Reading about how to succeed in business is very instructive. It can also be frustrating. While I like to learn as much as I can from business experts, I think they make things more complicated than they need to be.
For example, when it comes to how to make a great business, gurus talk a lot about products, capabilities and innovation. And, of course, all these are important. At the same time, I think experts often start from the wrong place. They focus on the mechanics of the business, not with what is delivered. In effect, this puts the business first and the customer an inevitable second.
So, faced with increasing competition, how can a small or medium business do it better? My view is that businesses need to differentiate to survive. While they need to provide what customers want, they should also strive to provide what other businesses cannot give them. But where to start?
I think the answer is to put the customer first. Naturally, all businesses claim to do this. But I’m not so sure.
A good way to do this is to use a ‘customer journey map’. This is a technique for describing all the interactions that a customer has with a business (and vice versa) from the first time a customer becomes aware to the last time they use you. It is designed to identify the path between these two points. It’s also a great way to unpick the necessary from the wasteful, and the unavoidable from the irritating. And it puts the customer squarely at the centre of what you do.
By incorporating a timeline, the maps also point to faster ways to bring services to clients. Another use is to discover points of differentiation at each step of the journey - awareness, selection, delivery, payment, use, ‘after sales service’ and selection once more. In this way, a business can uncover opportunities to position an offer in ways that competitors do not.
Not only is it a great opportunity to develop insight into how clients experience your service, it’s an opportunity to engage staff and to unlock creativity within a business.
Differentiation is a big word for thinking about how we serve customers. You can be faster, better and add more value in a number of ways. But, to me, putting the customer right at the heart of what you do seems a great place to start.