How do you stand out from the crowd?

Customers are complicated. At times, we don’t understand why they do what they do, however there’s a reason for that – we can’t see things as they do.

Stand in the customer’s shoes

As the business owner, we’re focused on what we do – making, creating, designing, delivering our ‘thing’. We’re emotionally invested in it, we see it from the inside, from the perspective of the creator. The blood, sweat and tears that have gone into building the business are very real to us. But not to our customers.

Every customer wasn’t your customer once upon a time. They were simply someone in the market, with a problem that needed solved, looking for a product or service that would help them. They didn’t know about your business, they simply thought about what they needed and started searching for it. Like we all do.

At this stage, their only frame of reference was the industry itself, not the individual businesses within the industry. We know that customers have an industry-level perspective, which is based on assumptions, expectations, prior experiences and prejudices. This means that they see all suppliers in the market through this lens.

How does that work?

Let me explain. I took people through this process in a workshop I ran in Darlington recently. We chose the motor trade as our industry to study. I asked the room of a dozen people to tell me what they thought about the motor trade, both car sales & servicing. Here are the words they used:

  • Untrustworthy
  • Dishonest
  • Expensive
  • Hidden costs
  • Sexist
  • Lack of integrity
  • Don’t do what they say
  • Never ready on time

This was a room of mixed age & sex, and yet as a group, they agreed this was how they saw the motor trade. It’s a pretty damning list, isn’t it!

And yet, as I probed why they used those words, each told a story that explained why they feel the way they do. These are their assumptions, expectations, prior experiences and prejudices.

Now you might be a motor dealer, and feel affronted by this. Your service isn’t like that! But that’s not the point. Remember, they’ve not met you yet, so they see you with the same suspicion as they view your competitors.

However, rather than being angered by this, you can use it to your advantage!

How do I do that?

  1. Drill even deeper to find out how they feel about each aspect of what you do – new car sales, used car sales, servicing, and so on.
  2. Now you have a golden opportunity – to design your service(s) so that none of these experiences apply to your business.
  3. Then comes the hard bit – you have to deliver that service impeccably, and when things go wrong – which they will – you need everyone to know what they need to do to fix it.
  4. Once the new service is embedded you can start telling the stories of why you’re different through content such as blogs, videos, and testimonials, all of which you can share on your social channels. The research that you do to find out how people see your industry will provide you with a treasure trove of content ideas. Remember, the content should never be about you – don’t make it a sales message – instead, honestly answer the questions and concerns that you know they have. Build their trust.
  5. The other important thing you should do is look at other industries to see how they deliver service. Who are the best and what can you learn from them?

The Barnett Formula

To continue the motor trade focus, I recently met with Paul Barnett, Managing Director of Dundee-based Barnetts Motor Group. Barnetts are dealers for Volkswagen, Mazda and Volvo, and are in the top five for Customer satisfaction in the U.K. for each brand.

I kept on hearing good things about them, so I wanted to find out why that was.

Over the years Paul, and his father Bob (who established the business back in 1965), have been relentless in their pursuit of customer satisfaction. They’ve taken time to understand how people see the motor trade and then worked hard to design a service that’s so far removed from the norm, that people regularly travel from as far away as Aberdeen, and not just to buy a car, but also to have it serviced.

Paul told me that most people travel up to 20 miles to buy a car, and 10 to have it serviced, yet Barnetts have people travelling more than 60 miles, each way. That means they must be doing something right!

Paul made it very clear that they don’t always get it right, however when it goes wrong, they have a process for making it right, and winning back the customer’s trust. Then they debrief and learn the lessons.

I wrote about some of the things that Barnetts do recently – you can read that here.

This must all come at a cost, I can hear you ask. But no, it doesn’t. Barnetts Volkswagen is the most profitable VW dealer in the U.K., and #2 for customer satisfaction. Maybe it’s worth all of the hard work after all?

So here’s your challenge

  • What do people think about your industry?
  • What are their assumptions, expectations, prior experiences and prejudices?
  • Don’t just assume what they are – go and ask people. Have genuine conversations.

What you learn will be gold-dust for your business, and if you apply it in the same way that Paul Barnett has, then maybe you too could have the most profitable business in your industry…..

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