Quality and Service - Yeah, Right!

One of the critical drivers of business success is having a unique competitive advantage. Most managers understand that to attract a larger share of the market, or find enough customers prepared to pay a premium price, they must provide something of greater value than their competition. For most managers, competitive advantage boils down to providing superior quality and service. Think about it. Is this what you are aiming for?

Now, striving for quality and service sounds to me like what Americans call "motherhood and apple pie." The purity of these things has an appeal that you can't argue with. But I have a problem with the concept. You see, whenever I ask my clients what their competitive advantage is, realizing that there can be only one "cheapest" competitor, they almost invariably tell me that it is quality and service. The trouble I have with that is, if everyone provides quality and service, where is the competitive advantage?

The problem with just saying quality and service is that the concepts are too vague. Think about it. Can you give me a definition of the word "quality"? It's not that easy is it. There is something intangible about "quality" because it is a relative term. When I ask my clients what they mean by "quality" or "service," they have the same difficulty. The danger is that their idea of quality is something less than their customer's. Unless you can define exactly what "quality" and "service" means to your customers, you don't have a tangible competitive advantage.

What does "quality" mean for your product or service? How is that different from any of your competitors? You need to get very specific. Merely generalising about quality and service doesn't give customer's anything to go on. Can you prove your product is better, stronger, faster, more reliable? Just presenting quality and service in general terms isn't enough to demonstrate a clear competitive advantage. Customers don't believe vague claims and they don't believe you, unless you can back up your statement with irrefutable facts. The same goes for service. What does better service mean?

Is it faster, more personal, more user friendly? How can you support your claims?

Whether you use these statements in your advertising or selling situations, statements that are specific and verifiable will always be more believable and therefore more effective, than vague generalizations. So if you promote your product or service on the basis of superior quality, start working on defining exactly why it is superior and provide measurable proof of its superiority. This will achieve one of two things. First, you may find out that your product or service isn't really that much different or better than your competitor. That's OK. At least you now know and can get to work on finding out how to make it superior. Secondly, if you can define your superiority and provide measurable proof, now you really have a competitive advantage which gives you a unique selling proposition to advertise.

Look at the following claims. "Our product is the best on the market." Or. "Our product was shown in scientific trials to be 37% more effective in ?.. than competing products." Which do you think would be more effective in advertising?

If you can't test your product or service to measure its superiority, you can provide independent verification of your claims in other ways. For example, using client testimonials is a very effective way of overcoming customer skepticism. When independent people talk about your product or service in a positive way, describing the benefits they have received, it is much more believable than when you say the same things yourself. It is even better if your customer is specific .

So, what is your competitive advantage? Don't say quality and service. That just doesn't mean anything to your market. Get specific, get the facts and be believable. Then use that unique selling proposition in all your promotions and selling activities to drive home your competitive advantage. You'll see a difference in your results that makes it worth the effort.

(c) 2004 Greg Roworth, Progressive Business Solutions Limited

Greg Roworth is the Managing Director of Progressive Business Solutions Limited, a business development consultancy firm with branches in Wellington and Auckland, New Zealand. Greg has created a unique business development program that assists business owners transform their business from a state of total dependency on them to a state where the business works so well they don't have to.

Greg is also the author of "The 7 Keys to Unlock Your Business Profit Potential," which descibes the fundamental keys a business needs to achieve this transformation. Find out more, get 2 free chapters, or buy the book online at http://www.small-business-success.ws

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