Imagine a business where you clearly have a competitive advantage. You offer something valuable that others in your industry either won’t or can’t offer. Customers who need or want your service can clearly see what you offer is different and they appreciate that difference—they’re willing to pay a premium for it, and they’re much less likely to shop around. That’s a great place to be.
If you sell a commodity, a product with no competitive advantage, then you default to competing on price. And that means that you’ll eventually be forced down to the barest of profit margins and high customer turnover—a lot of work for very little to show for it. Jack Welch summed it up nicely:
“If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.”
If you’re a technology-based company, there’s a chance that your superior technology is your competitive advantage, although these days it doesn’t take long for other companies to figure out how to achieve similar (or better) results if they throw some money and people at it.
Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a really strong patent or some kind of substantial geographic advantage that others would struggle to match. Good for you, but that’s likely a very small percentage of all the businesses that are out there.
For everyone else, all of the Main Street businesses, all of the service businesses, there is one competitive advantage they can create, even if the product or service they offer is essentially the same as others in the marketplace.
They can offer real, tangible, great customer service.
I know what you’re thinking: “We already offer great customer service!” But do you really? Think about it. Almost every business will claim they offer great service, but start asking around and it won’t take long for you to hear an overwhelming number of customers say they consistently receive lousy customer service from all sorts of businesses. Obviously, both of those things can’t be true. And at the end of the day, the customers get to decide what great customer service actually is.
A Local Example of Great Customer Service as Competitive Advantage
I had the chance to hear a local business owner share the story of his 2-year-old startup. He’s created a Wireless Internet Service Provider. Basically, he’s delivering Internet capabilities to homes and businesses in a specific geographic area. The technology he’s using is good, but it’s not anything that others couldn’t use, and it doesn’t offer a substantial difference in terms of customer experience—from the technology alone.
What does offer a substantial difference in customer experience is how he’s chosen to roll out his service. His approach has been simple: Give the customers what they want. Here are some of the ways he’s doing that:
Responsive and timely service: Customers can call at any time and get an immediate change to their service levels (connection speed).
Responsive and timely installation: His teams won’t work in the dark, but outside of that, they’ll work around your schedule—weekends, lunch, whenever it works for you. And if the delay is more than a day or two, they’ll figure something out.
Lots of options: He’s created virtually every tier of service you can imagine, and if you still need something different, he’ll work out how to give it to you.
Local call center: When you call them, you’ll speak to someone who’s local to your area and who’s empowered to help you.
With this approach plus an overall culture of customer focus, this new business is growing very quickly, keeping its customers and charging a reasonable premium.
If you’re reading this article, then you’re getting Internet service from someone—phone company, cable company, mobile provider, etc. Think about the last time you had an issue with your Internet service and the experience you had dealing with it. I know in my case, it started with a 60-plus minute phone call and two visits (not at my convenience) out to my house, and I’m still not thrilled with the outcome.
The bar for great service is really low when it comes to Internet service providers, but the reality is that’s true for almost all industries. We’re swamped with bad service at every turn, and if you can offer a quality option and include great service, you will have a strong competitive advantage.
How About Your Business?
When’s the last time you did a customer survey and found out what your customers think of you? Are you receiving any complaints? Is there any way for your customers to easily let you know what they think? Are you getting consistent referrals from your customers? What do you do (if anything) to “wow” your customers on a regular basis?
Great customer service isn’t rocket science, but it does take a specific focus and effort, and a culture of service to really make it work. Is great customer service a competitive advantage? Are you experiencing it?