- Wednesday 31 January 2018
Last week I went to upgrade my phone. I did so because I had received two calls from my service provider telling me that I qualified for a limited-time free upgrade.
Last week I went to upgrade my phone, and when I entered the shop there was a long queue. And seemingly no system to manage the waiting customers. Or enough staff to deal with the volume of business.
Last week I went to upgrade my phone, and after about fifteen minutes, having not even been acknowledged, I left because I hate waiting around so that I can buy something.
I sound like an old curmudgeon, don’t I? And maybe I am turning into one.
Anyway, the incident got me thinking about the broader issue of what are some of the key factors that give companies a competitive edge over their rivals. So here are some questions to consider on the issue:
Do you make it easy for your customers to buy from you?
It sounds like an obvious requirement, but you well know from your own experiences as a customer that it’s often not so easy to get what you want. And I don’t just mean in terms of slow service either.
Recently I rang a hotel to book a room and I was asked so many marketing–type questions before I could actually make the (damn) booking… And have a look at some airline booking sites these days and see just how many hoops you now have to jump through to make a booking – thanks to the low-cost model infecting everything today, all aspects of ‘flying’ are now priced independently. Next thing is we’ll have to contribute to ensure that there are engines on the plane.
There are lots of things we do – often unintentionally of course – which make it harder for people to buy from us. Think about where this might be a factor in your business.
Do you have a quality assurance system in operation within your business?
Quality is of course the key, no matter what business you are in. And every business on the planet projects itself as delivering high-quality these days. But let’s be honest here, sometimes the reality is less enticing than the promise.
The true measure of quality is what your customers tell you, so as part of your quality system how effective is your feedback system at present? And, as you think about this area, if you use comment cards as the sole channel, consider how effective that approach is in terms of really gathering feedback from an appropriate proportion of your customer base.
What’s your big idea?
When I talk to business owners about ‘what’ they do, they can usually talk to me for hours. When I ask ‘how’ they do it, they can regale me about their various production systems and procedures. If I ask ‘who’ does the work, they can tell me all about their great people and so on. But when I ask ‘why’ they do what they do, I am often met with blank stares…usually to be closely followed by the answer ‘to make a profit of course…’
Profit is good. But it’s an outcome from your business and not the sole reason for it. The best owners/managers have a ‘why’, a vision, a big idea for their company and that isn’t a set of figures or wishy-washy dreams, but a meaningful picture of the future that creates focus, direction, and commitment. The ‘why’ alone doesn’t set the business apart, but it generates the passion which does.
Why choose you?
Whatever field you are in, customers today have choice. And, yes, for some customers price has become a determining factor in recent years but it is never the sole differentiator.
In any case, over the long-term, setting your business apart by price alone never wins out, or certainly not if you are offering some form of ‘experience’ to the customer. I always ask a fairly straightforward question when I start working with a particular company: What have you got, or what do you do, that none of your customers currently have or do?
How well are you engaging your stakeholders?
Better businesses do many things of course, but two in particular help them tailor what they do to meet the needs of their various stakeholders. In top performing companies, the needs of investors, customers, employees, the local community are constantly sought, well understood, and the business is geared not just to meeting those needs, but to exceeding them.
For example, the call from my phone provider last week could have come across as a ‘sales’ call, but the girl on the line was actually brilliant at how she managed it, coming across more as a type of service advisor than a seller. She actually got me discussing what I needed from a mobile phone etc… Great stuff. A credit to her and the company. Unfortunately, the rest of the business failed to meet (exceed) my expectations.
To really engage your stakeholders, strong leadership is naturally required and it goes without saying that the best performing companies have the strongest management teams – who work as a unit to drive the business forward.
What do you know?
It’s worth thinking about what the knowledge gaps are in your business at present and how you might bridge them. And these knowledge gaps can be small but vital in terms of performance.
Let me give you a simple example. Recently I was working with a hotel where there had been some cutbacks and lay-offs; naturally this had an effect on morale. When working with a group of employees, some of whom had a long-service record, they felt that the cutbacks were unfair, as the hotel was ‘busy all the time’ and making ‘loads of money’. I asked them a simple question: For every €1 in sales, how much of that is profit? The answers I got ranged from 60c to 80c, nothing lower. The actual figure is often less than 10c.
Knowledge is vital at all levels, but sometimes we forget that our brains need constant feeding if we are to individually improve – and the collective impact of that improvement is what drives better business performance.
Do you lead or follow?
Most companies these days think a lot about their competitors, but it’s the mindset behind that thought-process which I think is important here. Some companies fear their competitors and watch them closely to make sure they don’t fall behind. The better businesses also keep an eye on their competitors, but they do so to ensure that they constantly stay ahead of them.
This is more than a play on words and it’s worth thinking about which best describes your current approach to competitor analysis.
What’s your image?
Creating a positive image, without having the substance to back that up, is at best a short term gain. But when you do the right things, you need to spread the word far and wide, day and night. This involves tailoring a message that sets you apart and then requires consideration of everything from branding to advertising.
What’s your image in the marketplace right now? Obviously, you will likely have a good one amongst your existing customers, or at least hopefully you will. But what’s your image amongst those who don’t use you, or even better, those who once chose you but no longer do? That’s often a more interesting question to ponder.
Who are you partnering with?
I have written before that no business – particularly SMEs – can make it on their own these days. The need for ‘Co-opetition’ and Alliances is growing to help you maximise your reach and impact. How networked are you at present?
How efficient and effective are your processes?
Apart from the above issues – which you might think are a bit ‘intangible’, companies which outperform their competitors do so in large part because they have mastered their key processes – everything from planning, control, marketing, finance, operations and so on. They first define or ‘map’ those processes, so they fully understand the pressure points, and then they constantly review and improve them so that they are both efficient and effective in what they do.
Are you continually improving?
The previous question leads me to my last point. The best companies are constantly getting better, raising the bar, striving for excellence. This is again far from a cliché because when you look at how they do so, you find that such companies have real and meaningful processes for managing innovation so that finding and implementing new ideas is the norm not the exception.
To round off my story from the start of this piece, I received a call again yesterday from the girl working at my phone provider to ‘remind me’ that the upgrade offer would end soon, so as I would not miss out – again without coming across as pushy or over-eager. I explained that I had already tried to avail of the offer.
What this little incident highlighted for me was that clearly parts of my phone provider’s business are outperforming other sections. Now, I am well aware that it’s incredibly hard to get all parts of any business operating at a high level but, unfortunately, from a customer perspective, a little bit of excellence is never enough.
© Dobiquity Limited