Customer Service as a Strategy: Is it Enough?

Monday, March 19 2018

What sets you apart from your competitors? That’s one question we like to ask the hundreds of business owners and sales people we speak to each year.

Most often they answer either “our people” or “our customer service.” However, when we drill down on the “our people” response it usually leads back to how well their people serve the customers – customer service. This begs the question: since both you and your competitor are probably making the same claim, is customer service much of a differentiator?

Sometimes what we think of as our differentiator is actually part of a game called BS Bingo. It goes like this:  when your sales person makes the typical claims about why your company is best – lowest prices, fastest delivery, and great customer service – they are filling the customer’s imaginary bingo card. But if what you offer isn’t what the customer needs or wants…. BS Bingo!

How do you ensure your company isn’t playing BS bingo? Start by determining your value proposition.

A value proposition is:

  1. Something you do that nobody else can.
  2. Something you do better than anybody else.

In either case, if what you offer isn’t what the customer wants or needs, it’s not a value proposition for them.

How do you create a value proposition for your customer?

First, ensure you understand what they really want and match their need to your value. Best not to assume, but get measurable data because without the data, it’s just an opinion.

Next, ensure you have evidence that supports your claims. Meeting the first value proposition definition (Something you do that nobody else can) is less common; usually, in the eyes of your customers, you are up against competitors with similar offerings. Your sales team needs ways to prove what makes you special.

Finally, measure what’s working and be willing to shift as necessary. Consider the examples of Walmart and McDonald’s.

At Walmart, the lowest price has been the law for a long time, but you won’t find staff tripping over each other in the aisles to help you. The Walmart value proposition placed more emphasis on lowest price, and less on other aspects of customer service and for many years this was clearly okay with customers. There seemed to be no stopping Walmart, which is still the largest retailer declaring $485 billion globally in sales last year; but their sales have stalled due to the growth of Amazon. Now Walmart is adapting strategy, recognizing the status quo may no longer suffice.

McDonald’s has long taught its employees a mantra known as ‘QSCV’ – quality, service, cleanliness, and value. Beyond these pillars of customer service, the Golden Arches continues to successfully grow its brand, spending millions researching other factors like menus, store locations, and hours, as well as continually testing new and innovative ways to serve clients through technology.

Today, great customer service is table stakes. On-time delivery and friendly customer service are still critically important; however, it won’t matter how great the service if there are too few customers. Leaders must balance the best customer experience while keeping an eye on the multiple variables that can change, such as people, customers, technology, competitors, and regulations. You must go beyond to ensure your company survives and thrives.