Customers want seven things in every transaction:
Value. Don't confuse value with price. Price is only one part of value. People buy for convenience, selection, image, and a million other reasons. It's your job to find out which values are most important to each of your customers. Only by understanding and providing the specific value your customer wants can you expect them to be loyal.
Communication. Customers want complete information and full disclosure about their purchases. People don't want surprises with their purchases. They want straight talk and they appreciate communication on a regular basis. Communication includes everything you say to your customers before, during, and after the sale. It includes what you say as well as how you say it.
Attitude. Caring, friendliness, and courtesy will never go out of style. The most powerful demonstration of your attitude is your smile. Even if all your business is conducted over the phone, your customers can detect if you are smiling and if you are happy to be doing business with them. Another point about smiling: You can ask almost any question, and if you are smiling, the customer will detect sincerity and be delighted to answer. A smiling face that asks the question, "Mrs. Jones may I ask how old you are?" is likely to get the right answer, while the same question asked with a non-smiling face is likely to get the answer, "None of your business." Keep in mind that there are many different types of smiles: contrived. warm, weary, inviting, threatening, and understanding to name a few. To smile effectively you must know why you are smiling. When the smile is genuine pleasantness it will convey the right message to your customer.
Reliability. The product must do what it is supposed to do for as long as the customer expects it to do it. Companies and individuals with the most loyal customers have a history of under-promising and over-delivering reliability. The law of reliability states, "Do what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it." The law is basic, but it is also critical to developing loyal customers.
Quality. The customer must feel as if they are getting what they are paying for. The term quality pertains to both product and transaction. For example, the quality of an insurance company or the insurance policy may not be evident for many years, but the quality of contact the policyholder has with the salesperson or customer service representative must meet the standards he expects. You may not be able to control the product, but you can control the transaction and thereby influence the customers' expectations for quality.
Assurance. Every customer wants assurance that they are making the best purchase. The customer's family, friends, or coworkers may not be generous with compliments or assurance that the customer made the right purchase, so it is up to you to make sure the customer is assured their purchases are the right ones for them. Customers measure the degree of assurance they are receiving by noting if the people they are doing business with do what they say they're going to do when they say they're going to do it.
Understanding. Customers want to be important enough that their wants and needs are understood.
A single differentiator will not answer all the things a customer wants in a transaction, but to be an effective differentiator it must address at least one of the seven. For example, Lou Holtz's greeting, "How can I help you?" is a sincere statement that lets people know he wants to understand them and their wants. He differentiates himself from others by being truly interested in helping people.
During this discussion of differentiation we looked at the seven things a customer wants. Any of the seven can be used as an effective differentiator, however only three of the things customers want actually have an impact on loyalty, beyond being a differentiator.
For example, people appreciate a good attitude, friendly service, and a warm smile, but a good attitude is not, in itself, going to create loyalty. People don't become loyal to a seller because he smiles a lot and is friendly unless the only competition is a bunch of grumpy old men.
The only three "customer wants" that actually create loyalty are value, assurance, and effective communication.
In the next chapter we will discuss value and assurance and in Chapter Six we will cover effective communication.