Can being customer-oriented differentiate your company?

All smart retailers aim for customer serviceJack Trout, along with Steve Rivkin, wrote a book called Differentiate or Die. It’s a book I’ve valued and used as my guide to the differentiation aspect of my brand audit process.

They speak of those things most marketers believe to be important differentiators for their brands that really aren’t that unique and defendable. Price is one. So are quality, creativity and breadth of line. And the one I want to address today: customer orientation.

I bring this up in light of an article from the January 5 issue of The New York Times by Joe Nocera concerning an extraordinary experience he had with

He was amazed that Amazon willingly replaced his PlayStation that had been signed for by a tenant within his apartment building who then put it at his door where someone pilfered it. They not only replaced it, Amazon did so without charging him shipping.

The article then explored Amazon as a business and quoted Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, about customer service and relationships.

“They (we) care about having the lowest prices, having vast selection, so they have choice, and getting the products to customers fast,” he said. “And the reason I’m so obsessed with these drivers of the customer experience is that I believe that the success we have had over the past 12 years has been driven exclusively by that customer experience. We are not great advertisers. So we start with customers, figure out what they want, and figure out how to get it to them.”

The article goes on to state, “It has been the guiding principle behind Amazon since it began. ‘Jeff has been focused on the customer since Day 1,’ said Suresh Kotha, a management professor at the University of Washington business school who has written several case studies about Amazon. Mr. Miller noted that Amazon has really had only one stated goal since it began: to be the most customer-centric company in the world.”

So, with due respect to Trout and Rivkin, customer orientation can be a differentiator. Provided you’re ready to take it all the way – to become “the most customer-centric company in the world”.

But if we’re just going to pay lip service to the concept, and then set up a whole bunch of rules so our customers won’t take advantage and our employees aren’t empowered to make “exceptions”, then we have not successfully differentiated with customer service.

As with much of branding, it’s being able to relate to our friends and associates just how well we were taken care of that produces credibility and trust. It’s the actions of companies like Amazon that create for them a reputation and a relationship-building process that’s long-lasting and well-warranted.

Martin Jelsema

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