Originally posted at www.gazettemag.com

“We’ll be there between 10 and 2 on Tuesday.”

This is not a utility company, which generally has customers at their mercy due to a bureaucratic structure that has legislated monopolies. This is a furniture company – a “high end” one at that. A private business that, just like any other business, needs its customers.

They won’t budge on the four-hour window and they won’t show up on a weekend. They don’t care that their customers work the same hours and days that they do. They don’t care what their customers will do with the three-and-a-half hours during that time frame when they won’t be delivering your furniture. They’re okay with keeping their customers waiting.

They’re begging you to take their customers away.

Vital to business success is having a competitive advantage – that “thing” that sets you apart from everyone else. That special difference that makes customers want to hang out with you and buy your stuff, ignoring anyone else toiling in your space. Business owners can spend a lot of time thinking about their own competitive advantage. What is it?

In rare cases, it’s the unique product or service you provide. But, once you’ve made it to market, you’ll be flooded with copycats, looking to take advantage of the market you’ve created – and you’ve lost your edge. Unique products and services don’t last.

What lasts? What earns? What can you build a foundation upon? Ask yourself: What do Google, Apple, and Amazon have in common?

SURPRISE: It’s not innovation. Or, more precisely: it’s not JUST innovation.

Google built a suite of products that work together intuitively and a system that changes to adapt to you.

Apple has Geniuses at the Genius Bar, waiting to make your pretty smart phone easier to use.

Amazon remembers what you like, makes suggestions, and delivers right to your door.

How do these companies differ from our annoyingly immovable furniture company?

It’s easy to buy from them. It’s easy to work with them. Your needs are anticipated. Service is adjusted to meet you. Products are upgraded and molded into your life. You’re treated well coming in the front door, and even better going out the back. You want to walk through those doors again.

It’s called customer service. It’s sorely lacking in many businesses, and it’s why they fail.

Even if your business doesn’t have the cash to fund massive infrastructure and technological advances like our three surviving heroes of the Internet Age, you absolutely can set yourself apart from your competitors. Focus on these three activities and you will take your competitor’s customers away:

1. Make it Easy: From the moment your customer first contacts your business to the last time they hear from you, be convenient. Make it simple to understand what you’re selling, and how to buy it. Get it to them on their terms. Think about how you would want to be treated if you were your customer. Ask your customers. Ask your friends. Make it better. Ask again. Make it better again. Ask again.

2. Keep Promises: Give this concept more thought than you were about to. Stop and think about unspoken promises (also known as expectations) as well as spoken promises. How will you deliver what your customer REALLY wants? Why are they buying from you? It’s not about the thing, it’s about how it fits into their life. Will it give them excitement, peace, relaxation? How will you keep that promise? Build a structure, a process around the delivery of their why, not your how.

3. Apologize: You WILL mess up. Everybody does. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll hire the wrong person. You’ll invest in the wrong system. You’ll lose customers. Say you’re sorry. Mean it. Send flowers. Replace the thing. Refund their money. Even if you think you’re right. Even if it shouldn’t be a big deal. Even if it hurts both your pride and your pocketbook.
Look back over those three actions. I’m not telling you to have the lowest price. I’m not saying to have the best product. Yes, your price needs to make sense. Yes, your product needs to be effective. These are important building blocks for creating a business. Keeping business, and winning in your space means making your customer happy. Each, individual one.

Success comes from the people who buy from your business, who talk about your business, who come back and bring their family. It comes from being customer-centric. It comes from trust and respect.

Respect is not assuming that your customer’s time is less valuable than yours. A four-hour window on any day of the week is unacceptable. On a standard work day it is ludicrous.

Think about your customers. Give them more than a product or a service. Give them the feeling that they’ve been looking for. They’re not buying furniture, a meal, or a life insurance policy. They’re buying a comfortable room to relax in, a taste experience, or a sense of security.

Make it easy. Look for what your competitors are not doing to meet your clients’ unspoken expectations, and start doing it.

Take their business, please.

By Julia Chung

Julia Chung
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