A dangerous assumption you may be making.

I hear a lot today about how every business is really good, even great, at delivering on basic customer expectations.  The idea is that, because you and your competition are all so good at the fundamentals, what you have to do is focus on “extras” in order to win and keep customers.  Wow.  Talk about a dangerous assumption.  This assumption puts companies out of business.

Why was I dissatisfied with that Alfa Romeo dealer?  Because he didn’t wash my car after servicing it?  Because he didn’t send me a Happy Thanksgiving card?  No, it was because I took the car back three times and the problem still wasn’t fixed.  The car dealer assumed that they were great at the basics.

Why did I recently swear that I’d never go back to that very pricey, very upscale national chain steak house?  Because they didn’t bring over a complimentary appetizer?  Because they didn’t vacuum my car while we ate dinner?  No.  It’s because the steak was mediocre and the service took too long.  Believe me…..the restaurant manager assumes that they’re great on the basics.

Why did I decide that there’s no future for me with buying my clothes at the local Nordstrom?  Was it because they forgot to go across town to get my size?  Was it because the salesperson didn’t remember that I don’t like yellow sweaters?  No.  It’s because this particular Nordstrom has a lousy selection of men’s clothes.  Believe me…..they think that they’re great on the basics.  And on service – Nordstrom is usually stellar.  But if you lose on a basic like selection, then I’m going to keep taking my business to Levy’s down the street.  Levy’s wins on the basics, therefore, they win it all with me.

I could go on and on and on and on with examples.  So could you.  But here’s my point – if you assume that everyone is “great” at the basics, then you assume that YOU are “great” at the basics.  Very dangerous assumption.  Because while you’re trying to dream up a wow factor, one of your customers is about to leave you because you didn’t get back to them as quickly as she expected…..or because your web site is clunky…..or because one of your employees acted like the customer was an interruption…..or because the customer feels that the value you deliver doesn’t justify the price that you charge.

People fly Southwest Airlines because of  1) Value  2) Reliability  3) Easy to do business with.   It’s not the singing flight attendants.  Singing flight attendants are nice.  I’m all for them.  No one loves a singing flight attendant more than me.  But guess what – if they stop singing I’ll still fly Southwest.  As long as Southwest delivers on 1) Value 2) Reliability, and are 3) Easy to do business with BETTER than their competition.

Singing flight attendants are the cherry on top of the cake.  First, make the best cake.

However…..if you aren’t willing to do what it takes to win on the basics, try sending cute Thanksgiving cards instead.  It’s easier, costs less…..and it won’t help.

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Joe Calloway

Joe Calloway

Joe Calloway is a performance coach and advisor who helps great companies get even better. Joe is the author of the new book, Be the Best at What Matters most, and four other ground-breaking business books including Becoming A Category of One: How Extraordinary Companies Transcend Commodity And Defy Comparison, which received rave reviews from The New York Times, Retailing Today, Publishers Weekly and many others.

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  1. Business, GOOD BUSINESS, is basics. Thank you for helping us remember that.

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