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John Stanton, founder of The Running Room provides a great explanation of how service levels allow small niche retailers to compete with big box retailers.
In an interview on CEOTV Stanton compares the service levels of his stores (which only sell running gear) to the service levels of big box retailers (that sell a wide variety of sporting goods).
I’m sure you can see where I am going here – expert vs. generalist.
Stanton proposes that high levels of customer service are not primarily an outcome of courtesy, but of expertise – and therefore the big box retailers will never be able to meet his service levels because their generalist staff will simply never have the depth of knowledge about running gear that his expert staff have.
While common definitions of customer service include both components, too many firms focus heavily on the courtesy element – how to serve your client faster, nicer, slicker instead of quality of assistance based on customer and product knowledge.
Stanton understands clearly that his customer service advantage is rooted in focused expertise. He knows that while virtually anyone can learn to be polite and meet high courtesy standards (in fact most people already have these skills) only staff with specific training, experience, and knowledge gained over time can provide meaningful assistance. As the more difficult of the two for a competitor to replicate, expertise is obviously the better anchor of client service competitiveness.
You might want to remember Stanton’s framework as you hire new staff, train new staff, and develop new marketing campaigns.
Customers will see through vague customer service claims as lipstick on the pig while recognizing expertise as the lean, high quality bacon for which they are happy to pay a premium time and time again.
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"This should be required reading for consultants AND their clients - especially the part about RFPs." - Blair Enns, Win Without Pitching