I have started to see articles that state a common theme. It is that all products and services will eventually commoditize to the point where it is virtually impossible to distinguish them by price or performance. This result is driven by a rise in international competition and the natural growth of multiple competitors in every space improving their capabilities to an equal level. I suppose we have lots of signs that this will come true because consumers are less and less loyal to any specific brand or organization, and getting VERY LOYAL to doing whatever is simplest in their lives. We will shop at any grocery store, get our shoes from any place that has something we need, and buy gas wherever it is most convenient and the pumps go fast.
If we continue down this road, there will only be two things that will really make a difference to customers, clients, patients, members, or constituents and that will be: 1 – anything that save them time and 2 – buying from a brand or supplier that the consumer has an emotional relationship to, and the best way to get that emotional connection will be that the customer perceives that the supplier is providing value in their lives OUTSIDE of the product or service itself. For example, I can get my taxes done by any number of firms at this point, so my choice is driven by the fact that we finally found an accounting firm that actually acts as if they care about us and they demonstrate that by communicating with us often to update us on law changes and such all year long – not just in November when they want our business again.
My guess is the vast majority of you reading this now provide a service or product that others do as well. I can also guess that your ability to differentiate is shrinking every day. If you agree with this concept, then it is time to reconfigure how you show the love to your customers. Since I am a technology guy, I suggest strongly that you develop digital tools to help you show the love so that the costs can be kept down for providing value and connection to them. By the way, using technology to show the love is not oxymoronic. The number one most trusted brand online is Amazon and they have very little contact between their human staff and their millions of customers, yet they show the love well. To make this easy, I am providing the following formula for you:
- Build a high profile presence online by providing lots of information on your industry. Seek to help the world by sharing lots of content in video, PPT’s, infographics and documents. You will be making a statement that you are the industry expert and that also want to help people to learn important aspect of your industry. For example, if you are a bank, build online assets that teach people how to get an SBA Loan, or learn how to best save for retirement.
- Rebuild your process for onboarding new customers. This is a high value process that too many organizations ignore. Most gather a few fields of information to take care of billing, but really don’t have a step-by-step process for onboarding customers so they feel valued, or like they have joined an exclusive relationship.
- Develop a powerful organizational voice through which to talk to your customers on a regular basis. We have many channels today like blogging, Twitter, Facebook, podcasts, etc. When you talk to them be sure to run in a ratio where you deliver five things of value to them for every one thing that would be a promotion or sale for you. This is called “Earned Media” because you earn the right to talk to your customer through providing value on an ongoing basis.
- Develop a new data model for your customers where you gather thirty to forty fields of information on EVERYONE who buys your products. This might need to be done over time, and that is OK. The end result needs to be that you have tons of data on your customers so you can use that data to build closer relationships with them.
This is a battle in the market that you do not want to lose. The era of earning a customers business through product or service differentiation is waning. There will always be small tweaks that might be unique, but in general, the economy is going to become an increasingly competitive place. If showing your customer that you care about them has not been a cornerstone of your strategy, or if you don’t even know your end consumer because you sell through distribution, I suggest you hold an emergency meeting and figure out how to connect with your customers at a valuable level.