The delivery of a professional service is absolutely nothing more than the delivery of you or me. The only thing Realtors, financial service professionals, accountants, lawyers, and everybody else who delivers a service are truly delivering are themselves. When a business hires me to come in and help their company, the only thing they get is me. When the famous trial attorney Johnny Cochran is hired to represent a client, the only thing they get is Johnny. When your customer hires you as an accountant, Realtor, or insurance agent, all they get is you. You may not be the product or the results, but you are the differentiator.
The Internet makes everything available to everyone. An entire town was sold on the auction site eBay. The marketplace is loaded with choices.
Question: What's the difference between buying from the local purveyor or from someone across the country? (Your purchase will be delivered to your door.)
Answer: You and I are the difference.
As a child, do you remember hearing that every snowflake is different? Snowflakes aren't very complicated. If every snowflake is different, imagine how different each of us are. A snowflake may only live till it hits the ground—we don't even begin to develop our differences until we hit the ground.
The human condition is such that each of us is unique. The subtle and not so subtle differences in each of our skills, personalities, and experiences make each one of us unique beings. No one else is just like me and no one else is just like you. Using these differences constructively in our interactions with internal and external customers is the basis for creating loyalty through differentiation.
There are only 12 different notes in the chromatic scale; however, the application of these notes has produced an endless variety of songs for all of us to enjoy. My junior high school English teacher pointed out that there are only seven basic story plots, yet the variation on these few basic plots have entertained the world since the beginning of mankind. Inside each of us is a treasure chest of differences that are available in our expression of commerce in general and dealing with our customers in specific.
Subtle differences aside, consider everyone involved in commerce to be either a worker or a manager. In the language of the law profession, lawyers are either grinders or finders. Grinders are those lawyers who do the actual legal work whether it is writing documents or appearing in court. Finders are those lawyers who bring new clients into the firm. In this simple model of commerce, I am suggesting people either manage workers (their internal customers) or they meet with external customers.
A manager's job description is much like that of an athletic coach. The coach's job consists of:
Teaching the basics every day.
Clearing the path of obstacles.
Managers are charged with these same tasks. The greatest athletes, musicians, magicians, artists, and artisans practice every day. Practice reinforces the basics for great basketball players such as Shaquille O'Neal and great musicians such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Great managers teach the basics every day. Nobody who wants to excel is exempt from reviewing the basics every day.
Coaches clear the path of obstacles for their players by offering strategy and scouting reports on the competition. Managers clear the path of obstacles by being a liaison to every department in the organization. Coaches offer encouragement either through criticism or praise—good managers do the same.
The point is that while the fundamentals of being a manager or a coach are very limited, the ways these fundamentals can be expressed are infinite. Is there a difference in the way Pat Riley and Phil Jackson coach? You bet! They both have the same job, but their individual styles and personalities are dramatically different. Bill Gates and "Chainsaw Al" Dunlap have both managed their companies to the highest levels of business success but these executives are as different as day and night.
A manager's job is to serve internal customers. A worker's job is to serve external customers. In this simplistic model, a worker's job is to:
Know and understand customers.
Partner with customers to help them receive the best product or service.
Recognize and demonstrate the customer's importance.
There are as many different ways to accomplish these tasks as there are people. Imagine using your individual style and unique skills in accomplishing these tasks. Consider your specific customers, how you interact with them to know and understand them, and partner with them as you demonstrate their importance and apply your uniqueness.
People make choices in the people they do business with because they detect a difference. They come back to buy again and again because of differentiators. You are this difference when you apply your unique skills, experiences, style, concern, personality, and methods in your interactions with customers. Commerce is filled with sameness and commodities. You are one of a kind. You are the only one of you available anywhere. You are the differentiator.