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Techniques for Creating Sustainable Competitive Advantage

What differentiates you from the competition?

Quality? Service? Price?

Over the past 5 years, I’ve asked that question to hundreds of staffing company owners. Want to know the response I most often get? It goes something like this: “We’re not like everyone else. We out-service other staffing firms.”

Please don’t take offense to this, but your service does not differentiate you.

Here’s why: when it comes to service, anything you can do, your competitors can copy. And anything they do well, you’re going to copy. As a result, all the best staffing companies tend to do things in a very similar manner, making it nearly impossible to differentiate service quality among the top performers. While exceptional service will distinguish you from average staffing companies, it won’t separate you from the top 10 or 20 percent of staffing firms in your market.

So what can you do?

Oh the Possibilities…

How can you make your company stand out from the competition? Consider these 17 potential areas of differentiation:

  • Speed – response time / time to fill
  • Accuracy – quality of fill
  • Price
  • Specialty – niche services
  • Reliability – consistent service
  • Unique service processes
  • Payment terms
  • Guarantees
  • Location – convenience
  • Sales methods
  • Technology
  • Recruiting capability
  • Innovation
  • Problem-solving capability
  • Persistence
  • Size
  • Range of Services
  • Service delivery model

The challenge is to pick the one thing you can do better than anyone else — all the time. And of course, whatever you pick must also be highly important to your customers!

The #1 Source of Competitive Advantage

The problem with the above list is that it’s almost impossible to outperform every competitor, all the time, on any of the items on the list. However, there is one sure-fire way to truly separate yourself from the competition. You possess an invaluable asset that no competitor can copy…

What’s your unique asset?

It’s your people. And more importantly, the ability your people have to build relationships with prospects, customers, and candidates. Strong customer relationships are an unbeatable source of competitive advantage. As I’m sure you recognize, strong customer relationships allow you to close more business, charge higher prices, gain first access to new opportunities, retain customers longer, and even recover from those occasional mistakes that occur in providing staffing services. But, here’s the question I have for you:

Are the people in your company doing everything possible to build irresistible relationships with customers and prospects?

Creating Irresistible Customer Relationships

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for creating irresistible relationships with your customers. However, maybe we can learn a few secrets by studying the reasons why companies lose customers.

Customer loss is most often attributed to one of the following causes:

  • A competitor offered a lower price.
  • The buyer has a friend at another vendor.
  • We made a mistake.
  • The customer went out of business.

But, more often than not (about two-thirds of the time to be precise), the real reason customers are lost is because of indifference. We failed to make the customer feel special. We didn’t do it intentionally. Maybe someone had a bad day and took it out on the customer. Maybe we were overly focused on winning a major account. But somewhere along the way, someone in our company treated the customer indifferently–and we lost the business.

To create irresistible customer relationships, we must eradicate indifference. How? Here are 17 ideas:

  1. Communicate, frequently – strong relationships are built on trust, which develops through regular dialog
  2. Remember to say “thank you” often
  3. Solicit feedback – ask for candid appraisals of your service and suggestions for improvement
  4. Proactively seek problems and propose solutions – don’t wait for problems to come to you
  5. Emphasize continuous improvement and tell customers what you’ve done to improve your services
  6. Look for ways to save your clients money
  7. Look for opportunities to help your clients improve their productivity
  8. Give something away for free once in a while – saying “this one’s on us” makes customers feel special
  9. Support the causes that are important to your customers
  10. Encourage social interaction with customers
  11. Keep accurate profiles of top customers so you know what’s going on in their business and their industry
  12. Get service people into the field to meet with customers to gain a better understanding of the customers’ needs
  13. Invite customers to visit your offices to learn more about your capabilities
  14. Train sales and service reps how to solve business problems with staffing services
  15. Keep score – document the tangible benefits you’ve delivered for your clients
  16. Follow a program of “planned-spontaneous recognition” – develop a process to systematically remind clients how important they are to you
  17. Nurture relationships with multiple forms of communication, including sales calls, phone, mail, e-mail and social media

Want another idea for creating irresistible customer relationships–expand your network of contacts. If your business hinges on a relationship with one or two decision-makers, you’re likely to lose the customer at some point. Strive to nurture relationships with as many different people as you can–and on as many different levels as you can.

Relationships = Success

Service has and will continue to be the most critical element of every successful staffing organization. However, great service must be viewed as a basic necessity: a building block of success. To truly stand out from the crowd, and ensure your long-term success, leverage great service into great customer relationships. Enhance your current servicing process to include more relationship-building activities. Develop a deliberate program to continuously nurture irresistible customer relationships. And through effective implementation you will create an unbeatable source of competitive advantage!

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