As an opening aside, I find it an interesting statement about the immediacy of the Internet that I would hesitate to share an article or blog post I encountered because it’s more than a week since it was published. Nevertheless, I did hesitate when I came across this particular article in Fast Company. I ended up sharing it on my Facebook Fan page and I’m going to share it here, with a little bit of personal annotation.
Many years ago, when I was in my family’s wholesale food business, I realized what I found to be a very sobering fact. As long as we weren’t manufacturing or producing anything, the only way to stand out from the crowd was to provide service over and above everyone else. Anyone can buy and sell items that are readily available and this was surely true of food. We could break the ice with price, but that was ultimately a losing proposition as the customers we sold to would inevitably leave us for someone offering a lower price.
However, not everyone could provide exceptional service. As a result, we were constantly thinking of ways in which we could provide value that others didn’t even think of. One way to do this is to just be available. When a restaurant runs out of product for whatever reason – whether it be unexpectedly busy days or flat-out stupidity in anticipating certain inevitably busy days – always being there and coming through was one way to stand out.
But that wasn’t enough. I think the real discriminator was the mind-set that our relationship with our customers was more than just seller-buyer; it was that of partners. Such a mindset had us thinking as though we were in their shoes and, frequently, it made enough of a difference in how we anticipated their needs and even helped them understand their needs in ways they weren’t always capable of. I think it worked pretty well while I was there.
So when I read this article today I was both intrigued and somewhat satisfied. I never thought of what we were doing as anything other than providing good service. I didn’t realize it was providing a special customer experience. Back then, as the article points out, customer experience wasn’t what it is today, but in our little corner of the world – in the kind of business we were engaged in at the time – it was what we were providing.
Now, it seems, it’s what everybody needs to do . . . and I agree. Here’s a quote from the article I’m referencing:
You don’t have to take my word for this. Over the last five years we’ve been running a study in which we ask consumers to rate the customer experience at companies they do business with. What we can now prove is that customer experience correlates to loyalty. Specifically, it correlates highly to willingness to consider for another purchase, willingness to recommend, and reluctance to switch to a different provider. In other words, if you want that next sale, if you want good word of mouth, and if you want to keep your customers, it’s unlikely that anything else you do matters more than delivering a superior experience.
Here’s the link. You can read the whole thing at Fast Company. It’s well worth it, even if it is almost two weeks old.