Category Archives: Customer Service


What Makes Your Business Unique and Why Is That Important?

I will often ask a client to complete the following sentence: “Our business is the only one that _____.” Or “I am the only one who _____.” What makes your business unique and why is that important?

Differentiation is the key to effective marketing. The key to effective marketing is not clever ads. It is having clear advantages over your competition and then powerfully communicating those advantages.

You can run all the expensive ads you want, hire publicists, attend trade shows, build slick web sites, but if you do not have concrete differences in who you are or what you do, you are just shouting louder. Effective marketing is based on real advantages for potential customers to do business with you. The marketing tools of advertising and promotion are just ways of carrying that message to those clients. Customers are not interested in how big your promotion budget is, they want to know why they should pick you over some other. This is differentiation.

Quality and Service

Most of the time, clients will say, “we have better service,” or, “we have better quality.” That is fine. Better service and quality are important, but every company claims to have these. If you are going to use quality and service as differentiators, what you do that is better needs to be clearly and demonstrably different and your claim backed up by specifics.

Two Personal Examples

I like men’s shirts from Lands’ End, the catalog merchants. They fit well and seem to last forever. Once, a seam came slightly unraveled after many months of wear. Their policy is “Guaranteed, period.” I called them and they immediately replaced the shirt, no questions asked.

Another time, I had an old but expensive down jacket from North Face that after 15 years of hard use, had a broken zipper. I took it back to North Face to see if they could fix it in 2 days so that I could use it for a ski trip that very weekend. Not only did they fix it, but they did not charge me for the repair.  Their answer to my question about why they were not charging me was, “It is a North Face.”

Now that is a real difference—quality and service so exceptional that customers will tell stories about how good you are for years afterward.

Seamless Problem Solving

I recently drove all the way to San Francisco to buy a bicycle, a major purchase that I had been planning for many months.  The arrangements for the bike and the schedule for the fitting were made via phone with an employee who assured me that the bike I wanted was available and that I could complete the transaction in the time I had.  After driving 4 hours to reach the store, I found that the bike they promised was in fact not my size and the key employee required to do the fitting was not going to be available as promised.

As these problems unfolded, the owner of the store got involved and took over the transaction.  His process not only got me more and better product than I was expecting but delivered it ahead of the original commitment.  He made it seem like there was no problem he couldn’t solve, and in what was a fairly complex transaction, he upgraded components, extended warranties, offered to swap parts that did not fit correctly, even after future weeks of use.  This situation could have turned into a real disappointment with lasting hard feelings and certainly loss of my future business.  Instead, the effect was that problems were solved seamlessly, almost before I was aware that there was anything wrong. I was left feeling like I was their most important customer.

A key business fact to notice is that this situation did not involve giving away anything, it did not require any apologies, it did not involve any disagreements, complaints or confrontations. The exceptional part of this transaction was that the owner realized what the problems were almost before I did and so was able to take care of me before anything became a problem.  In fact, I  felt so well served, I bought several additional products that I had not planned to buy and would recommend this store to anyone.

I have said before that the true test of an organization is not that they never make mistakes, but how they handle the mistakes when they do happen.  I will add to that basic principle that in the continuum of ways to effectively solve a customer’s problem, having such a keen awareness of the customer and their needs that the problems are solved without drawing attention, before the customer needs to voice dissatisfaction, is the ultimate level of this great customer service.

By the way, the shop is The Bike Nut at 2221 Filbert Street, San Francisco.  I would recommend them to anyone considering a bicycle.  Their slogan, ”Yes Can Do,” is printed right on their business card and they truly live up to it.


We recently stayed at a small hotel that featured, among other amenities, a full breakfast. On Saturday morning, a hoard of hungry guests descended on the dining room. The only wait-person was a friendly woman who was moving very fast. In spite of her energy and efficiency, trying to get 25 hungry guests their food was a challenge.

As you might expect, some of the guests were less than happy. No matter how rude or unhappy the diners were, the wait person always seemed to be smiling and happy. This “service with a smile” did wonders at calming the clients.

From a management perspective, one server for 25 guests was a little unrealistic and unfair to the employee. But I was impressed at how well she handled the situation and how much of a difference the smile made in the response of the guests.

I have said before that great customer service is more than just being friendly, but friendliness and a genuine smile are still essential tools for anyone dealing with the public. How often do we forget to smile when dealing with our customers?