Why should a prospective client deal with you?
In answering this question, many companies respond with reasons including the words ‘quality‘ and ‘service’. The problem is that these terms are easy to state; almost everyone uses them and on their own, they don’t have any real meaning. So how do we differentiate ourselves from competitors? While the quality of what you provide and the service you back it up with are both important, the key is to define these two terms clearly and quantitatively.
‘Relevance’ and ‘Difference’
Customers choose a specific solution because it’s relevant to their situation and solves their problem. Clients choose to deal with a specific company because they are different from other possible suppliers. Neither will work as a differentiator on its own though, you need to have both.
For example: You could be the only company whose staff wear orange suits and white socks to work. You’d certainly be different, but not relevant to your customers! Your company could offer a one-year warranty on your product. This would likely be relevant to a customer but may be not different: everyone in that space probably offers this as standard.
Precisely define Quality and Service in terms of Difference and Relevance
Let’s say you are selling a particular physical product.
Its quality must be specifically spelled out in terms relevant to its use. These could include: usability, durability, accuracy, cost savings, speed and others.
The service you offer can be articulated in ways such as: 24×7 help-line, access to senior technical assistance on the first call, problem solved with no call transfer, product replacement in case of failure, extensive product training etc.
It’s this precise definition of quality and service that causes a customer to buy from you vs. choosing an alternative.
Measure them and back up your statements!
It’s no good keeping your promises once! Reputation counts for a lot so it pays to be consistent. Unless you measure whether you are meeting your quality and service promises, they won’t make much difference long term. The following three elements help you stay true to your claims:
1. A special set of KPIs (here they’re called Kept Promise Indicators). In the above example, these may include: How many calls were received, how many calls were solved on the first attempt, time taken to resolve each problem and probably others. That means that there must be metrics reported daily or at least weekly to see if you are meeting your commitments.
2. A single point of accountability: Someone (one person) who is accountable for measuring and recoding these metrics and meeting the service targets. Unless there is a single point of accountability, you are unlikely to meet your service promises.
3. A penalty if you fall short. What specific assurance can you give to a customer that will hurt you and your company if you don’t deliver on your quality and service statements? My favourite example here comes from Granite Rock. They supply materials to the construction industry and they practice a “short-pay guarantee”. If you are unhappy with any line item on an invoice, they allow customers to cross it out and settle payment for the balance. No questions asked. This hurts. A lot! But it forces the company to analyse what went wrong and improve their processes to prevent it from happening again. It also removes any fear or risk that a customer may have with dealing with them as they know they wont have to pay unless they’re completely satisfied.
Today, there’s no escaping the need to differentiate ourselves and it’s important to avoid using vague terms without backing them up with hard elements that are relevant to customers and different from the competition. How do you plan to stand out and stay ahead?