Editor’s note: Amazing customer service that keeps existing customers happy – fueled by a customer-centric company culture – is one of the most, if not the most, powerful competitive advantage for your business. We asked customer experience expert Hank Brigman to share his insight on the subject.
Why is customer-centricity so powerful? Let’s look at an example. Maybe you’ve heard of Captain Denny Flanagan, an airline pilot who is the embodiment of this concept (read this interview with him to better understand his extraordinary commitment to his passengers and crew). From arranging “coffee and donuts with the captain” for passengers during delays to calling parents to let them know their children traveling alone are being well taken care of, Captain Flanagan has become well known in his industry and with the general public. His high level of customer service has resulted in a dedicated following of passengers who are more likely to fly with his airline (and occasionally him) than other airlines who may be sometimes less expensive on the same route.
Structure your business to nurture customer-centricity
Today, more than ever, it is important to be customer-centric. Captain Denny Flanagan is customer-centric – he gets it. But today it is not about a single employee delivering great service. Today, as organizations seek to differentiate, it is about how to build customer-centricity into the very fabric of the organization’s DNA, or the company’s culture. It’s not about how to build an organization of Denny Flanagans. It’s about how to build the competencies and structure such that all employees consistently develop and deliver customer service like Denny Flanagan.
Customer + service = competitive advantage
Companies need to stand apart from competitors. Historically they usually go down one of three paths to do so:
Which differentiation option is best?
Does anyone care about product quality?
While quality can be a strong differentiator, it must be both quantifiable by customers and sustainable in order to establish the coveted long-term competitive advantage.
This potential differentiator is challenged by customers’ rationalizations – all the more so during times of economic pressures. The “good enough” situation is especially prevalent in mature markets. Your customers must be able to tell or perceive a difference in a new or upgraded product. Is your computer fast enough or is the next improvement in speed enough of a differentiator to get you to buy? Is your mobile phone good enough such that the new version with a few enhancements is enough of a differentiator to get you to upgrade?
I have found that highly educated professional service providers such as doctors and lawyers often have a tough time differentiating. They spent a great deal of time and effort gaining needed education and getting good at what they do. It is natural that they want to position their practice as the best – they seek to differentiate through quality. The truth is that I can’t really tell if my lawyer, doctor, accountant or even my auto mechanic is any better than the next one. What I can tell is if they return my calls in a timely manner, keep their office or shop clean, or bill me correctly. I do have the expertise to know when I am getting good or bad service.
Livin’ on the edge: differentiating by price
That leads to price. Price is a dangerous place to differentiate. Unless you have the size and supply-chain power of a Wal-Mart, and your strategy is to sell more for less, you probably don’t want to differentiate through price.
What’s left? Customer service.
More and more organizations are starting to look to differentiate through customer experience. Touchpoints (interactions – physical, communication, human and sensory - with and within your organization) are powerful in their ability to impact customer decisions, perceptions and an organization’s finances. With economic pressures and the exploding use of social media to spread the word – positive and negative –regarding products and companies, it is a brand new world out there.
In this new economy – this Touchpoint Economy – businesses are facing a growing need to improve customer touchpoints and experiences to compete. Not only can improving customer experience provide a means of differentiating your brand, good experiences lead to greater customer and employee loyalty, satisfaction, and retention, as well as improved business results.