Given the total number of brands in the world today, products and services can become generic and commodities more quickly than ever before. As a result, your company shouldn’t rely on new product offerings as your key innovation tool or to create a sustainable success.
Instead, being able to differentiate your product from all others is the best hedge against becoming a commodity and the best way to protect your marketing and positioning investment. Today, what often defines a brand against all others is the level of customer service that supports the daily use of a company’s products and/or services.
It’s common to discover that customer service is given five times the importance in selecting one company over another, or even more weight than a particular product’s attributes or its price. Why is this? Because customers want to make a product choice and, from then on, be able to rely on the company they purchased from to stand behind the product’s ongoing performance and remedy any fixes necessary.
Yet, many companies concentrate on the lead-generation portion of their “sales and marketing program” and ignore their level of customer service. This is particularly true in today’s challenging markets in which customer service departments are being thinned to preserve the bottom-line. The net result of this can be disastrous. And yet, many companies will spend excessive amounts on bringing new customers through their front door using SEO and other internet marketing tools while losing the same or greater number through the back door.
To not fall into this front door/back door trap, here are a few things you could institute at your company:
1) Organize your customers’ experiences into a cohesive program that everyone on your team could easily provide services for at any part of the program, from the initial emailing to a sales call and on through technical customer service.
This integrated approach is very rare because it requires intensive cross-training, and when it’s proposed to executive management, the typical response is, “But that would cost a lot of money!” However, if a company were to retain 90 percent of its customer base year to year, while adding 10-15 precent more each year, the rapidity of its growth would be very worth the investment.
Consider Apple’s retail stores that are so expensive to lease, build and staff. And yet, Apple’s total retail distribution has current annual revenues of $6 billion, so the company’s investment in customer service is paying off well.2) Train your staff to handle both the expected and unexpected requests for service with a “can-do attitude and knowledge” that evangelizes your company like nothing else.
This could encompass technical assistance, top-notch diagnostics, instruction, information, or parts selection advice that all create satisfying experiences for customers each time they call on your expertise.
3) Figure out what your customers really like about you and deliver more of that than anything else.
This is a crucial step toward owning your competitive future. If you don’t do it, you are at the mercy of your product’s features and pricing as they stack up against your many competitors. And as we have said, the world is filled with layers of brands that come in all shapes and sizes.
A most important aspect of understanding your customers is knowing that they’ll want different things from you in different situations. The key is to match your product and service offerings to your customers’ preferences, vs. trying to force their needs to fit inside your offerings.
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