the power of digitally driven service, something that traditional brands, forced to watch the fireworks from beyond the perimeter fence, seriously need to start tapping into.

Startups, entrepreneurs, fast guns, new kids on the block, ankle biters, pups with teeth, techies, geeks, attackers, and growth hackers – these are just some of the epithets disparagingly cast in the direction of the new generation of tech-oriented, customer service champions. Envy breeds contempt. And contempt isn’t good for business, which is why large, long established brands with legacy systems and siloed processing need to pay closer attention to the new competition, and to some degree emulate what they are doing.

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