What makes the great companies so great? It’s the service and experience the customer receives when doing business with them. The companies that get it are customer-centric. They put the customer at the heart of decisions, ideas, marketing, system design and more.
It is definitely not the product. The product can be truly amazing, even a lifestyle changer, but that’s not what makes a company great. Take for example, cable television. Cable TV is truly amazing. When I was growing up, there were only four channels from which to choose. Today we have hundreds of channels to choose from with amazing high-definition clarity. We can record shows on the cable box to watch later, or watch movies and other programs ‘on demand,’ whenever we want to watch them. This is an amazing product. However, the cable TV industry, as a whole, delivers an abysmal customer experience. One of the less-than-customer-friendly policies: Asking a person to stay home on a workday to meet the cable TV installer during a four-hour window. That hardly seems customer-centric.
On the other hand, there are companies that sell the same products as everyone else, but the customer experience they offer really does set them apart. Ace Hardware is one of the best examples of this, having been awarded the JD Power award for highest customer satisfaction in its industry eight years in a row. These smaller, independently owned hardware stores compete against big box stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s and sell many of the same items as the big stores.
However, many Ace Hardware stores are only one-tenth the size of one of these larger stores. Imagine an 8,000-square-foot store going up against an 80,000-square-foot store. And, these larger stores outspend Ace Hardware in advertising dollars by 30 to 1. Yet, Ace Hardware thrives in this competitive environment. So, what does Ace Hardware have to offer? The experience, which comes in the form of helpful customer service. As an Ace customer in Seattle put it, ‘Even though the prices can be, but are not necessarily, higher, the convenience and help are worth it.’
Ace doesn’t promise ‘friendly’ service. It promises helpful service, and there’s a difference. It’s the way Ace stores engage their customers, provide knowledgeable employees who help them with their projects, and deliver a higher-level customer experience.
Consider several reasons to create a customer-centric culture. I’ll argue that customer service can make the difference between a company’s ultimate success or failure. It can mean the difference between having loyal, repeat customers or one-time-only customers. And, it can mean the difference between customers’ rave reviews or online rants.
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