In a recent discussion with an automotive executive, he shared with me the industry’s 15-year-long obsession. Ever since Toyota launched Lexus and redefined how a car company and customers interact, others have been trying to imitate that model.
“What are you trying to achieve?” I asked. “Competitive advantage, of course,” was the reply. “Ever consider a customer advantage?” I replied.
The obsession with competitive advantage is a product centricity relic to which companies are still attached. By doing so, they miss a broader context in which their products, services, and ultimately experiences are being judged. The person who goes to Starbucks for a morning coffee also vacations at Disney, flies Virgin Atlantic, uses an American Express card, shops at Zara or Nordstrom, and indulges at a Ritz Carlton resort. That same person submits an application for a passport, dines at restaurants, shops for a car, and goes to a doctor. Frequently, he also purchases business-to-business products.
Naturally, those experiences shape his expectations. This person’s definition of a great experience is influenced largely by the vendors that serve him. Welcome to your new competitors—the best-of-the-world companies that are obsessed with customers, not competitors.
To measure a customer’s expectations by the industry of which you are a part is to miss the customer perspective altogether. Often, customers do not use competing products and, therefore, are not exposed to the standards of your industry. And even if those standards are low, does that mean you should succumb to mediocre customer value?
In addition, industry standards often are influenced by the industry’s thinking more so than by the thinking of customers. For example, when working with a pharmaceuticals company, I was often reminded about regulations that the industry claimed restricts it from focusing on customers.
However, a closer examination revealed that regulations were issued not to restrict companies from delighting customers, but because the industry had been abusing customers. The regulations were simply the response to a non-customer-focused behavior, but they were cited by an industry looking for an excuse.
Don’t let industry thinking be an excuse for inferior customer experience. The ultimate competitive advantage will not be achieved by making product-to-product comparisons or catching up to the next vendor. Rather, a true edge will be achieved when customers are standing in line to purchase from you.
Indeed, customers will vote with their wallets. So it is time to immerse yourself in their world. Measure yourself against the best vendors in the world serving your customers. Ask yourself this: When my customer has been asked to spend $10,000, how has he been treated by the vendor?
In speaking to the automotive executive, I applied the same rule. Since some of his cars were commanding a price tag of more than $75,000, I asked him how a Swiss watch manufacturer or a jewelry store would treat a $75,000 customer? How would an airline treat a $75,000 customer? By answering those questions, one would define the true customer context and establish a new context of performance. It is time to create a context for customers and understand their true expectations.
Most companies are well-tuned to industry news and progress. The customer context has been viewed through industry lenses. But while we are consuming industry propaganda that makes us complacent, other vendors are delighting our customers. Therefore, raise the standard in meeting customer expectations. Remove the blinders and look customers in their eyes. Only then will you create customer advantage. At the end of the day, your competitors are not the ones buying your products; it’s your customers.
Lior Arussy is the president of Strativity Group, a global customer experience research and consulting firm. He is the author of five books, including Customer Experience Strategy—The Complete Guide From Innovation to Execution (2010). Follow Lior on Twitter@LiorStrativity.