Most markets are populated with mature brands that struggle to maintain differentiation because it is easy for competitors to match any function, feature or service that is of value to customers. Most sources of differentiation don't last that long anymore. They quickly become "cost of entry" benefits.
But in working with more than 200 brands across a wide variety of categories I have discovered one differentiator that is difficult to identify and even more difficult to copy - genuinely caring about people. I have worked with several brands that have this as a differentiator. It works in every category that I have witnessed and it is real. These brands' customers will tell you how important it is to them to interact with people who really care. Friendliness, empathy and genuine concern are difficult to fake. And frankly, while leaders can intentionally design organizations to develop and nurture caring cultures, I have also found that organizations with those cultures tend to be clustered in specific metropolitan areas. I have been tempted to tell the economic development arms of those cities to add friendly, caring employees to their lists of regional strengths.
And as people become satiated with physical "things," the only thing left to sell them are services and experiences. Services and experiences are largely dependent on human interaction for their delivery. Again, caring employees matter.
Here are some of the employee attributes that contribute to a truly caring customer experience:
- Genuine concern for others - narcissists need not apply
- Good listening skills
- Intuition about human needs and emotions
- Willingness to slow down and spend time with others
- The ability to accurately read body language
- Emotional intelligence
- Emotional maturity
- The strong desire to truly serve others
- High acceptance of self and others
- Meeting each person where he or she is without judgment
- "Thick skin"
- A positive attitude
- A sense of humor
I have witnessed first hand how this differentiator directly results in increased market share, customer retention and profitability. This is a differentiator well worth exploring in this era of hyper-competition. Good luck in pursuing caring, compassionate employees.
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