The Key Differentiator

By Tom Cunningham

Recently I sat in a room with a CEO whose products are part of the luxury goods market. During our time together, we addressed the key differentiator of the CEO’s brand and their direct competition. At the end of the conversation, it was apparent that the crucial element needed was to distinguish themselves with a best-in-class customer experience.

One of the most common and comforting lies brands tell themselves is that they provide great customer service. In fact, the opposite is true. According to research, roughly 82 percent of customers leave a brand because of bad customer service. While many brands admit this is a problem, others choose to ignore it, instead depending on KPI data and cost to justify the quality of service they provide their customers.

During my twenty-two-plus years in the call center industry, I’ve only seen a handful of brands really address this issue. I understand why, as it requires leaders to look at themselves and admit they aren’t providing best-in-class experiences to their customers.

If you are ready to distinguish your service from your competitors and have the courage to admit you need to make changes, you are already ahead of many brands. Congratulations!

So, what do you do now? There are some questions you must ask yourself before we look at any data.

First, what brands come to mind when you think of best in class? What are the commonalties across these companies? For me, they are brands that have a strong culture, put customers before cost, acknowledge that people are one of the dominant parts of the business, and focus more on quality than quantity.

Second, what are the generational impacts in today’s market? We have entered a time when we must concurrently support four sizable generations of consumers, with different preferences of how they interact with you:

  • Baby boomers prefer engaging in person or over the phone.
  • Generation X leans more toward interactive chat.
  • Generation Y and Z customers want to do everything on social media or a mobile app.

Whichever brand understands these customer expectations will distance themselves from their competition.

Third, spend some time online reviewing what your customers say about your brand, as well as about your competition. Too many times we establish quality programs and metrics based on what we feel the ideal customer experience should be. Why do we do this when we have a plethora of information on the web from the users we’re trying to wow?

It shocked the CEO and me to discover it was the customer experience that suffered across the market. It was an aha moment. The brand and product were already superior, so making changes in how the company’s service department interacts with the customer would be monumental in separating the brand from the rest of the pack.

Finally, you need to ask yourself what you are prepared to do with this information. I encourage you to use it to define what a great customer experience should look like for your brand. Use it to determine which channels to support based on what your customers want. Hire the right people to support this vision. And finally, identify what data you must measure to know if you are delivering that experience.

Brands are either dying or moving forward. If you choose not to listen to the customer and make needed changes, they’ll find someone who will.

Tom Cunningham is the North American director of SaaS operations at PerfectServe. Tom has twenty-two years of call center operations management experience. His background also includes management positions with ADT and Elavon, and he has consulted for GM, Erie Insurance, and Western Dental. Reach him at 865-719-6960 or

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