- Tom Vander Well, executive vice president of c wenger group, is a recognized customer service authority in the contact center industry.
When it comes to differentiating your business in the minds of customers, there are three core opportunities. Branding and marketing may get customers to give you a try, but the best branding in the world does not ensure long-term success unless you consistently deliver something tangible to those customers that differentiates you from your competitors.
In general, you can compete on price, you can compete on product quality, or you can compete on service. In my career I've learned that the greatest opportunity to leverage service as a key differentiator lies in markets and industries that no one considers "service" industries.
Almost a quarter century ago my colleagues and I began working with a little known manufacturing company here in the Midwest. The company manufactures small components, often costing a fraction of a penny, that most people don't know exist. These little components are, however, used in everything electronic. When we began working with them there was growing global competition for the small-price/high-volume materials.
The founder of the company was a shrewd businessman. He knew that trying to be the lowest price provider in his market was a path to limited profitability. He realized that product quality would only get him so far in a market that often demanded material that was "good enough" for their applications.
And so, in a market rampant with poor customer service and crusty, hard-nosed B2B communication, the businessman decided he had an opportunity. He invested in providing service that no one in the industry could match. He constantly measured what his customers expected, then defined and delivered a service experience that exceeded customer expectations. At the same time, he consistently maintained slightly higher prices.
The cultural change required to provide great customer service was fraught with obstacles both internal and external. It took time, but the company slowly changed the way it communicated with customers, distributors and outside sales.
Our customer surveys over the years consistently revealed two things. First, customers were never happy with the company's higher prices. It was always their biggest complaint. Second, customer satisfaction with service was extremely high and measurably higher than any competitor.
During economic downturns customers took their business to Asia because the prices were lower, but time and time again the customers returned within months because they learned that it was worth paying a little more for a better service experience. This company picked up the phone, responded to email, communicated with courtesy, and provided a service experience that the competition couldn't match. They continue to successfully do it to this day.
Customer service is often compartmentalized in our minds to those businesses tapped as "service" or "hospitality" industries. The truth, however, is that customer service has the greatest potential to make a profitable difference in industries where it is least expected.