Every once in a while, a new product or service blows the doors off an industry by revolutionising the way things are done to such an extent that users wonder how they ever got by without it. Enter, the disruption of the taxi industry.

When this happens, it can be a disappointing experience if we ever have to go back to the old ways. It’s like when you try on new clothes that make the old ones look tattered, and then feel a bit grotty putting the old ones back on.

The way Uber did that to taxis was so dramatic that it has become a bit of a tired metaphor for disruption in general. It seems likely that taxis must now either be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, or slowly and painfully wither away as their pool of unenlightened riders continues to dwindle. The lessons they should have learned are also well discussed, but I feel that much of the discussion misses one of the most simple but valuable lessons; namely, the danger of complacency, particularly when it manifests as a general disregard for your customers.

It wasn’t simply the revolutionary app that won the west for Uber, and a similar platform alone wouldn’t save the taxi industry. Opportunities to improve customer experiences were available to taxi companies for years before Uber came along and could have been implemented in many ways besides a digital revolution. They had only to care to try harder. Inadequate care and respect, and the subsequent failure to innovate, made them the perfect prey for disruptors. And it’s what will keep them down if they don’t change.

They don’t have to build a revolutionary app, they just have to collectively care about their customers and make that obvious. The simple truth is that putting customers first forces innovation. If failing your customers becomes a major concern, their issues will be your issues, solutions to these issues will be sought with priority, and they will be found as a matter of course.

For the taxi industry, fighting Uber will be an exercise in futility, although when you’ve had it your own way for so long, it can be hard to give it up without protest. Claims of unfair treatment may or may not hold water, but if they fight without addressing the issues that created the space for Uber without fixing what made them vulnerable to disruption in the first place, their former customers will happily watch them wither. We didn’t need Uber for comparison to know taxi companies deliver poor service, we just accepted it because no other choice existed.

This is no longer the case.

Disruptive innovation is a symptom of disorganised complacency as much as it is a predator. Staying limber and donning some of your own innovative armour is the difference between being a formidable behemoth and a sluggish incumbent, ill-adapted to our brave new world of customer-centred digital disruption.