FACT: If you are the same as the rest then why should customers bother to buy from you?
SO WHAT?: Ignore the one-liner at your peril! Wake up and smell the coffee!
In a world where competition seems to be everywhere, you need to separate yourself from the rest.
FACT: If you compete on price, only the customer will win – in the end the company with the lowest prices (and biggest buying power) will get the business. This is no place for the timid.
SO WHAT?: If you try to be the same as the rest, a ‘me-too’ business, it is incredibly difficult to survive in the long run. After all, the only way you can differentiate yourself if several businesses are selling the same product will be on price. And if you differentiate yourself on price then it becomes inevitable that you enter a price war – customers will chase the cheapest prices – those businesses with the biggest market share (and economies of scale) will be able to command better prices from their suppliers. As a result, these competitors will be able to pass on those savings to customers while maintaining healthier profit margins than their competition. You will end up cutting your profit margins, probably until you go out of business.
Legendary, remarkable customer service will be your secret weapon.
Shoreditch’s bustling café society is thought to be the first place to offer customers a disloyalty card in order to drum up business for local independent baristas and reward customers for trying new places in the area.
The loyalty card is a well-established consumer psychology tool but the idea of collecting stamps from eight different coffee houses in order to gain a free coffee was dreamed up by award-winning barista Gwilym Davies to combat the homogenised high street coffee culture.
The reason behind teaming up with fellow independent coffee shops arose due to the overwhelming demand and lengthy queues at Mr Davies' shop on the back of winning the World Barista Championship.
Initially he tried suggesting nearby alternatives that he recommended on a whiteboard, something that might be the last thing a small retailer might want to do in a very competitive and cost-sensitive industry. But as a supportive gesture for fellow traders and to help satiate the increasing lust for good coffee, it still wasn’t enough and so the disloyalty card was born.
Speaking to the Evening Standard, Mr Davies' business partner, Jeremy Challender, said: “There are a lot more places opening, and as prices are the same, it seems a shame a lot of people haven’t experienced high quality coffee. It’s totally different to what you get in a high street chain.”
The partnership has seen eight independent coffee shops join in with the venture which, if successful, could see the consumption of 45,000 coffees and a new culture of using local coffee traders and award winning baristas that are passionate about the content of the cup they vend.
As a retailer, would you try a similar scheme with fellow businesses?
The online retail world has blown up in the last five years. Businesses of all sizes are selling direct from their website – allowing products to be purchased from customers all around the world.
For many people, clicking a button just isn’t the same as the experience that comes with going shopping in a store.
Finlay Clark talks about “fulfilment” (or lack thereof) in relation to online shopping. Coming up to Christmas – do you feel additional pressure selling products online? How do you ensure customer satisfaction is always achieved especially at this time of the year?
In this short video, Tim Smit talks about use of financial jargon and complicated accounting terms which can be overwhelming for the entrepreneur embarking on a new business venture.
Take a few moments to think about how you communicate with clients. Does your business make it easier or more difficult for clients to deal with you? And if you don’t know, why not ask one of your clients!
I have spent my whole working life in the business world. Before creating Ecademy in 1998, I was sales and marketing director of a computer distributor. I worked for an entrepreneurial managing director and he had an excellent hold on the value of a customer to our relatively small company. We won respect and loyalty in a very competitive market by truly seeing the value of each of our 6,000 customers.
An interesting learning curve for me was that my ‘boss’ also gave me the responsibility for customer service. He felt the outcome and quality of that department were intrinsically linked to sales and marketing - and of course he was right. However, his beliefs and foresight are only just beginning to be vindicated now that consumers and businesses have a loud voice on the Internet.
In 2010, I see many opportunities for businesses to have an impact on the relationship they have with their customers. One area I am fascinated by is the relationship that will have to be formed between the customer service and marketing departments.
In a recent study carried out by CPP Group, they investigated what constitutes bad customer service and how consumers are by no means shy about telling their friends and family about their experiences. In this study they saw a growing trend toward utilising social media to share frustrations rather than telephoning or writing to the ‘offending’ company directly. A shocking set of statistics were:
“…. young adults under the age of 35 could do the most damage to an organisation’s reputation as they are most likely to talk about poor customer service online. Nearly three in ten (28.6%) of 16-24 year olds and two in ten (19.2%) 25-34 year olds would specifically use Facebook, versus only 2.7% of consumers aged 45-54 years old; highlighting the persuasive influence of this single website”.
Source: CPP Group Plc survey – October 09 (CPP White paper on Customer Service)
The use of social media by the under 35’s begs the question ‘What are companies doing to actively seek out the conversations online that can destroy a brand?’
I believe the opportunities and threats that have emerged for companies and brands within the conversations inside social networks will continue to rise at an unprecedented speed. We are only at the cusp of the use of these social networks, with the use of mobile devices only just beginning to integrate social networking into their functionality, and the utilisation of these sites by the mass to vent their frustrations.
In 2010 we will see growing use of mobile interaction with social networks. Through this avenue, consumers will create a much larger demand for high levels of customer service. The ability to spontaneously vent frustration at the exact moment of disappointment will capture irrational, gut-felt emotions in real-time. This will require a rush to get to the ‘disrupted’ customer before their conversations become viral and damaging. Speed of feedback and use of sophisticated search mechanisms to find these conversations will be critical. Microsoft have launched their new search engine, Bing, now indexing Twitter conversations, and Google will follow. Ths is an indication of the desire to seek conversations and be part of them fast.
Customer service will become a game of ‘hunting out the customer’s emotions’, not just waiting for them to call and complain. At this point the customer service team will need to become pro-active rather than reactive. I predict that the customer service team will have as much influence on the marketing and belief in a brand as the marketing teams do.
The customer may always be right, but are they the right customers?
One of the customer’s of my company (SellerDeck) was incredibly picky about how their business wanted to use our software. We are a mass market, low price supplier and we’ve sold tens of thousands of products and services, so we normally can’t make changes for individual companies who typically pay a few hundred pounds each. However, this particular customer was very persistent. So one of our product managers contacted them, spent ages discussing their requirements and subsequently we agreed to make some changes. Responding in this way was exceptional and it cost us much more than we could ever make in sales from the particular guy.
But this customer isn’t at all grateful. In fact, recently they have become even more critical, and have continued to cost us more in support than almost anyone else. Would it have been better if we had said “no” in the first place?
Without sounding too critical, the customer in question doesn’t appear to be particularly successful, and I’m sure it’s not a coincidence. If someone can’t understand the business needs of their suppliers, they probably don’t know how their own customers tick either.
Some clients are very demanding, and whatever you do they are never satisfied. I’m not talking about customers upset with poor service, who need helping. Nor am I talking about customers that need a lot of handholding. Nor about customers who buy the wrong product, who should have their money returned. I’m talking about customers who fundamentally don’t understand the trade-off involved in human and business interactions.
Although the circumstances I’ve described are rare, they aren’t unique. My guess is that this applies to maybe one in two hundred customers. The cost in time and demoralising impact on staff makes it more difficult to give good service to everyone else. As a result, I am coming to the conclusion that for this small minority, we would do better to suggest that they do business with our competitors.
It’s critical not to provide our customer service team with any excuse for bad service, so there are some dangers in adopting such measures. However, applied incredibly carefully to a very small minority, surely it’s time to review the relationship with these sorts of customers?