Face Transformation or Face Extinction: Two Options in an Uncertain Economic Landscape

By Kevin Jones, president and CEO at Calabrio

Not even halfway through the year and we’ve already witnessed the rise of generative AI, the slowdown of the metaverse, an evolution in crypto toward decentralized financing, and a volatile stock market.

Yet, even in uncertain economic landscapes businesses still need to weather the storm and turn a profit. They can’t sit back and wait for the market to stabilize. Companies that want to succeed must be aggressive and stride forward. So, today, the name of the game is adaptability. The options are to transform the market or face the possibility of extinction.

Economic Paradigms are Shifting, is Your Business?

There are countless cautionary tales from companies across industries. We can learn from companies that, for one reason or another, neglected to plan for our current business environment. Larger brands often have a slight buffer against economic swings, but even economic size or market share is not a guaranteed safeguard. We’ve seen both large and small brands, from traditional retailers, software companies, and manufacturing all scaling back or restructuring. To achieve long-term success in the modern business environment, organizations must evolve and adapt strategies that match the ever-changing consumer landscape. And those who use short-term blinkers risk a growing disconnect between their customers.

For example, Sears, once a retail giant, failed to remain agile and transform its business in response to changing market conditions. The big-box retailer struggled to adapt to the rise of e-commerce and omnichannel retail, as it was slow to invest in digital capabilities and modernize its stores. This left Sears at a disadvantage compared to more nimble and innovative competitors. Additionally, the company's physical stores were often located in malls that were losing foot traffic, further exacerbating its troubles. Compounding Sears' difficulties were mounting debt and declining sales, which ultimately led to the company's bankruptcy in 2018. Despite attempts to restructure and revitalize its business, Sears was unable to recover, as it failed to keep pace with the evolving needs and preferences of its customers.

For some, the challenge has been primarily financial, but for others, it’s been an inability to adapt to consumer behaviors, a waning sense of customer loyalty and the loss of revenue that comes with not having a customer-focused brand.

Remember when BlackBerry controlled 50% of the smartphone market in the US? The groundbreaking business phone pioneered internet browsing, email access, and the massively popular QWERTY keyboard. The fame around BlackBerry exploded, yet they failed to keep the good times rolling.

Rival Apple focused on delivering a consumer-preferred product: sleek designs, functionality, and a full-touch screen device. But they didn’t stop there. Each year, Apple delivered a new smartphone that was uniquely different and offered countless improvements compared to previous models. Meanwhile, BlackBerry ignored important consumer preferences, sticking to a physical keyboard, low performance, and small feature upgrades. They were too focused on enterprise versus consumers and, as a result, lost nearly all market share to Apple.

Be the Poster Child for Agility, Not Stagnation

Innovation, transformation, and agility can happen in any industry. In early 2021, a Napa-based winery took a centuries old craft and used cutting-edge technology to improve the quality and consistency of its wine all while reducing environmental impact. They worked with Cisco to deploy sensors across the winery and installed cloud-based dashboards to optimize vineyard operations. Without having to manually walk the fields every day, teams could track weather patterns, light availability, and soil consistency to gain real time insights to optimize grape yield. Eliminating old habits drove new processes that pinpoint the ideal time for harvest.

Even during times of economic ambiguity, successful leaders know the value of investing in an agile business approach catered to the consumer. In 2023, nearly 80% of executives plan to increase spending on digital transformation and customer experience. Those executives embrace periods of uncertainty as opportunities for learning and never stop investing in long-term business growth, and success.

To avoid a transformation snafu and create a healthy return on investment, companies need:

  1. Strong visionary leadership: Digital transformation is more than just a buzzword. For a successful digital shift, leadership must establish a clear vision that inspires their team to embrace innovation and change. The top of the org chart needs to communicate that vision actively and effectively for the entire organization to buy in.
  2. Agile and customer-centric mindset: We’re in a market where even a single negative experience significantly damages consumers’ perceptions across future interactions. Successful enterprises must be nimble and pivot accordingly in a market controlled by the buyer. A proper understanding of that demographic allows organizations to act swiftly and confidently when implementing new processes and technologies that elevate the business ahead of competitors.
  3. Data-driven decision-making: Every second, organizations collect a plethora of internal and external data that can be used to inform their value proposition for stakeholders. It’s an era of data overload and companies that act appropriately on analytics will unearth opportunities to gain a competitive edge. We’re past ‘gut instincts’ and need to focus on well-informed, data-driven decisions to fully understand consumers and elevate business operations.
  4. Robust technology infrastructure: 2020 accelerated the transformation from on-premise services to cloud computing as remote work became the new normal. Companies who made the investment had the ability to scale their infrastructure based on shifting demands and had the capabilities to deploy new applications without the added cost of new hardware. However, it doesn’t stop there. Enterprise technology investments are no longer a one-time project, but an ongoing journey toward maximizing efficiency and productivity. The rise of generative AI in the workplace is quickly becoming implemented to free up time from mundane, manual tasks. Organizations hesitant to invest in modern technologies amid economic uncertainty will fall behind in the ability to streamline processes and understand the ever-changing consumer landscape.

The days of businesses sticking to the status quo are well behind us. There’s no more relying on strategies that worked a decade ago, or even a few years ago. While some “tried and true” strategies aren’t completely lost, companies who aren’t open to adapting to change risk a diminishing revenue and loyal customer base. We’ve witnessed businesses fall into the trenches this year, as others rise to the occasion.

As we approach the midyear mark, it’s imperative to continue to evaluate and fine-tune your transformation strategies to secure your position on the winning latter. Organizations who invest in a culture focused on adaptability and innovation will position themselves for success and set a precedent for those to follow.

About the author

Kevin Jones is president and CEO of Calabrio, the workforce performance company that enriches human interactions and empowers your contact center as a brand guardian. 

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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