These days, it’s all about differentiation. In a world where virtually every product or service has become commoditized, how can a small business manage to stand out from the crowd?
There’s competing on price, of course, but, as many entrepreneurs learn the hard way, this is a losing strategy. Whatever short-term gain comes from undercutting your competitors on price ends up with you squeezing your margins to a point where there’s little or no profit left.
A far better approach is staying closely attuned to your customers’ wants and needs—not with an “I know this is what I should be doing” attitude, but with a relentless, laser-beam focus that consistently answers these vital questions:
- Who will most likely benefit from my product or service?
- How can I provide the best solutions to my customers’ ever-changing problems?
Here are suggestions on transforming your customer-centric focus into a quantifiable competitive advantage:
Look at everything through your customer’s eyes. Step outside your own perspective and take a look at your business through the eyes of your customers. How well do your marketing materials (website, flyers, brochures, etc.) explain what you do and sell? Do they address all likely questions? What is the customer’s experience like at every touch-point in the purchasing process?
Ask customers for the information you want. The key to effective differentiation may require a mere tweaking of your present level of customer service or some small upgrade to your product or service. A short, well-worded customer survey is a good way to help determine the changes you need to make. Think about an incentive you can offer current and prospective customers for completing your survey (no more than 10 questions, preferably less) and disseminate it with your survey request through all available offline and social media channels.
Respond quickly to all inquiries. Businesses that are slow to reply to customer questions or complaints are vulnerable to being upstaged in the market by more responsive companies. A quick follow-up call or email sends the message that you’re committed to high-speed service—a great way to stand out in your customers’ mind.
Make sure your website is customer-focused. Your business site must be as dependable and efficient and customer-sensitive as possible. Any delays in purchasing your product or service should be identified and eliminated, as well as any other glitch that slows the process. And, of course, the site must look professional and be easy to navigate.
Streamline your internal processes. Larger companies may have a greater reach and access to more resources than your business does. On the other hand, since there’s less bureaucracy and operational red tape, it should be easier to streamline processes within your small business to make it more customer-centric.
Let customers get to know you. Remember, people want to do business with people they know and trust. It should be relatively easy for you to give your business a human face. What can you share about yourself and your background that customers can relate to? How did you come to found and/or own your business and why is it so important to you? What vision do you have of even greater customer service in the months and years to come? People love being told a story and through social media, you’re well-placed to tell your own.
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