Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Feeling the Pain

A small business owner told me her philosophy on customer rebates. She offered full money-back refunds when they weren't totally satisfied with the service. It wasn't something for which the customer asked. The customer may not even be complaining. If it sounded like there was a hint of the service not being 100% fully attentive to the client's needs, she wanted to "feel the pain" so that she'd remember--and perhaps sense a pattern--of her staff's strengths and weaknesses. It didn't happen often but she knew that a full refund would 'wow' the client more than a discount coupon against a future service opportunity. (She hadn't been impressed when one of her suppliers offered a discount coupon.)

As I thought about her business's competitive advantage, and other small businesses' advantage, I've heard many times that a lot of businesses want to set themselves apart from their competition in terms of customer service. I think customer service is a given, a basic expectation that rarely 'wows' the client. If it's absent, it's noticeable but it takes a lot to become remarkable--literally when clients remark about your service. It's also easily duplicated: the smile, using the client's name, some extra flourishes...Your competition can copy them in an instant.

What I want in my businesses and from my suppliers...I want them to feel pain if my organization goes away and I want to feel pain if my favorite supplier disappears. We need to have an edge that's not easily replaced. Whether it's a unique flavor in some of my favorite brands on the grocery shelves (I'll feel pain when the store stops carrying a particular hard-fought discovery) or a unique competency that's hard to replicate with other suppliers (frantic scrambling to find another supplier that can do 'xyz' effortlessly), there should be some aspect of our businesses that would cause our customers to bemoan our extinction or other lack of availability. If they can replace us easily, then we haven't found our distinctive focus yet. We haven't created raving fans or, in essence, loyal customers. We've only created satisfied customers who find us convenient, like a routine or habit that they don't have to think about. (Satisfied customer says, "I'm not disappointed. I had low expectations anyway.")

Imagine the pain if auto makers stopped building in cup holders or Apple stopped iTunes from easily downloading to and syncing music across devices (chances are sales might drop on iPods, iPads and iPhones).

What pain would your customers feel if you stopped doing business? Hopefully, the answer is not that they would barely notice and just mosey on down the block to the next place to offer the same product or service.

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