Care more than your competitors

Published: Friday, August 5, 2011, 3:00am PDT

Premium content from Sacramento Business Journal – by Debi Hammond , Correspondent

Wowing customers is within every company’s marketing budget

Almost every business owner envies Apple. And why shouldn’t they? The company has an amazing brand and even more amazing profits, and it’s doing it in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression. In fact, in 2010 Apple became the most valuable brand, surpassing Google , according to the sixth annual BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands study published by global research agency Millward BrownbizWatch .

If you’ve ever purchased an electronic device of any kind, you open the package, pull out the product, toss the packaging and begin using your device. That’s it. The end. Your brand experience is completely unremarkable. However, when you open an Apple product, you’re enchanted by the feel of the packaging, the beauty of the graphics and the attention to every minute detail. But it’s just packaging, right?

Wrong. It’s a company that cares about every aspect of the customer’s experience right down to the expendable packaging. The magic that Apple seems to possess is simple: It shows its customers it cares. Where most companies’ attention to detail stops with the product, Apple begins and ends with the user’s overall experience with the brand. It is this care and attention to detail that inspires recession-weary spendthrifts to open their wallets on premium priced products such as iPods, iPads and iPhones.

I know what you’re thinking: I have a small business and can’t afford that kind of detail in my product or packaging. Even though that level of branding may be beyond your budget, it’s helpful to analyze companies of all sizes for the smart business decisions they’ve made and the exceptional reputations they’ve earned. Those lessons are often applicable to your small business.

Let’s look at another example of a top-notch company that has made a name for itself for customer service.

My first stay at The Ritz Carlton was amazing, and it wasn’t because of the luxurious down comforter or incredible ocean view. It was because as my husband and I were walking into the lobby, the hotel staff welcomed us by name. I was baffled at how they even knew our names, but marveled at it nonetheless. After check-in, I whispered to my husband that I’d like to sneak a peek at the spa. Sure enough, an employee standing nearby overheard me and instead of pointing us in the general direction, he escorted us to the spa, opened the door and introduced us to the spa manager. I didn’t feel like a customer; I felt like a guest in this person’s home.

It was an amazing experience. The remarkable thing is that this wasn’t an expensive and elaborate marketing program ­— just attention to detail and great training.

Given the current economy, small businesses are struggling to attract new customers and hold on to current ones. The best way to do both is to separate yourself from the competition by doing something special, unique or different.

So, what can you do to make your product, restaurant, retail store or brand extraordinary? Start by caring more than your competitors do about your customers’ or clients’ experiences, from the moment they enter your building to the feeling they have as they leave. How does it feel to call your office? To walk into your entry? To unwrap your package? How does it feel to interact with your employees, your product or your brand? Have you ever asked yourself that question? Do you care?

You don’t have to be Apple or The Ritz Carlton to wow your customers; you just have to care enough to try.

Debi Hammond is founder and chief executive officer of Merlot Marketing Inc., a Sacramento integrated marketing agency. Reach her at © 2011 American City Business Journals, Inc.

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