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Even Better Than The Real Thing, or Barely Better Than The Other Guy?
by Steve Watts

With apologies to Bono and his U2 bandmates for this article title, have you ever really considered why your customers do business with you? Do you actually know? Or do you just think you know?

What merits, benefits, appearances, attitudes, or philosophies make your customers loyal customers, and which ones make them "just customers"? And perhaps more importantly, are those elements what they shoud be?

Are your customers truly, deeply delighted with you, or are they merely customers of convenience, or worse, desperation?

Take one example from my own life:

Occasionally I shop at Best Buy. It's close to home (less than a mile), and when I'm looking for movies, games, and audio/visual equipment, it's nice to be able to go to one place to see them all at once. However, I am not a particularly loyal Best Buy customer.

A loyal customer is one that will buy from you even if they can get it marginally cheaper somewhere else with equivalent quality or service. The key words here are "marginally cheaper" and "equivalent quality and service." People can be loyal consumers, but we're not stupid. You provide as a viable, cheaper, equal-quality or better alternative, and we're going to leave every time-unless your culture and community are so absolutely ingrained into the quality of the experience that even minor missteps will not dissuade future purchases (see Apple, BMW, Mercedes, Rolex, for example).

In any case, the bottom line is a loyal customer is someone who would rather go to you first before looking at alternatives. A loyal customer is one that will talk about their buying experience with someone they know, and that conversation will shed a positive light on your business.

I am none of these things as it relates to Best Buy. I shop at Best Buy because it's there, not because I have any loyalty to it. If there was another store in town that could match the majority of the selection, be marginally within price (up to 5-10 percent higher), but offered better service and a friendlier environment, I'd go there in a heartbeat.

Sadly, in our metro area that other option is limited to Circuit City (since prior-customer-service nightmare CompUSA is now out of business). And though Best Buy's service record is mediocre at best, it exceeds my past experience with Circuit City's, which was nonexistent. At Best Buy, as clueless as the employees often are about their products at least they make half-hearted attempts to work with you; at Circuit City customers are treated with barely less contempt than your average leper. I'm not expecting to be "wowed" by their customer service, or to have a new revelation about how wonderful Best Buy is. I'm only as loyal as the lack of a local brick-and-mortar alternative makes me.

So, as defined by my experience, the elements of my motivation to shop at Best Buy are

• Convenience
• Selection
• Lack of alternatives

Whereas ideally, Best Buy would want me shopping there for:

• A true sense of loyalty, "Positive Vibes", or whatever else you want to call it. That intangible, yet very real quality or sense of satisfaction that we receive from businesses that have built up our trust with them.

And this is only on a simple commodity, business-to-consumer level. How much farther does trust and loyalty go in a B2B environment?

I recently read a statement by marketing guru Seth Godin on his blog that goes something like this: "If they're asking you about price, then you haven't sold them on value." Negotiating on price demonstrates that your potential customer thinks there's still a better alternative out there. Negotiating on price shows that you haven't proved your worth.

If clients keeps coming back to you for an "RFP" (Request For Pricing, or Request For Proposal), in their minds they're thinking, "You're not any better than 'the next guy,' so why don't I find 'the next guy' who sells it cheaper?"

For high-level purchases, whether B2B or B2C, people don't need help making the decision-they already know they have to make a decision one way or another. What people need help with is feeling comfortable about the decision they have to make. If it's an automobile purchase, for example, it's not a question of if they're buying a car, but from whom. It's a question of feeling comfortable with the entire package of the purchase-the make, model, color, features, warranty, sales experience, the enthusiasm and reputation of the dealer. When someone buys from someone other than you, it's almost always because their "experience" with the "other" was in some shape or fashion "better" in their minds.

The bottom line is, is your brand experience going to get you more than your average "Best Buy" consumer? When I'm shopping at Best Buy, I'm only hoping that the experience will be as painless as possible-I want to get in, get my stuff, and leave. If your customers' attitude towards you only reaches the level of "pain avoidance," it's time to head back to the drawing board.

Steve Watts may be contacted at

In two years as a corporate trainer, Steve Watts has implemented over 300 clients across two dozen industries on the lead management system, proven to increase overall sales from 50 to 200 percent. He has a bachelor's degree in English, with a minor in communications from Brigham Young University.


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