| By Meridith Elliott Powell |
The experts are telling us that in today’s economic environment, if you want to keep and build your customer base, you need to learn to add value. Value is your differentiator, value is what will make you standout from your competition. So what does that mean to “really” add value? Isn’t it enough that you deliver a high quality product or service to the prospects and customers who want it? Why do you have to add value?Because, in today’s economy, what you sell – your product or service – has become a commodity. Think about it from the customer’s point of view, in this age of the Internet and global competition, that it’s not only the product your customers are buying, it is the service. In other words, the extra added value they believe they are getting. So no, it is not enough to just deliver a high quality product or service.
What these experts really mean when they say we need to add value is that you need to be more proactive, more tuned in, and more action oriented when it comes to creating the customer’s experience. You need to create the opportunities to provide the kinds of things that make your customers say “wow”, that makes them tell their friends about you and best of all, keeps them coming back. You need to add value in ways that make them emotionally connect with your company, and do things that make them realize (without you telling them) that you are different from your competitors.
Adding value is more art than science and to do it well, you need to do it consistently and seamlessly. Let’s take a look at an example, a missed opportunity to add customer value. Last week, I received a letter from the attorney I use for our legal services. The letter was asking my husband and me to contact their office to set up an appointment if we had any questions or concerns about our estate. The letter also asked that if we preferred to be contacted by email to simply call the office.
Well, that sounds like a pretty good letter, right? I mean, they were proactively reaching out to their client base to make a connection. They were offering to help if we had questions, and even went so far as to ask how we would prefer to communicate – by email, a call, or in person. Well, while they technically did everything right, they missed the opportunity to really add value.
Here is the rest of the story. We have been clients there for over three years, and I always communicate through email. I made it clear right from the start, with any of our service providers, that the best way to communicate with us is through email or via cell phone. Part of adding value is being easy to do business with, and understanding (and remembering) how your customers communicate is a big part of that.
As I did have questions, I went on to email the office to schedule our appointment asking for a Friday about three to four weeks out. The response, which I received via phone call, was that our attorney was not available on that date, and I was given some Tuesday and Thursday mornings she had time to meet with us. Now again, we have been clients for three years, and each time I schedule appointments I have to remind them that I see clients each day Monday through Thursdays, 8 am to 5 pm, and I can only meet after hours or on Fridays.
Lastly, my attorney’s assistant let me know that I needed to grab one of those dates she offered as soon as possible, as my attorney is very busy and she could not guarantee the availability of those dates.
I trust that my attorney, by sending this letter and having her assistant call me, wanted us to feel valued and engaged as clients. But, at the close of this letter I felt more emotionally disconnected than I had before I received it. Why? It is clear to me they do not really listen to what I say, for example, a letter asking me if I would prefer to communicate by email after I have already told them I do. And that I have shared my schedule with them over and over, yet they still try to schedule me on Tuesday or Thursday, and lastly, the reference to how busy my attorney’s schedule is made it sound as if they are doing me a favor in setting this appointment. I mean I am paying for it – shouldn’t accommodating my schedule be more important?
So what could our attorney and her assistant have done to “really’ add customer value, and what can you do to use value to stand out from your competition? First, make a commitment to get to know your customers and listen to them. Take notes; make lists of what is important to them and what they need to feel important. Two, remember! If you asked a question about how they want to be serviced, then remember it. While asking questions is part of adding value, listening and following-thru as it relates to their needs is what completes the process. And third, be proactive. Offering ideas, strategies and ways to improve your client’s experience before they ask is what really makes you standout from your competition and makes your clients go WOW.
Again, in this economy competition is fierce, the consumer is far more selective, and the available cash to spend on services is limited. Do yourself, your business, and most importantly your customer a favor, and listen to them, acknowledge their needs, respect their time, and remember the details and unique aspects of your relationship with them. Your return on investment will be well worth your time.
Named One Of The Top 15 Business Growth Experts To Watch, Meridith Elliott Powell is an award-winning author, keynote speaker and master certified business strategist. She works with leaders and CEOs to decrease stress, increase profits and put themselves in a position to succeed no matter what this economy does!