Derek Bishop


Sticking to your last

Date added: 04th Nov 2016
Category: Customer Experience

Build your offering without the expertise and customer service fails. What happens when a quest for diversity is not matched by expertise.

Who are your disruptors? It’s a question which regularly comes up when we talk about the issues surrounding innovation and the way in which technology has completely transformed the marketplace.

Once upon a time life was simple. You bought bread from the bakers, meat from the butchers, and if you needed your shoes mended you called on the cobbler. So entrenched was this point of view that the saying ‘a cobbler should stick to his last’ is still in use today.

Then came the rise of generalists; shops which sold a multitude of goods or tradesmen who offered a variety of services. In the age of convenience, why bother with calling in a number of businesses when one would do? Take that on to the next stage, in to the global economy, and your disruptors could come from anywhere. They may be working from a desk in their kitchen or the other side of the globe; they may be established businesses which are looking to expand their offering or businesses as yet unformed. Wherever they come from the one thing that is certain is that you can no longer be certain where your disruptors may lie.

Is this a good thing? Well the answer has to be both yes and no. From one point of view the existence of disruptors leads to the shaking up of existing models and drives change. However, generalism can actually lead to a worsening of standards as individuals and businesses profess abilities which are outside of their comfort zone.

Take some of the large retail stores for example which have tried to take their model in to another country and found that their expertise for selling in one market didn’t translate into delivering what was required in another. Or look at the crash and financial mis-selling scandals which partly arose from banks and other financial institutions taking on and offering products with which they were not entirely familiar.

Or take this down to the micro-level in which the idea of a cobbler sticking to his last is very much in evidence. A colleague is currently having some work done on their house which has required the employment of separate electricians, gas plumbers and wood fire installers. They are all experts in their own field, having obtained the necessary qualifications and registrations to do what they do best.

As one explained, they may have a basic knowledge of and could do other building tasks but if they tried to do too much they wouldn’t be able to bring the expertise which comes from doing the same thing every day. In other words, if they tried to be generalists the standard of their work and the service provided to the customer would suffer.

We live in a service age in which customer excellence is prized. As a result businesses are constantly seeking to do more, to be more for their customers. So we look for synergies and the chance to expand our offering and we look for opportunities to be disruptors and to drive the marketplace forward. And that is great for our customers, provided that we also take the time to build understanding and expertise.

Disruption is one of the key planks of innovation and can lead to game changing results. Looking for new markets is one of the key features of modern business. But great customer service will only come if our venture into new offerings is underpinned by some hard work in building expertise within that field. Sometimes the best customer service can be provided by suggesting the customer goes elsewhere, sometimes the best strategy for longevity and growth is to do what you do best and stick to your last.

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