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How Do You Differentiate Yourself From The Competition Its All About Client Service

Jun 16, 2011

I filled up my car with gas the other day, paying almost $4 dollars a gallon and then paying the attendant who didn’t speak English, and who appeared to be doing me a favor by taking my money.   I remembered a time when the gas companies promised that if the attendant didn’t get to your car in under ten seconds, you’d get a free drinking glass, or if they didn’t offer to check your oil, you’d get a free fill-up.  My mind drifted further to a time when I could phone a company and a person actually answered the phone, asking something crazy like, “Can I help you?”  You didn’t have to press a series of buttons, getting automated questions that you weren’t paying attention to, and then forgetting what numbers to press.  And there it was, the subject of my next article (or is that, my next rant?).  What happened to customer service?

As the recession continues (yeah, it’s not over yet!), we continue to hear about cost cutting.  Every company has to cut costs to survive - that’s the mantra.  A day doesn’t go by where we don’t hear about cost cutting.  Yet, the companies I am referring to above seem to have forgotten that they are leaving strong impressions on their customers, and not necessarily in a positive way.

We now live in a world where there is an abundance of similar products.  New products hit the market and with lightening speed, similar products are on the shelves.  A good case in point is the Ipad.  Within months of being introduced to the market, the Ipad has seen competition from Blackberry, Kindle and others.  It’s often difficult to differentiate one product from another.  Companies are faced with a similar dilemma when hiring candidates for jobs.  There was a time where a college degree from a reputable university gave the recruit an advantage in the hiring process – not any more.  Now, it seems that most candidates have the university degree, not to mention similar resumes, and companies are challenged to find the right candidate.  And, candidates are challenged to demonstrate to a potential employer that they are the best candidates for the job.

So, how do you navigate through the abundance of common products or services being offered?  Whether you are a buyer or seller of those products or services, you have to differentiate yourself from the competition.  And how do you do that?  Here are eight ways you can differentiate your company or yourself from the competition.

Give Exceptional Customer Service

Customer service is lacking in so many businesses.  How many times have you heard someone say something like, “this business would be great if weren’t for the damn customers?”  Remember that you have no business without your customers and your best business is with your existing customers.  You need repeat business and referrals.  The only way to keep them and get new customers is exceptional customer service.  Meeting customer expectations is not good enough; you have to exceed expectations…every time! 

Listen to Your Customers

Really listen to your customers to find out exactly what they want or need.  Are you sure your customer feels that your product or service fills their needs?  Or do you follow the attitude that says, “if we build it they will come?”  That approach generally doesn’t work.  People are much more selective about how they spend their money.  You will differentiate yourself when your customers feel that your product or service meets their needs and they believe that you hear and respond to them.

Add More Value to Your Product or Service

The actual or perceived value of your product or service must be greater than the cost.  The corollary to that for a service business is that the customer should feel that you left the place better than you found it.  You must find a way to provide the extra benefit, feature or service that excites your customer.  If you are a recruit, you must demonstrate how the company will be in a better state (more income, less cost, better decision-making capability, etc.) than it was before you were hired.

Sell Feelings, Not Products

The car companies have understood this for years.  They are not telling you about the engine or how the fuel injection system works.  They aren’t telling you about how the coefficient of drag gives you better gas mileage.  They use whatever images they have to use to create the exciting feelings you will feel when get behind the wheel and drive that car.  You need to understand that you also are selling feelings.  If the customer feels good about your product or the benefits they will get from your product or service, they will not only buy from you, they will buy again and again, and they will tell everyone.

Highlight Benefits versus Features

When the door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman comes to your house and drops dirt on your carpet, you do not care about the wind tunnel technology that makes that vacuum do its job.  All you care about is that the vacuum cleaner picks up all the dirt and leaves your carpet spotless.  The point is, you must demonstrate to your customers the benefits they will receive from your product, service or relationship.  The buyer will buy from you when he perceives the benefits you provide and feels great about it.

Become a Specialist

Did you ever notice that everyone in a bank has a title?  It seems like everyone is a vice president – first vice president, second vice president, assistant vice president, vice president, senior vice president, and so on.  Why is that?  Everyone wants to believe that they have the most qualified person and people want to feel that they are working with the best – an expert in their field.  But, it takes more than a title.  Today, you have to become a specialist.  You have to become the “go to” person or company in your field.  Obtaining specialized training and certifications helps.  Becoming a specialist drives business your way, especially repeat business. 

Reduce Risk

People want to know that you stand behind your product or service.  If you believe in what you are selling and it provides the value and benefits you are offering, you should be able to stand behind your product.  Discounts for fast payments are common and buyers like that, but how about giving a money-back guarantee?  A money-back guarantee not only says a lot about your belief in your product or service, but also helps take the risk out of the transaction for the buyer and give them peace of mind.  Use customer surveys and then contact your customers in response to their feedback.   Contacting your customers and demonstrating that you are making changes to meet their needs is where you differentiate yourself from the competition.  Many companies use surveys and then attempt to explain away why the survey response is not valid.  They are also differentiating themselves, but not in a good way.

Build a Relationship

In addition to everything mentioned above, investing in your customers or potential customers by building relationships goes along way toward differentiating your company and yourself.  People want to do business with people they like and trust.  So, work hard to build relationships.  This takes some time and some money but it goes a long way toward building sales, repeat business, and referrals. 

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