There are a number of criteria that factor into any buying decision, in any business or
industry. But when it comes down to the moment of truth, typically customers want at
least one of the three following things:
Regardless of product or service, if you can deliver something to your customer
quicker, cheaper or better than your competitor, then you have a great shot at earning,
and keeping, that customer’s business.
Now, more than ever, time is money. The advent of the Internet has underscored that
fact. While customers have never liked standing in line, or waiting on hold on the
telephone, since the mid-1990’s more and more businesses have made use of the
Internet to provide (or attempt to provide) real time service during expanded
hours. The service bar has been raised, as have the customer’s expectations.
Remember when you were a kid, and you’d send away to Battle Creek, Michigan for
some plastic toy advertised on the back of a cereal box? The standard turnaround time
was “Please allow 4 to 6 weeks for delivery.” To a kid, four to six weeks sounds like an
eternity, especially when you start checking the mailbox two days after sending in your
box tops and your $1.00 bill.
Nowadays, people (even kids!) don’t want to wait 4 to 6 weeks for anything. If you
can’t deliver the product or service within a week, they will find someone who can.
Customers typically do not mind paying a little more for the expedited turnaround
that they want, just as long as they get what they want, when they want it. Your
mission, should you decide to accept it: figure out how to get it to them in that time
You can do this by adding a surcharge, and you can use this surcharge to buy
additional equipment, hire additional personnel, or simply consider it the way
customers buy their way to the top of your priority list. In most cases, customers don’t
care so much about how you use the additional revenue, only that you deliver the
product or service on time – their time.
This is a sticky one. On the one hand, you are in business, and you want to make
money. On the other hand, you know it’s a tough economy and a competitive market,
and businesses are scrapping for customers. On the third hand, you value the product
or service that your company delivers, and you do not want to devalue it by giving it
away too cheaply.
There is an old adage that you get what you pay for. Most times, this is true. If you
want a successful business, and you charge the industry standard or more, you had
better make sure it is true. Even the most penny-pinching customer does not want to
spend small money on garbage.
However, if by virtue of technology or ingenuity, you are able to manage your
production costs and are therefore able to sell a good product or service at a cost that is
below the industry standard, you will make lots of friends and customers. No one has
money to waste these days, if they can cut some costs by using your products or
services, many of them will. The age of blind loyalty to vendors is long gone. This is
the era of “what have you done for me lately,” and you’ve saved me some money lately,
then you are my vendor of choice. At least for now.
On one side of the coin, everyone loves quality; it never goes out of style. But the other
side of the coin is that quality is typically expensive to produce, ergo, that is reflected in
its cost. Whether it’s because of premium materials, or the best and brightest talent, top
quality typically costs top dollar.
The good part of this story is that, because quality never goes out of style, there is
always a market eager to buy the best. The caveat to that is, if you are positioning
yourself as the best, you had better be the best. If quality is your calling card, you will
not have much, if any, room for error. If you are trying to win customers by claiming
you have better products or services than your competitors, then not only do you have
to focus on maintaining your own high standards, but you have to keep a close eye on
the competition, to ensure that they do not leapfrog you in the quality
department. Heavy is the head that wears the quality crown.
There is an old Russian proverb, which translates to “Living a life is not so easy as
walking across a field.” The same sensibility applies to meeting and exceeding your
customers’ expectations. It’s not a stroll in the park. However, it’s not rocket science,
either. If you give a person exactly what he wants, exactly when he wants it, and at a
fair cost, you will gain your share of customers. And if you give him something better
than what your competitors give him, and give it to him quicker than the competitors
do, and charge less than the competitors charge, you will have hold the keys to your
customer’s heart. Now, make sure you don’t lose those keys!
— Charles Dennis
© Knowledgence Associates, 2002 / All Rights Reserved