In 1980, the Harvard Business Review published an article, "Marketing Success Through Differentiation of Anything." I use it every day. Porter wrote in 1980 that strategy should target cost leadership, differentiation, or focus. Porter claimed that a company must only choose one of the three or risk that the business would waste precious resources. This article influenced my career because it taught me how to differentiate what I was doing from the rest of the market.
I used to be in the fastener business. You can have two great hex head bolts from two different companies and they are exactly the same — same thread pitch, same finish, same diameter, etc. What influences the buy decision? Over my years of experience, the absolute bottom line is — service. How you serve your clients and the relationship you have with them is what will seal the deal or kill the sale. People buy from people they like and trust. We have a division that is a staffing company. There is nothing as generic as a staffing agency because people are people, right? Wrong. Every day as a company, we evaluate what new business we want to pursue so that we can protect the high service level that we have with our client base.
Prove yourself – ask for recommendations
This is a must in business, and yet I will always be uncomfortable asking for referrals. I think it cheapens your image. My favorite kind of phone call is one that starts like this, "I was talking to so and so and they said they use Applied, so I'm calling to talk to you."
Know your customers
Without this data, how will you do your job well? It is the personal touch that makes all the difference. I remember all of my customers' names and birthdays, their kids' names, and their dog.
Develop a working model for success
Others can try cost cutting or the latest tech to win more business. I know that a high level of service is the only way to go. Recently, I spent time at the Marriott in Fort Lauderdale. I have a Hilton Honors card, yet I almost got a Marriott card because of the experience. I will stay at that hotel again because the consistency of the excellent service means there is terrific training. Every employee with whom I had interaction, from the minute they opened the door, I felt welcome. Employees used the same words. Brand consistency and high quality makes you want to tell a friend.
Evolve and improve
Continuously improve to meet the high expectations you've set in your customer's minds. Stop by your customers' office for no other reason than to say thank you. Ask them, "Is there anything we can do for you to improve our service?" Improvements we have made include: email time cards; pay cards instead of paychecks; electronic W2s; online storage versus lateral file cabinets, and online employment applications.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. We are in the people business, so we have decided that we will never have an auto phone attendant. Although we can make tech advances, the tried-and-true, above-and-beyond customer service for which we have a reputation will prevail as the reason we beat out our competitors.
Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today's workplace. Celeste Johnson and Tom Miller, Applied's division directors, contributed to this article.
Read original article in the Reno Gazette-Journal here.
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