Each business should always try to differentiate itself from the competition. There are many ways business owners try to be different, as most often we try to focus on quality and price. When many businesses owners are asked what makes them different, many respond with ‘we have the highest quality at affordable prices’. However, if most businesses are competing the same way by promoting quality and affordability, then by definition there is no differentiation.
Quality and affordability are really ‘givens’ in order to just remain in business, and promoting the same ‘quality and affordability’ that everyone else does risks a business getting lost in a ‘sea of sameness’. So finding new ways to be truly different becomes that much more important. And keep in mind that being ‘different’ should be based on what your target customers are looking for, not just being ‘different’ if it doesn’t matter to them.
Regardless of the business you are in, what matters to the majority of customers is actually their experience. What customers ‘experience’ is often an overlooked area where you can truly be better, special, and different, and by doing so allows you to a) satisfy your customers better for improved loyalty, and b) establish a point-of-difference that can’t be easily duplicated by your competition.
For instance, if you own a restaurant, brewpub, coffee shop or retail store, it’s most likely you’re already providing high-quality food, beverages and/or items at competitive prices. But what do your customers experience the minute they exit their car or walk onto your property? Are they greeted outside with cooling-misters on hot days, or the enticing smell of food and beverages, or specific music to set their mood? Is your parking lot clean and easy to navigate, free of litter or weeds? Is your entry an open and welcoming part of your establishment, or just a door that’s possibly difficult to open?
Once inside, does the lighting fit the mood you want your customers to feel? Many businesses have lights that inadvertently shine down into the eyes of their customers as they focus on illuminating their merchandise. What about the sounds inside – is there music that your customers want to hear, or do they hear the banter of your staff, or the clang of plates and glasses being shuffled off tables? Do you actually think your ‘table service’ is comforting, especially when you have customers walk up to a counter to order and/or have them bus their own table once they’re finished? Do you have your customers pick a number and just wait in line, without providing a smooth flow or free samples or separation from seated customers?
Regarding you and your staff, do you greet your regulars by name, making eye-contact or asking how their recent vacation was, or how their kids are doing in school? If you have customers that are from out of town, do you know where they are from, or why they chose to be in this area, or what they’re especially looking for or needing from your business? Do you thank them for visiting you today, even before they make a purchase?
All of these small but important facets combine together to form a customer experience, one that they will talk about to others. Think Disneyland. The prices are high, the crowds can be overwhelming, and the quality of food and beverages isn’t that great. But it’s the ‘Disney Experience’ that they’re providing to the majority of customers who pay high prices and are smiling in the park and after they leave, still talking about it positively with their friends.
Giving customers the most unique and best experience possible will set you apart from your competition, and give you more loyal returning customers who provide the word-of-mouth that’s critical to every business’ success!