‘Slingshot’ author says you must re-imagine boundaries

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“Ignoring customers’ discomfort, whether it’s explicitly expressed or latent, brings the substantial danger of people turning away from your offering at the first sight of a better alternative.”

So says Gabor George Burt, creator of the Slingshot Platform and a recognized authority on re-imagining business boundaries.

Writing recently in the Harvard Business Review, Gabor made his case about retaining customers by using some great examples. For instance: referring to a certain East German communist car (built 1957-1991) he asked: “Why was the outside of the rear window of a (make) car heated?” Answer: “So your hands wouldn’t get cold when you’re pushing it.”

Can you name that car? Probably not, even though more than four million of this 26-hp, two-stroke engine-powered car were produced for 30-plus years. Moreover, its plastic frame shattered upon impact and often needed to be held together by rope or wires. One more clue: the car’s interior was cramped, uncomfortable and the steering wheel–mounted gearbox required exceptional dexterity.

OK, it was the legendary communist-produced car called Trabant. It virtually never changed in more than decades except in the 1983 model when a single new feature was hailed — a four-spoke plastic steering wheel replaced the three-spoke version. But Burt’s point in recalling the Trabant was its inability to provide any semblance of acceptable customer experience. And, when communism fell, Eastern Europeans suddenly found the world had customer-centric cars and the Trabant was dead.

So how does a dealer make certain customers find their experience meaningful and distinctive? The answer is deceptively simple, Burt advises: continually monitor their experience to identify and remedy its weakest points. He notes customers clearly articulate the key causes of their displeasure if you’re listening. Yet companies consistently ignore addressing such customer pain points and instead just focus on industry traditions, competitors or internally driven innovation.

Another very interesting example Burt cites could surprise you: Disney. We all remember the inevitable part of visiting Disney’s parks was waiting in long lines. It definitely made a Magic Kingdom visit less, well, magical. Moreover, Disney was well aware of visitors’ displeasure, but really didn’t address it beyond the idea of queuing.

Finally, in 1999, after 40 years of making us stand in line, Disney introduced the FastPass, an online reservation system that substantially cut down line time. It received a 95 percent visitor approval rate. Even Disney vice president Dale Stafford reportedly said: “We have been teaching people how to stand in line since 1955 and now we are telling them they don’t have to. This is something that will have a profound influence on the entire industry.” A theme park industry innovation was achieved simply because Disney addressed its visitors’ lingering problem. But it does take an effort to find what's broken and a commitment to make changes.

As Burt emphasizes, today’s marketplaces are borderless. So you don’t have an iron curtain to hide behind or 40 years to make your move. Someone can lure your customers away in the blink of an eye. Every dealership has qualities that customers view as undesirable or least desirable. Recognizing and resolving these pain points keeps you relevant. Failing to do so risks becoming obsolete, just like the Trabant.

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