Customer-centric disruption – and how companies can leverage CX to stay relevant

By October 9, 2017 July 26th, 2018 No Comments

By Julia Ahlfeldt Many industries have experiences customer-centric disruption, and their tales should serve as a wake-up call to businesses that want to remain competitive in the age of informed and empowered consumers.


 This industry has been hit hard. Online flight comparison platforms let you find and book the cheapest ticket yourself. Airbnb has unlocked a whole new world of accommodation options through the sharing economy. And thanks to Uber, you don’t need to hire a car and drive on the wrong side of the road anymore.

Is there anything left for the traditional travel agent to do? Not if all a customer is looking for is the cheapest flight.

But the travel market is bigger than just bargain-hunters. What people want most of all is a happy, memorable experience that delivers on their expectations, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for this.

First-time travelers need guidance and reassurance. Baby boomers don’t mind paying a small premium for an experience that has been specially curated and customized for their needs. Families take comfort in purchasing a package deal that has been designed to entertain the kids and allow some downtime for parents.

So yes, it’s definitely possible to do-it-yourself with today’s technologies, but customers still want – and need – a variety of options.

Travel agents will only remain competitive if they focus on the areas where they have the edge over technology, and that’s personal, face-to-face service, expert knowledge and customization to individual needs.


This industry is best known for high fees and a lack of transparency. Neither of these works in the age of the customer.

Roger Norton, CEO of start-up studio PlayLogix, and author of Start Here: A Quick Guide to Building Startups says, “SA’s big banks are feeling threatened by the growth of disruptive finch solutions, and what’s interesting is that they are all approaching it in a different way.”

The different approaches include sponsorship of external incubators and co-working spaces to find startup acquisitions, fostering internal innovation through hosting hackathons and competitions for staff, as well as focusing on customer feedback-led improvements. Banks must continue to innovate and enhance customer experiences, or risk losing customers.

4 new fintech startups to watch

  • AddaBit: An easy way for “social saving”. If you want to raise funds for a cause – or yourself or your children – you can open an AddaBit account and share the details with anyone you like. They’ll be able to contribute any amount, even R1 at a time, with no banking fees charged.
  • Root: This is a programmable bank account for software developers. With full API access, it eliminates the barrier to entry for innovation in the financial sector, and enables any software developer to build a fully functional fintech product. We expect to see a new wave of savings and investment products aimed at millennials thanks to Root.
  • Mna Nam: This bangle is a fashion accessory with a QR code that you can scan every time you want to save. For example, we all know you can save a ton of money if you skip your daily cappuccino. But unless you actually take that money and put it into a savings account, it’s probably going to be spent anyway. With the Mna Nam bangle, you could decide to skip your coffee this morning and scan the bangle to instantly save R30. The idea is that the real time savings action will encourage people to save more and make better financial decisions.
  • Shyft: Allows you to buy, send and store foreign currency anytime, anywhere, directly from your mobile phone. Say goodbye to travellers’ checks and the money belt full of cash next time you travel.


When it comes to real estate in South Africa, one has to question the value and role estate agents will play in future, as technology takes centre stage in the industry,” says Jacques Oberholzer, founder and User Experience Director of digital agency Now Boarding.

Over 90% of property buyers look for properties online, and the platform pretty much has the SA market covered.

15 years ago, buyers told an agent what they were looking for and relied on the agent to show them relevant properties. Customer-centric disruption has arrived swiftly and silently in this industry. Today, people can see at an online glance whether or not the property meets their needs, and there is less affinity for agents, as long as their company is reputable. This leaves sellers questioning why they need to pay such high fees, when most of the process happens online.

The buying and selling process is becoming more digitized, and platforms like enable you to sell your property online for only 1.5% commission, compared to traditional estate agents who typically charge between 4% and 7%.

Essentially most of the selling process can be done via an app, from booking viewings to legal assistance. Even picking the right selling price should be considered more of a data-based decision than one that relies on years of industry experience. As with the travel industry, the future of mainstream real estate is online. Agents should seek opportunities to leverage their knowledge and facilitation of in-person aspects of the customer experience to maintain differentiation.


The print media shakeup that started over 10 years ago still continues in SA, and the survivors are those publications that embrace a “multi-channel” approach. This doesn’t only mean print; websites, apps, videos, podcasts, social media, and real-life experiences and events also need to adapt. This is a prime example of customer-centric disruption in action.

Computer software is also now writing news and media stories .At the moment, this is primarily local news and sports results, but as AI develops this will only increase. Fake news will become a much bigger issue than it is now, as new video and audio technology makes it possible to create authentic looking news footage.

Customer-centric disruption in this sector means the future of media houses will be centered around trust and building relationships with audiences, as people become less certain where to turn to for ‘truth’.


Customer-centric disruption has taken other global markets by storm. While online shopping accounts for only 1% of retail in SA, but the growth in this sector is exponential. Traditional retailers have been slow to transform and are saddled by legacy IT and siloed structures, while our best local online stores, such as Yuppiechef were built for online customers’ needs from the outset.

Traditional retailers will need to find ways to set themselves apart from e-tailers if they can’t compete on price and convenience. The big advantage they have is the space to interact with customers in real life. It is much easier to develop rapport with a customer, demonstrate product features and provide advice in this setting. Accordingly, an efficient and genuinely enjoyable in-store experience is more likely to build loyalty than clicking online does.

But too many stores fall down on this point. Employees that are unfriendly, unhelpful, or unable to answer customers’ questions will gradually drive shoppers online.

CEOs need to recognize customers as the determiners of their business’s success or failure. In retail, every staff member’s incentives should be tied to customer satisfaction results, from the CEO to the cleaning staff. For financial incentives, the proportion of the bonus in question should increase according to seniority, with the CEO bearing ultimate responsibility.

The Big Take-Out

The new generation of business leaders understand customer-centric disruption instinctively and know it can make or break their business. The challenge in South Africa is that many of our senior executives still have a traditional mindset and are struggling to keep up with new trends and technologies.

The first 3 steps for embracing CX

  • Listen to customer feedback and address the major issues. Their biggest pain point is likely to be your weak spot for disruption.
  • Help your organization embrace customer-centric change as something positive. This is easier said than done, but proactive change management will pay off in the end.
  • Develop in-house innovation capabilities and encourage employees to allocate a portion of their working hours to exploring innovation possibilities. Not every idea will take off, but giving employees time to explore new ideas has been hugely successful for disruption leaders such as Google.

For more information about how Julia Ahlfeldt helps businesses deliver great customer experience and remain competitive amid a world of customer-centric disruption, click here. Check out Julia’s podcast, Decoding the Customer, which highlights success stories among customer-centric champions and businesses which have embraced the customer mandate.

Julia Ahlfeldt

Author Julia Ahlfeldt

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