A few weeks ago I welcomed Sae Kwon, VP of Customer Experience at Cisco, to the Future of Field Service podcast to discuss some of the trends he’s navigating in the word of CX. We had a great discussion around his 24-year tenure at Cisco, how Cisco is tackling CX, and how he leads – but one of the points that came up during our conversation was related to weighing the decision to disrupt. Sae relays a fairly recent story of Cisco realizing that between its professional services and technical services teams sat a gap in customer need – the customers had help getting their systems up and running, and technical help if they needed it once established, but they were feeling the pain of not having ample help really managing the change and use of the solutions and promoting adoption. To fill this gap, Cisco created what it calls customer success, a function that assists customers with these needs.
However, as Sae explains, what was challenging about making this decision is that both the professional and technical services businesses, which operated separately, were very successful. “A big part of the decision was timing, because we had professional services and technical services and they were both very successful businesses on their own. It was a separate organization, but very successful businesses, but we could see in the longer term that we needed that customer success function as well and we needed to bring the teams together,” he says. “It was a very difficult decision, but we couldn’t afford to wait until these businesses started to slow down. When you have three successful large businesses, it’s hard to make that decision to disrupt, because you’re disrupting a lot of people, a lot of organizations. I think I once described it as, we put everything into a box, shook it, turned it upside down and then put it down and then we started from there – it sort of felt that way at the time.”
Sae’s point struck me, because often when we talk about the need to disrupt it is in relation to changing the “status quo” – and the connotation of status quo is often stale, outdated, less-than-innovative. But what about when your status quo is working incredibly well? That makes the decision of disruption far harder, because you have the weigh the risk of shaking up those well-performing businesses. “I think that having that courage to disrupt early on is really important. It can be very risky and scary, but if you do that, you open more room for growth. Rather than allowing a really strong business to sort of slow down or plateau, if you make that transformation at the right time, then you can go through that growth curve again. So, the timing is so important, and having the courage to disrupt earlier is really important.”
Defining Your Disruption
According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of disruption is the act or process of disrupting something: a break or interruption in the normal course or continuation of some activity, process, etc. In Cisco’s case, disruption was a combination of creating a new business to address the needs of customers and making changes to the organizational structure of its existing business to fit this new function. It’s important to consider the different types of disruption that exist: it can be innovative disruption, like brining a new offering to market or fundamentally changing how you serve your customers. It could be operational disruption, where you restructure how your business works in some way (perfect example in today’s quest for Servitization is changing fundamentally how, and by whom, service is sold). Or it could be technological disruption, where you decide it is time to modernize an area of the business to take advantage of today’s digital tools. Each of these types of disruption can be incredibly valuable, and to Sae’s point – having the courage to act early can be very advantageous.
However, disruption is a major undertaking and you need to work smart. It takes alignment, cohesive strategy, and a major focus on people and change management. Most important of all, I believe your disruption should be customer-led. You shouldn’t be introducing a new product or service or taking your company in a new direction unless you are confident it is what your customers want or need. If you’re disrupting operationally, it should be driven by a need to evolve your business to better serve your customers’ needs. And if you’re disrupting technologically, you should do so in a way that brings greater value to your customer, better insights to your business, or makes the lives of your frontline workers easier.