I wrote recently about the importance of a “sustainable competitive advantage,” in which I outlined the value of a business plan and the limitations of patents and competitor feature comparisons. Once you start selling products, however, all of these factors pale in comparison to your level of customer service.
John Spence, in his book “Awesomely Simple,” makes a compelling argument that in a world of nearly limitless product options and highly educated consumers with instant access to price, features, and benefits of almost every product, delivering consistently superior customer service is the only significant differentiator left for creating loyal and engaged customers.
The following ten suggestions come from John and other sources and provide a good overview on how to create a culture of superior attention to customers in your organization:
- Create a customer service vision. Creating a clear and compelling customer service vision that describes the level and type of service your organization aspires to deliver is just as important for determining your company’s future success as having a company vision statement.
- Exceed customer expectations. Show a relentless commitment to exceeding, not just meeting, expectations. Customers cannot articulate what it means to supersede their expectations, but they know when they encounter it. Customer will remember their positive experiences in customer service and they will recommend your company to others.
- Continuous customer service innovation. Many companies have an ongoing product innovation focus but rarely think about customer service innovations. Define specific innovation objectives and rewards for improving the customer experience.
- Create superior customer value. Focus on creating superior value for your customers and they will respond positively. This means that you need to know your competitors, their technologies, and the alternatives available. This allows you to match your offerings to your target customers better than anyone else.
- Own the voice of the customer. The only critic whose opinion counts is that of the customer. Create strong, trusting relationships with your customers. Solicit feedback that you can communicate to the entire organization and then be sure to take action on customers’ input.
- Cultivate expertise in superior customer service. Find out everything you can about how to deliver great customer service. Research and implement the best ideas, benchmark your service against the top performers, and make improving customer service a core competency.
- Train every employee to be a customer service champion. Empower employees with the tools, training, equipment, and support they must have to deliver excellent service consistently. Offer positive incentives for those who provide superior customer service and quickly address any issues raised by employees who do not embrace the service values.
- Destroy barriers to delivering superior service. Look at all systems, policies, procedures, reports, and rules. Rid your company of anything that creates roadblocks or frustrations in the effort to delight and amaze the customer. Rules that have not been conceived clearly can make it hard for employees to serve superbly and can kill your business.
- Measure and communicate your goals.Create a clear, specific, well-thought-out and clearly communicated program for systematically collecting and expressing the most important customer service delivery measurements to people who can then act on them. Make it easy for your people to be successful in providing customer service.
- Model your customer service values. Every level of the organization, starting at the very top, must actively demonstrate your service strategy. If you do not deliver excellent service to your internal customers—promptly returning phone calls, showing up on time for meetings, and acting professionally—there is no hope that your front-line people will deliver great service.
In the past, one’s sustainable competitive advantage was based primarily on characteristics such as market power, economies of scale, technology lead, and a broad product line. The advantage today has shifted to companies whose attention to customer needs is superior. As a startup, you have the chance to lead. Take advantage of this opportunity.