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CUSTOMER LOYALTY

A new definition of customer service is emerging; one that goes beyond doing it right the first time, providing communication excellence, on-time deliveries, and being responsive to individual customer requirements.

All these are starting points for service. The simple, unavoidable truth is that if customers do not receive this level of service, they go elsewhere.

The customer-service issue can be summarized very simply. Service for the future means becoming a valuable resource for the customer.

What this means is that those companies providing knowledge will be the winners. To put it another way, the lowest price is not enough to hold customers--if it comes without the benefit of expertise.

Effective customer service today must be equated with knowledge, information and expertise. This is what today's customers require.

There are five important implications in this "knowledge is service" concept.

1. Price may attract customers but information sustains relationships. Of course, price is important to customers. But price alone does not hold them or keep them coming back. When they need more than just the product or service, they will go where they can obtain beneficial, helpful information. In other words, it is time to learn that price alone does not produce loyalty.

2. Doing it right may please customers, but helping them achieve their goals keeps them. Efficient, helpful, rapid service makes people feel a business recognizes the customer's importance. But simply being even an outstanding "supplier" or "vendor" is only the beginning. Value comes from making a continuing contribution to customer's success.

3. Being on the cutting edge may be the correct positioning, but being viewed as a valuable resource produces long-term confidence. If a company is perceived as somewhere other than on the cutting edge, it is not really in the ball game today. But proper positioning is only a starting point, not the goal. The major challenge for businesses today is to have customers and prospects wanting to do business with them because their knowledge is valued.

4. Automation may make players, but leadership comes from innovative ideas. Almost routinely today, businesses are making an effort to let their customers know the extent of their automation. Again, there is no question about the importance of state-of-the-art capabilities when it comes to meeting customer needs. But at the same time, leadership in any field comes from new, fresh thinking.

5. The right products and services keep business coming, but shared expertise attracts the right customers. Every business targets specific customer groups, whether it is business-to-business or the consumer market. Yet, most businesses complain that they are never able to attract the right customers, the ones they really want and can best serve. The only way to solve the problem is for companies to become recognized for their knowledge! The correct knowledge produces--attracts--the right customers.

Just when we thought we had a handle on quality service, the world continues to change. The emphasis now is on the company's knowledge, insight, experience and expertise. These will be the prize "products" in the years ahead.

Never stop learning and thinking out-of-the-box... "The only sustainable competitive advantage a company can have is the ability to learn faster than its competition." Theodore Levitt

Remy M. Mauduit


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