Let’s be clear. The days of saying you deliver either superior quality or superior customer service to secure yourself any competitive advantage are gone.
In today’s market, the competition is so ferocious that the customer now expects that you will deliver a quality product and provide decent customer service. These are a given – not things to set you apart.
If you don’t deliver these as standard practice, you won’t survive – let alone prosper.
As fast as the quality bubble grew, it popped.
Quality used to be a subjective concept – it meant different things to different people. That was until the academics, gurus (like Dr Edward Deming) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) set about defining it to make it tangible.
Today it means nothing more than the product or service does what it is supposed to do. It is fit for purpose.
In the definition of quality there is no mention about the grade of raw materials used; the timeliness (or otherwise) of product production; the market price; whether the product is aesthetically pleasing (or ugly as ever); the emotive appeal of the brand or anything else.
Nope, quality is a very staid concept. Quality means fitness for purpose – in other words, it technically performs its job.
Here is the reality check. If you do not exchange or offer a refund against a product that is not quality (in other words it does not do what you say it will do) there is legal recourse that the consumer can take against you.
In most countries, including Australia, government has a legislative framework that outlaws the selling of goods and services that do not perform in the way you say they do.
Yep. Quality is a given. And you have no choice but to deliver it. And this doesn’t make you any different to any competitor in the eyes of the consumer which is why it can’t be used for positioning.
The early to mid 1990s will long be remembered for the flurry in interest in quality management systems (and getting certified as complying with ISO9000 standards became a business essential or B2B customers simply wouldn’t buy from you).
But as fast as that quality bubble grew, so too it popped; once everyone was certified, there ceased to be a point of difference between suppliers. The business buyer got used to quality certification being a given, and moved right on to the next big thing.
Customer service is done to death, Boring with a Big B.
A quick “customer service” search on Amazon returns more than 5,000 books espousing the best practices in customer service; whether its 101 training tips in blow-your-customer-away customer service; Super Service and how to achieve it with the author’s must-know Seven Keys; customer service for Dummies; and on and on it goes.
Customer service as a topic is done to death.
And the books on the subject blur into one another – since there is no clear point of difference between them.
If we accept that to prosper today you need to stand out from the crowd; this means you have to be different. To be different you have to say things other people are not saying. So this means you need to find a competitor that’s prepared to stand up publicly and roar to the crowd “I deliver lousy customer service!”
Of course. once you find that competitor, you can position yourself against them (Remember the positioning rules? Do the opposite of your competitor…). Good luck finding them.
The bottom line is that since everyone says the customer is king and that their business delivers great/top-notch/better customer service (whether they do or not is a different issue) – how can you stand out from the crowd if you are yet another voice saying the same thing?
Don’t you be the Dummie. Saying you deliver good customer service does not make you stand out from the crowd and every time you waffle on about how it makes you special, you keep your customer yawning. They’ve heard it all before.
Come up with something different to say.
But aren’t quality and customer service the hallmarks of good business?
Yes, quality and customer service are the hallmarks of good business – but they cannot be used to make you stand out from the crowd. At least – not directly.
Look at ways to position your business that implies quality and customer service – rather than states it.
Let’s look at examples of ways that imply these things rather than state them:
1. Statements of endorsement by people that matter (and good old testimonials):
“By Appointment To Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11”
Goddards Silver Cleaners and Lea and Perrins are both examples of brands carrying the royal warrant. And geez, if it’s good enough for Lizzie; it’s good enough for me.
2. Statements that reposition your competitors:
“Engineered like no other car.” (Mercedes Benz).
3. Statements about product attributes:
“At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”
4. Statements that explain your heritage:
“Proudly serving customers since 1896.” (The fact you’ve been around that long says something about how well you conduct your business.)
5. Statements of leadership:
“Australia’s fastest growing (whatever)” (The fact that everyone is buying yours means it must be good.)
Fiona Mackenzie is an experienced senior business and marketing strategist from Melbourne, Australia. She has a MBA and industry experience across telecommunications and professional services and more. Check out her blog archive at www.fionamackenzie.com.au