Right now there are potential customers for your business trying to decide whether or not to choose you. Unfortunately, most of them can't see much difference between you and your competition. You've all got good quality products or services. You all seem to have competent, helpful people. It all pretty much just looks the same. That leaves one factor to drive the decision: price.
Welcome to the commodity trap. It's a place in which lowest price almost always wins because customers don't see any other difference. It's not a place where most companies want to compete. To escape the commodity trap, you have to answer the toughest question in business:
Why should I choose you?
From banking services and insurance products to fast food restaurants and medical clinics, today's buyers just don't see much difference in their choices. Unless you want to compete on price, you have to clearly differentiate from your competition. You have to have a tiebreaker. You have to give potential customers a reason to say "Okay. That's the difference. That makes my decision." The good news is that you probably have one or more tiebreakers right now, you've just not developed them as such.
Tiebreakers usually aren't anything particularly unusual or exotic, but more often the mastery of a basic customer's expectation. The best way to discover and develop your tiebreakers is to list your customers' basic expectations of you. Start by choosing one basic customer expectation and stake your claim with it. Improve your performance in that area until it becomes "your turf," and clearly differentiates you from your competition. Reach the point where you have mastered the differentiator and can confidently say "Nobody does this like we do."
While basic expectations will vary depending on the nature of your customers, i.e. consumer retail or business to business, here are some typical areas that can prove to be powerful tiebreakers to differentiate you from the competition:
- Be the fastest: Quick response and always on time. Become known for returning customer's calls within one hour, guaranteeing two day delivery but always doing it in one, paying your customer if you are late for a service call, or responding to emails with lightning speed. In today's "I want it yesterday" world, being known for a quick response or always being on time can be a powerful differentiator.
- Be the easiest to do business with: Become the no hassle choice. This has been listed as the number one factor with business to business customers, and it has equal importance with retail consumers. Look at every aspect of how you interface with customers and correct anything that might make you the least bit difficult to do business with. Are your invoices clear and easily understood? Is your web site easy to navigate? Do you empower employees to say "yes" to customers without always having to get approval from a manager? Be easy and win business.
- Let the customer choose: Offer more selection and customization. Today's customers want exactly what they want, exactly how they want it. Whether it's the music mix on their iPod or their no fat, no whip, double shot, extra hot latte with a shot of vanilla at the coffee shop, everyone wants it their way. Let the customers decide. Give them what they want, not what you want to give them.
- Demonstrate value: Competitive price and clear value. You don't have to have the lowest price, but you do have to demonstrate that you're a great deal. That's the essence of value. Never take for granted that your customers understand that you're worth what you charge. Spell it out for them. Educate your customers. It's not their job to see your value. It's your job to show them. All it may take is a realization of "Oh, I didn't understand before how that was saving me money" for you to lock in customer loyalty. Value can also be as simple as sending seven when the customer orders six.
- Be Relevant: Take a "big picture" approach to serving your customer. Look beyond the immediate needs of your customers to a bigger picture view of how you can help them succeed, make their lives easier, or create new opportunities for them. One company that sells pipe to building contractors invites its best customers to annual seminars on business development. An auto paint manufacturer offers its body shop customers help with programs on inventory control, accounts receivable, and other business basics. A restaurant offers free baby food to customers with infants, making life easier for the family. Look beyond your core product or service and explore how a "big picture" approach can be your ultimate tiebreaker.
- Solve problems on the spot: Empower employees to make it happen. Nothing is more frustrating to customers than hearing the words "I'll have to ask my manager" or "I'm sorry, but our policy is . . ." Train your employees to resolve customer problems fairly, amicably, and, whenever possible, on the spot. Effective problem resolution can win you customers for life.
- The ultimate tiebreaker: Consistency of performance. While it's great to hear "superstar" stories about employees that go above and beyond for a customer, the most powerful tiebreaker in today's marketplace is consistency. If customers know that no matter who they deal with in your company, they will receive the same level of great service every single time, that's the most powerful differentiator there is.
Think about your own customers' basic expectations, then set a goal to improve your performance on one of them by 25%. Start there, then continue to get better. The more expectations you master, the better your chances to win the business when your potential customers ask "Why should I choose you?"