At first, the shift is almost imperceptible.
With quarterly earnings expectations to hit, we tell ourselves we can easily save a few bucks by automating some of our customer service functions. Or perhaps it’s through simplifying our organizational structure or eliminating “non-essential” positions. Better yet, let’s close some “unproductive” stores.
And obviously technology enables us to take away a bit of decision-making from the front-line staff. After all, human beings are notoriously misled by their own intuition. And whoever got fired for praying to the God of Efficiency?
And running all those different marketing campaigns adds a lot of complexity. It would be much easier to boil things down to just the major stuff that we know moves the dial.
And our product line is just too diverse. Sure it’s interesting to have something fresh and innovative, but doesn’t that just increase the risk of slowing down inventory turnover and increasing markdowns? Safe is smart right?
Of course, over time, the top-line stops growing and the only way we know how to drive profits is through cost-cutting.
Over time, we’re proud of our low average talk times, yet customers can’t speak to a human being and our Net Promoter Scores continue their inexorable decline.
Over time, our one-size-fits-all marketing is, at best, indistinguishable from the competition and, at worst, a dim signal amidst all the noise.
Over time, the sad reality is that all we sell is average products for average people and there’s no reason to pick us over the guy with the lowest price.
Sears, RadioShack and a host of others that are on a long inevitable march to the retail graveyard didn’t get trumped by a disruptive competitor that emerged out of nowhere. An oppressive government didn’t regulate them out of business. They weren’t crippled by a series of specious lawsuits or hobbled by natural disasters.
Usually the brands that become irrelevant have made hundreds of seemingly small decisions, over many years, that prioritized the short-term ahead of the long-term, the numbers instead of the customer, mass rather than personal, safe not remarkable.
And once they are gone, once their fate is sealed and their previously storied histories are part of the record, we’ll look back and realize it happened gradually, then suddenly.