Merriam-Webster defines free enterprise as “freedom of private business to organize and operate for profit in a competitive system without interference by government beyond regulation necessary to protect the public interest and keep the national economy in balance”. This competitive system encourages, if not forces, businesses to strive to improve their processes, products, and services.
Businesses continually strive (or should strive) to position themselves to garner more of the market than their competitors. When they do that, they create what is called competitive advantage. It is something that can be very difficult to gain, but very easy to lose. There are a significant number of industries out there where everyone sells the same product or service, such as fast food restaurants, convenience stores, accounting firms, medical care, and much more. How do these businesses gain a competitive advantage?
Many of them try through using the latest technologies or new variations on existing products or services. The most successful ones focus on one simple little skill: customer service. Your business can have the best product or service, but if you and your employees exhibit poor customer service, then the volume of your business (and profits) will likely not to be what they could be. Someone else may have a competitive advantage over you, even if your product is of higher quality.
A good example of great customer service is a fast food restaurant you are probably familiar with – Chick Fil A. Chick Fil A food is good. It has somewhat of a unique flavor and their menu isn’t overly large. But, they have customer service that many believe sets the bar for all businesses. Not only do they overwhelm you with politeness, but the speed of personal service is emphasized as well! During the meal rushes, more than likely you will encounter a cheerful employee standing outside ready to assist you in the drive-through lane with the purchase of a chicken sandwich that you could get nearly anywhere.
Customer service goes beyond the employee-customer interaction. Customer service can include all of the human senses that influence how a customer feels when they visit your business. Is it visually appealing (clean and fresh appearance), free of foul odors (like smelly bathrooms), and environmentally comfortable? Is the noise level something that makes the customer cringe when they enter? If it is a food service, does the food taste consistently fresh and properly prepared?
I had the unfortunate opportunity to visit a local Emergency Room with a family member recently. It was obvious that this hospital understood customer service. Every employee that interacted with my family member or myself was friendly and encouraging. The most prominent action though was when we were ready to be discharged; the nurse asked if we had been well taken care of and thanked us for choosing their ER. That was a first for me…to be made to feel appreciated for choosing their ER to bring our business, our suffering.
If you are in business, look at the customer service practices that you and your employees use. Are they better than your competitors? Most customer service improvements cost very little other than time and training, but they can bring great rewards. Sometimes, all a business needs to do to gain a competitive advantage is to look inward and see how they offer better customer service.
“Business Tips” was written by James Leavelle, Business Development Specialist and Senior Certified Business Advisor of Angelo State University’s Small Business Development Center. For more information on the topic of this article or the services of the ASU · SBDC, contact him at James.Leavelle@angelo.edu.