A while back, I wrote about the importance of a “sustainable competitive advantage,” and outlined the business plan value and limitations of patents and competitor feature comparisons. But once you start selling products, all of these pale in comparison to your level of customer service.
I agree with John Spence, in his book “Awesomely Simple,” 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 differentiator left for creating loyal and engaged customers.
Here are the top ten suggestions from John and others for how to create a culture of extreme customer focus in your organization:
- Create a customer service vision. Much like creating a vision statement to direct the organization, you should also create a clear and compelling “customer service vision” that describes the level of service your organization aspires to deliver.
- Exceed customer expectations. Show a relentless commitment to exceeding, not just meeting, expectations. Customers can’t tell you how to exceed their expectations, but they know it when they see it, they remember, and they tell their friends.
- 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 love you. This means know your competitors, technologies, and alternatives available. Match your offerings to your target customers better than anyone else.
- Own the “voice of the customer”. The only critic whose opinion counts is the customer. Create strong, trusting relationships with your customers. Solicit feedback, communicate that feedback to the entire organization, and then be sure to take action on the feedback.
- Be the expert on delivering superior customer service. Find out everything you can about how to deliver great customer service. Steal the best ideas, benchmark 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. Reward and praise those who deliver, and deal quickly with any employee who does not embrace the service values.
- Destroy barriers to delivering superior service. Look at all systems, policies, procedures, reports and rules. Wipe out anything that creates roadblocks or frustrations in the effort to delight and amaze the customer. Stupid rules that make it hard for employees to serve superbly can kill your business.
- Measure, measure, and communicate. Create a clear, specific, well-thought-out and over-communicated program for systematically collecting and communicating the most important customer service delivery measurements to the people who can then act on them. Make it easy for your people to win.
- Walk the talk. Every level of the organization, starting at the very top, must be a living example of 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.
Sustainable competitive advantage was once 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 customer focus is superior. As a startup, you have the opportunity to lead. Use it, and don’t lose it.