Entrepreneur By Jennifer Spencer
Are you struggling to find your competitive advantage and win your market? Well, you’re hardly alone. Many startup entrepreneurs are battling to find their own place among the top-tier companies.
But what determines which businesses succeed, and which ones never see the light of day? Lots of things, to be sure. The top strategy, though, is a constant focus on fulfilling customers’ needs and desires. As Jeff Bezos said in regards to his company Amazon in September at the Economic Club of Washington, “The number one thing that has made us successful by far is an obsessive-compulsive focus on the customer, as opposed to obsession over the competitor.”
The best way to gain a competitive advantage, then, is to focus on your customer rather than your competitor. And, to get you started, here are four things that every consumer craves.
1. Exceptional customer service as the result of great hiring
It’s no secret that high-quality support is powerful to keep customers committed. It’s also not surprising that poor customer service is a sure-fire way to increase churn. According to research by American Express, 33 percent of Americans surveyed claimed that they will consider switching providers after just one instance of poor customer service. Similarly, Vonage reported on research results by NewVoiceMedia that said 51 percent of customers surveyed said they would never do business with a company again following a negative experience.
Here’s the kicker, though: Great customer service doesn’t just keep existing customers committed, it can also attract new customers who are willing to pay more. According to the American Express research mentioned above, 70 percent of consumers surveyed said they’ve spent more money to work with a company that has exceptional customer service. Further, Americans tell an average of 11 people about a good customer service experience.
Hiring the right people and retaining them via exceptional HR, however, can be tricky. Lars Jankowfsky, founder of .NFQ Asia, has a two-pronged proven approach that has won his company accolades. .NFQ Asia was recently voted the best IT company to work for in Vietnam.
To attract the right people, you need a two-fold approach, Jankowfsky said. “First, offer a competitive salary (you would think this is a no-brainer because you get what you pay for, but sadly it isn’t always that apparent). Second, create an attractive workplace for your employees. This means building a workplace equipped with exciting technology, big missions and allowing sessions with managers and industry experts so that employees can learn from the best; not just decorating the office space with ping pong tables and beer fridges.”
As a business, .NFQ works with a wide range of diverse clients across a number of disciplines it has developed via exceptional HR and hiring strategies. The result has been highly vested employee interest.
2. Remarkable customer experience
Ever shopped online and had a clunky experience? Maybe the checkout buttons didn’t work, or the navigation was nearly impossible to … well, navigate. Maybe the load time was painfully slow. Whatever the case, it was frustrating. And that’s just one scenario. From brick-and-mortar stores to services online, there are plenty of opportunities for the customer experience to go sour, or for the customer experience to flatter and delight.
For a competitive advantage, there’s certainly something powerful about creating a smooth, seamless, enjoyable shopping experience for your customers. In fact, 64 percent of people surveyed claimed that customer experience was even more important than price, according to a study by Gartner.
That’s a stat on which the auto company, Mercedes-Benz USA placed its chips. As Stephen Cannon, the president and CEO, told Forrester: “Being the best customer experience brand in the auto industry was setting the bar too low. We had to go beyond that — we had to go beyond the ‘customer satisfaction’ paradigm. In order to reach hearts and minds, we had to leave satisfaction in the dust and strive to delight our customers by delivering the most extraordinary customer experience, bar none. And that has been the driving force behind everything we’ve done ever since… it is our No. 1 strategic priority.”
As Mercedes-Benz found, when you strive to flatter and delight your customers, they come back to buy more, they tell their friends and they spread your brand message. By ensuring remarkable customer experience, you can beat your competition without even looking their way.
3. Inspiring stories
Sometimes, telling your company’s story can work wonders to make your business stand apart. Every story has a meaning, a “why” below the surface. It’s that “why” which can compel people to take action. In the case of your business, a powerful story can compel them to buy from you instead of from your competitors.
Hither Mann is a top female trader, educator and international speaker and the CEO of Fortune Academy, an organization dedicated to improving clients’ business acumen. Its program focuses on helping clients get very clear with their “why.” Mann became a self-made multi-millionaire entrepreneur before 30 and achieved financial freedom in only three years after getting intentional with her own “why.” Through her own story, and experience, she has been able to mentor others to such success.
Mentoring students as young as 15, Mann has provided financial and business advice to individuals who want to be better with their money and tap their creative business potential. Consider, for instance, how business author Magdalena Pawlowska was able to earn her highest lifetime revenue after working with Mann. Others have also experienced an increase in wealth and the ability to trade and conduct business intelligently and proficiently. “Stories” are what help Mann’s clients’ businesses directly and provide compelling results for her own.
This lesson in storytelling doesn’t mean your business needs to become a non-profit organization and give away valuable knowledge for free; it simply means that you need to give your customers the chance to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
When I asked Francesco Amodeo, president of Don Ciccio & Figli a liquor company about the story his liquor company has on its website, which dates back to 1883, he said, “We use that story because it illustrates to our website visitors that we are more than just another liquor company. We produce to share, and our website guides our customers to share in our family craft.
“Our customers really connect with the long history of our company and it seems to lend respect for the tradition of what we are doing in carrying forward the vision of our founders.”
He may be on to something:. As Simon Sinek famously said in a TED Talk, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” And nothing communicates your business’ “why” as powerfully as a story.
4. Product simplicity
With business, often less is more: Simple internal processes produce better efficiency and agility than complex and overly detailed processes. Simple-customer service scripts create a smoother experience, allowing well-trained reps to think for themselves when they need to. Similarly, a product that is easy to use and effective is undeniably more pleasing and attractive to your customers (or potential ones).
Said Jankowfsky: “One of the things we often have to do when helping a tech company to get success in their market is to figure out the base features which their target market wants or needs, and then help them to create an app or tech product with those features that are as simple and easy-to-use as possible. We’ve found that the simpler and easier-to-use the product, the more appealing it is to consumers.”
So, don’t over-complicate your product. Keep it simple, and you might just get ahead for the single reason that your product is easier to use than the competition’s.
This article was first published in Entrepreneur.