Monthly Archives: December 2009

Customer service can be the differentiator

Yesterday at 4pm my laptop adapter died. I called Lenovo customer service, my call was answered with a less than 2 minutes of wait time, the issue was diagnosed in less than 10 minutes and a replacement request was placed. Next morning at 10 am I had the UPS guy at my door to deliver a new adapter. After having my share of horrible customer service experiences over time, this experience with Lenovo just wow-ed me.

All laptops are made in China, probably in similar, if not the same, manufacturing facilities. Price as the differentiator is out because they are all pretty much equally priced. All run the same programs. So how do you differentiate one from the other? That’s where customer service comes into picture. You can put life into seemingly commoditized industry with the help of customer service.

This must make you wonder why I am making such a big deal of customer service which I should generally expect to get. It’s partly due to the deteriorating condition of customer service across the board. So when someone like me gets good customer service somewhere, we talk about it and let people know.

I like to draw analogy between customer service and design. Imagine you keep seeing badly designed personal music players one after the other and then you suddenly come across one that is very intuitive, easy to use and fun to carry, or in other words, just great design at work. You notice it and you mention it to others. Same thing happens with customer service and whether it’s Lenovo or Asiana airlines or Zappos, all of them get good amount of mentions, courtesy of their customer service.

To bring this analogy to closure, here’s the flip side. You keep coming across well designed personal music players one after the other and suddenly you come across one that is not up to the mark. In that case, you will notice that bad design and start drawing comparisons with the good ones around. Similarly in case of customer service, if your entire industry is providing better service than you are, you can be in lot of trouble.

Customer service can make a lot of difference and influence a buying decision. So irrespective of what business you are it, make sure you don’t mess with customer service.

Don’t sell, solve

Why do you buy anything? You buy a bottle of water because you are thirsty, you buy an iPod to carry your music around, you buy a luxury car to trade up. The list can go on and on. The basic idea behind buying anything is to solve a problem. This sounds so simple. Then why is anyone trying to sell anything? Why do we have sales people? What we need is a bunch of problem solvers trying to find solutions for our problems.

Put it in other words, the objective of sales team should be to find how a product can solve a customer’s problem. A customer is not going to buy a new suite of software just because it’s a new year and your product version should match the year you are living in nor are they going to choose your brand over the one they are already accustomed to just because you asked them to do so. You got to have a legitimate reason and the best reason is to make customers realize that you are solving a problem that is not solved by the current status quo.

McDonald’s may have a shot against Starbucks because they are solving a customer’s pain of making two stops to get breakfast and coffee and replacing it with a single stop.  Prius might win the race against traditional cars because it reduces the monthly spend by customers on gas. Xbox got an upper hand over PlayStation because Xbox Live enables people to play together and Netflix won over Blockbuster because it removed the trouble of going to the local rental store to rent a movie.

While developing a product and marketing it, it is important for you to think about the problem you are solving. When you understand the problem and try to solve it, your job is done. Selling will be a side effect which will happen during this process.