The Age of the Customer®, Part 19: Be competitive, be relevant and be grateful

Jim Blasingame

Here is some 21st century tough love: A soybean is a commodity and so is everything you sell.

That's right; virtually everything customers need or want is a commodity - even service.

The only thing that differentiates you from competitors today is the way customers feel about the experience they have when they do business with you. That's it! EVERYTHING else is a commodity.

Any questions?

Indeed, it's a new world here in the 21st century. Customers have dozens of sources to be found on Main Street, plus hundreds more virtual sources on Cyber-Street.

For thousands of years, customers refined their search for products and services to a couple of semi-finalist businesses. This search was based almost solely on the classic value proposition: price, product, availability and service. I've termed this period the Age of the Seller, which is seeing its last days.

As the Age of the Customer™ emerges, being competitive on value is still important, but is now considered table stakes to achieve that semi-final status. Indeed, in the new Age, it's not enough just to be competitive; you also have to be relevant.

So, when your competitiveness makes you a semi-finalist, what do you have to do to prove your relevance and be anointed as the "Chosen One"? Here are three important Age of the Customer relevance practices:

  • Have a website where customers can shop and perhaps purchase online.
  • Have a blog and/or social media sites, where customers can get to know you without leaving their home or business.
  • Offer to follow customers home electronically with requested information, including an e-newsletter.

In his 1981 seminal work, Megatrends John Naisbitt prophesied, "The more high-tech we have, the more high-touch we will want." Here are three high-touch practices that customers still want, even in the Age of the Customer.

  • Remember the customer's name and use it - often
  • Smile - early and often
  • Be grateful. Say "thank you" - a lot

It's not easy to think of your wonderful products and services as just another soybean. But get over yourself and start focusing on the experience that differentiates you from competitors: The 21st century small business three-legged stool - classic competitiveness, Age of the Customer relevance and high touch.

Write this on a rock...Be competitive, be relevant and be grateful.

Jim Blasingame is creator and host of the Small Business Advocate Show. Copyright 2011, author retains ownership. All Rights Reserved.

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