Everyone has a competitive advantage

I was on a flight the other day and happened to be sitting next to a woman and her husband who were talking about their business. I heard a few terms that I recognized and quickly surmised that they were in the same industry I am. I proceeded to join in the conversation. The topic was about the “big guys” coming in and taking 30% of their business right from under their nose. They had been visiting their new grandson but were rushing home to deal with this issue and weren’t quite sure what they were going to do.

As the conversation progressed, the wife, who is the President and CEO, made the comment that it can be intimidating going up against the big guys. To which I nodded. It certainly can be. But the conversation took an interesting turn that was somewhat ironic.

At one point the husband and I spent some time talking about wine and his favorite wineries. He told me how much he loves going to the small wineries and how much he hated the big ones. He liked being able to talk to the owner and not some employee that was simply there as a job. He then rattled off a few other reasons why he liked the small wineries. In other words, the small wineries had a competitive advantage over the big ones in his mind.

The size of your company is not what really matters. What you can offer does. You must figure out what your competitive advantages are and communicate them properly. And remember, being big is rarely a competitive advantage.

Learning from UPS

A while back, a fellow blogger wrote about the ability to track UPS packages and what a great feature it is (shame on me, I forgot who it was). And it is a great feature. Not only from the stand point of the customer, but for UPS as well. How many calls do they eliminate to their customer service reps by providing this ability to their customers? I would guess quite a few.

But how great would it be if other services offered this feature?

Personally, I would love to know how far along my car mechanic is so I could plan when to pick up my car. Or have you ever ordered a sofa? Its usually not a pleasant experience and almost always takes twice as long as the 6 weeks they promise you. I would have loved to be able to check the sofa’s progress online instead of having to call a customer service representative every time my wife started to stress about how long it was taking. And I’m sure the reps at the sofa company would have preferred this option as well.

A few months ago I had to by pet insurance for my golden retreiver. I was told the process would take about two weeks before he was approved. Again, a way to check the progress online would have been very nice.

Not knowing is often the most stressful thing about a service that takes a while to be completed. And most of us don’t even mind if things are behind schedule, as long as we know so we can plan accordingly. Access to information is key.

How can your service be improved by providing your customers with the information they want and deserve?

Tell me why

Just got off the phone with another sales person trying to sell me CD and DVD services, whatever that is. He seemed like a nice enough guy so I let him do his thing. Only problem was that my company rarely uses CDs or DVDs for anything so when he asked me if I would be interested in using his service I said no. He then proceeded to ask me if anyone in my company might be interested. Again, I said probably not. He politely thanked me for my time and hung up.

But here’s the thing. Why did he not explain to me how my company could benefit from his services. It doesn’t really matter much if we are currently using a service like his. In fact, I would say it is to his benefit if we are not already using a service like his. No competition. I was in a good mood and was obviously willing to listen to him. That was a perfect moment for him to make me feel like I was really missing the boat by not using his service.

Always be prepared to explain to your clients why they should use your service, whether they are familiar with it or not. Just because I don’t use CD or DVD services doesn’t mean I don’t need them.

Sorry, I can’t do that

One of the most difficult things to deal with in any company are the people that are happier saying “We can’t do that” than “Let’s see if we can figure out a way to do that.” We’ve all worked with them. They almost seem relieved when they can say “We can’t do that.” It means they’re safe. Their world won’t change.

The best case scenario with these types of people is that they are a drag on creativity and innovation, worst case is they are a barrier to it.

Their attitude comes from fear and insecurity. People like this are afraid that if things change they will not be able to survive. They feel their existence is secured when they say “We can’t do that.” The same goes for external people that tell you that you can’t do something.

Every idea comes with its hurdles. Some ideas have lower hurdles. The really good ideas usually have very high hurdles. Its knowing how to navigate these hurdles that is key. And with the “I can’t do that” crowd, the main hurdle is fear. That fear is sometimes presented in a way that is veiled as confidence. Learning to recognize this and figuring out how to navigate past these types of people is not easy. But for those that can do it, success happens more often than not.