Customer service is expected, and our customers know what good service looks like. They no longer compare you to just your competitor, but to the best service they've ever received—from anyone.
You can't rely solely on the quality of your product. You must also add customer experience (CX) to the value you offer your customers. It doesn't matter if you're B2B or B2C—delivering an expected level of CX is now considered "table stakes." Don't think your competition isn't thinking about this too. They are, and they're trying to out-service you. How can you keep them from taking customers from you? Be more convenient. Be easier to do business with. And, make sure your customer knows it.
This idea had me thinking about how the concept of being intentionally convenient could become a competitive business weapon, which is why I wrote the book The Convenience Revolution: How to Deliver a Customer Service Experience that Disrupts the Competition and Creates Fierce Loyalty. I studied hundreds of companies and their business processes, and in doing so, identified six major areas in which these companies excelled to create a more convenient CX for their customers. Some companies practiced just one, some more than one, and some all six. But no matter how many areas they practiced, they all they created a level of value that disrupted a competitor, and in some cases, an entire industry.
Let's break the six areas of convenience down with some examples from different companies in different industries:
This is what convenience is really all about. Each of the six Convenience Principles include some form of reducing friction, but some companies have made this their entire value proposition. CLEAR is a perfect example of a company that sells convenience as its entire value proposition.
If you've traveled in the U.S. in recent years, you know you must stand in line and go through security. TSA created a convenient solution to the long lines with its TSA-PRE, which offers travelers the option of paying more for a shorter line—and you don't have to take your computer out of your bag or remove your shoes (unless they set off the metal detector). Well, even this more convenient solution isn't perfect, as sometimes the lines at TSA get long. Along comes CLEAR, which offers an even higher level of convenience. There is seldom a line, and if there is, it's just a couple of minutes. Customers pay CLEAR to get them to the front of the TSA-PRE line. The "road warriors" who travel often enjoy the convenience of avoiding lines, and they're willing to pay for it.
This isn't about putting the onus on the customer to do things themselves, unless they want to and it's more convenient. The self-service check-out in a grocery store is sometimes more convenient than waiting in longer lines. The self-service options on a website that answer customers' frequently asked questions are faster than calling technical support.
One of my favorite examples is Panera Bread, a chain of restaurants that migrated to a more convenient experience when it gave customers the option of standing in line or ordering at a kiosk. Before when you ordered, you would wait and the person behind the counter would call your name. Not anymore. They now give you a pager, and you can sit and relax while your food is being prepared. And the tables in the restaurants have sensors that let employees know where the pagers are, so customers can just sit at a table and wait for the food to be brought to them. I asked a manager at a local Panera why they made the change, and his answer was simple and direct: "Because it's more convenient for our guests."
Some companies use technology to create their convenience advantage. For instance, PayPal makes it easy to transfer money from one bank account to another—in under a minute. One of my favorite apps is the NoWait app, which allows customers to remotely put their name on a restaurant's waiting list. If the wait is an hour, you can actually watch your name moving up the list and time your arrival so when you get to the restaurant, there is ... no wait.
Many people think of subscription as a magazine that shows up every month or a daily newspaper. But many other types of businesses have incorporated a subscription model into their service proposition. Annual maintenance contracts are a form of a subscription model. If you go to the hardware store to buy air conditioner or furnace filters every six months, why not just give the hardware store your credit card info so they can automatically send you new filters every six months? When they show up, it's also a reminder to change them.
Take it to the customer. I had been doing business with an auto dealership for more than 20 years. One day, I saw a car that I loved in the lot of another dealership. I had no intention of buying the car from that dealership. It was 12 miles away versus my other dealership that was just a mile away. I explained that to the salesperson when we walked in to look at the car. He informed me that being 12 miles away would not be an issue. Any time I needed service, even for a simple oil change, they would pick up my car and leave me a new car to use until they returned mine. He had just sold me a car. He disrupted the other dealership that I'd been going to for more than two decades—all because he was more convenient.
Access comes in three forms of convenience: hours of operation, communication, and location. Websites operate 24/7. Customers can log on at 2:00 in the morning or 2:00 in the afternoon. The auto repair center that's open until 9:00 p.m. and has hours on the weekend is an example of convenient hours of operation. Or how about multiple locations? Starbucks seems to be everywhere. And Walmart customers don't have to go very far to shop—in fact, 90% of U.S. residents live within 15 miles of a Walmart.
It's really quite simple. Customers will pay more for convenience. And they'll choose to do more business with the people and companies that make their lives easier. So choose one of the convenience principles that you can work on—or maybe all six. Find ways to be more convenient for your customers and you'll disrupt your competition and create fierce customer loyalty.