Would you like to know the secret to getting your prospects and customers to stop focusing on how much you charge for your products or services? Wow them with unexpected—but oh-so-welcome—exceptional customer service. And if what you sell is a commodity, a product or service that’s difficult to differentiate in the marketplace, then creating a memorable customer service experience is critical to your branding success. Here’s what I mean…
Walmart is the undisputed leader in offering low prices in the department store category (Always low prices—always; and now, Save Money, Live Better.). Walmart Stores, Inc. recently reported record sales and earnings for the first quarter of their fiscal year: Net sales for the first quarter were $70.9 billion, an increase of 9.5 percent over the first quarter of this reporting period. Net income for the quarter was $2.5 billion, an increase of 13.6 percent from $2.2 billion. The chain continues to grow and prosper and expand. So how do you compete with such a dominant force in the industry?
If you walk into one of the 1,820 Safeway stores across the U.S. or Canada and ask a Safeway employee where to locate a certain item, you might be shocked that, regardless of what they’re doing at that moment, that employee will escort you to the exact location of the product you’re looking for. If you ask where the dandruff shampoo is, the clerk won’t just stare dumbly or wave in a general direction and leave you up to your own department store navigation skills to find it. He or she will stop what they’re doing and walk WITH YOU to the personal care section and directly to the various dandruff shampoos they carry. This little touch of exceptional customer service has caught so many satisfied Safeway shoppers off guard—in a positive way—they’ve become emotionally connected to the brand and are now Safeway loyalists. THAT’S how you compete with the likes of Walmart.
And here’s the thing: do you think a satisfied and happy Safeway shopper really cares that the dandruff shampoo they just purchased costs 22 cents more than if they had bought it at Walmart? Of course not! In that customer’s mind, Safeway has just crushed the low-price value proposition of its biggest and baddest competitor. The Safeway brand is daily expressed—and strengthened—by its front-line employees. (That’s called living the brand.)
Of course, the classic branding-of-a-commodity story is what Howard Schultz has done with coffee. Coffee companies will tell you that their roasting processes, special blends, exotic growing locales, and countless other “differentiators” are supposed to make coffee drinkers stand up and take notice of one brand over another. But face it: coffee is a commodity. Beans are beans. Make it hot and make it strong. But Howard Schultz had a better idea. He turned coffee into an experience.
When I say “Starbucks,” you say ___________ (fill in the blank). Maybe you say “sophisticated,” or “expensive,” or “consistent,” or “relaxing,” or “reward.” Whatever you feel the Starbucks brand stands for, one thing all Starbucks customers can agree upon is that the chain has elevated the ubiquitous coffee house to much more than a commodity by making it a special, customer oriented experience. And that brand promise is passed down to customers through every aproned barista who brews a skinny venti latte.
In his book, A New Brand World, author Scott Bedbury, former chief marketing officer for Starbucks says, “…Starbucks employees know how to behave. Their training, their benefits, their sense of solidarity—and therefore their attitude and presentation—are consistently a cut above those employees in the rest of the restaurant and fast food industry.” Bedbury goes on to say that this is “a prime example of how, if you understand the brand—its values, its mission, its reason for being—and integrate it consistently into everything you do, your entire organization will know how to behave in virtually any and all situations.”
Your Challenge: Regardless of whether your business sells a commodity
product or service, crank up your customer service another notch or two.
If being customer-centric is implied in your
mission and vision statements
, live the customer service part of your brand and integrate it
consistently into everything you do. If you don’t, your prospects and
customers will focus on price, when they should be focusing on the brand
To learn how great customer service trumps price, click here.