Anne M. Obarski

Article Summary:

What three areas do you need to keep focused on to differentiate yourself from the competition, and to keep hitting the moving target of customer satisfaction?

Customer Satisfaction: Differentiate Yourself From The Competition

I recently was interviewed for a magazine article and one of the questions was, "How can a business differentiate itself from other similar businesses"? The trite answer would be "customer satisfaction" of course. But customer satisfaction is a moving target that never stays still.

As a society, we have raised the level of expectation on products and services so high, that companies must continuously work towards ways to better everything they do just come close to the target. Once you have the target in sight, get ready, it's on the move again.

Think about something simple like toothpaste. When I was growing up, there were three or so toothpastes and they all did about the same job. I still use the same brand of toothpaste but everything has changed. Now, it not only whitens, it prevents plaque build-up, has tarter control, freshens breath, is in a handy container that is better than the tube and it might even have some sparkles in it so that I think my teeth will "sparkle" too. How much further can we take a basic item like toothpaste? Until we hit the moving target, that's when.

To differentiate yourself from the competition, I told the interviewer, I believe there needs to be three things in place that will help you slow down that moving target.

Inventory
Your inventory or the service you offer should be your brand identity. It is what makes the customer "slow down" and say, "I need to take a closer look at that company". If you think the products you offer are so different, go to Google, and put in some of your products and you will see that you have a huge amount of competition. So the question is, what do you offer that is "new and improved"!

When you talk to vendors, do you look for some of the newest and cutting-edge products that will set you apart as the "trend setter" in your town or your industry? Does it match your branding as well as your merchandising strategy? The word "strategy" is the intense focus that is critical in just reaching the target.

Analyze your product assortment and ask yourself if the "same old, same old" still continues to bring the customer in or are you consistently in the "hunt" for the "new and improved" items that are sure to "wow" your demanding customers.

Successful companies must worry about two deadly sins: complacency and arrogance. Today's "wow" factor is tomorrow's standard.

The Employees
I recently read a comment by the Director of the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center who said, "An organization will never be what the people are not". He went on to say that "...It is the people providing the service who make the memories for customers, that tie into their emotions, to make people want to return and to continue spending money."

To get closer to the target, your customer, you must have a strategy of how you want to use your best asset, your employees. Do you have a "culture" within your organization that radiates; we know our products, we know our customers' needs and we work hourly on how to communicate that to them, and we never get arrogant in the process?

What is your training program like? Is it new, improved, up-to-date, providing employees with cutting edge service and sales procedures? Do you offer your employees chances to stretch their potential in selling as well as leadership? Do you spend more time on hard skills than soft skills, and which you think has more impact on your business. If you are too challenged on how to effectively train your employees have you done your homework to seek out professional organizations that can customize programs that are right for you? Ask yourself this question, "would I want my employees working for my competition"? If the answer is "yes", your hiring and training may be seriously lacking the "wow" factor that is obvious in the "blur" of your customer's eyes as they head off to your competition.

Customer Satisfaction
There are many things that are in the "customer satisfaction formula". When any of the entries are incorrect, the bottom line answer will be wrong. So how does "customer satisfaction" add up? We discussed inventory and employees but the ultimate part of the formula that will get you closer to the target than anything is delivering the expected. We have all heard to under promise and over deliver is the way to win the heart of your customer. I believe that those times are not the norm. The customer just wants what they expect.

If I do to the doctors, I expect to be greeted, told to sign in, asked to take a seat and then to be seen in a "reasonable" amount of time. If I am left in one of those little examining rooms, freezing in one of those paper gowns and have read every little chart on the boring walls, that is not reasonable. The formula is the same for most businesses. Greet me, help me feel comfortable and then make sure when I am ready for service that you don't waste my time.

I was watching a morning talk show the other day and the host proceeded to spend the first ten minutes discussing the worst customer service he had over the weekend. It seems he was having phone service trouble and he went on to mention the name of the phone company which really surprised me. He said that when he called for a service call to be scheduled they told him that it would be between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday. He said he got up early and got ready in case they came at 8 a.m. As he drug the story out with sighing and loud comments he asked his co-host, "When do you think they got there?" He went on to say before she could answer....6:30 p.m.! The audience gasped and groaned and you could tell that many of them had been in that same situation over the years with the phone company that begins with the letter "V".

Simple story, one we can all relate to when it comes to service calls. Here is what made me stop to think. He was telling this story on national television, in the first ten minutes of the show and to millions of viewers who certainly new the name he was talking about. His comment about the timing of the service was simple, he said, "If they would have only called me around 3 p.m. and said, hey _____ we are going to be a little late", I would have been fine with it." It was the not knowing, the wasting of my time on my day off from work that made me angry.

He went on to say that when they got there, they were polite and got the job done in a half an hour. You see, this company really missed the target. They never realized how ruining someone's schedule would cause them so much negative press. They have a good product, maybe even good service, but the delivery was what ruined the customer satisfaction formula in this person's mind, as well as millions of others.

What's your formula to keep your target, you customer, in your sites. Are you offering more than just the basics? Are your employees your best asset in the eyes of your customer? Is the delivery of your product or service the best it can be? If the formula for customer satisfaction is not adding up the way you would like, your target might be moving as fast as it can to your competition. Sharpen your focus and your performance because your customer satisfaction is at the heart of that moving target.

Anne M. Obarski is "The Eye on Performance!" As a professional speaker and trainer, Anne helps companies focus on the profit building service strategies that will keep their customers coming back. Anne presents nationwide keynotes, break-out sessions and customized training in the area of customer service. She has written "Surprising Secrets of Mystery Shoppers" and "Real World Customer Service Strategies That Work". For more information visit her website at www.merchandise concepts.com.

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