Here’s how to create a sustainable competitive advantage

Article originally published in the American City Business Journals on August 22, 2016

Much has been written about how a business create s a sustainable competitive advantage : It’s done through differentiation.

And providing a great customer experience is an important way to differentiate your company from its competitors.

You may question how providing a great customer experience would make a competitive advantage sustainable. If your competitors stepped up their game and also provided a great customer experience, wouldn’t that negate your competitive advantage?

The fact is that many companies don’t provide a great customer experience. Their CEOs don’t recognize the competitive benefits of doing so. A company may state that this is its goal, but it may only be lip-service.

In the past, I have written articles about large corporations that have provided a great customer experience and those that have not. I want to share with you an experience a friend recently had with a small family-owned company that responded immediately to her problem.

She called me about a broken skylight that was raining shards of glass all over her kitchen. Heavy rain was expected that evening, and she was in near panic because she didn’t know who to contact to temporarily cover the skylight opening.

I immediately thought of Chuck Goss, the president of Cooper Roofing Inc., the company that replaced the roof of my home four years ago. His crew did a terrific job installing a new roof, so I called Goss and asked if he could assist my friend.

Within an hour Goss had one of his crews go to her home, clean up the glass shards in her kitchen and place a temporary plywood cap on the skylight before it started to rain. This is what providing a great customer experience looks like.

My friend was delighted by how quickly and professionally Cooper Roofing responded to her problem. Now, don’t you think that she will be sing ing the praises of Chuck Goss and his company, Cooper Roofing, to all of her friends?

Goss has grown Cooper Roofing into a major provider of new roofing and roof repair services in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. by providing a great customer experience to both residential and commercial accounts. Quoting Goss, “It’s not hard to build a great reputation when you focus on the needs of the customer.” This is his mindset, and that of his employees.

I have had similar experiences with the contractors I use at my primary and vacation homes. I don’t hire contractors unless they are recommended by a friend who received a great customer experience from them. If they provide us with a great customer experience, my wife and I refer them to our friends, who in turn refer them to their friends. What a great way to build a business — through satisfied customers.

Whenever you are unsure of what a great customer experience looks like, put yourself in the place of the customer. How would you like to be treated?

To build a sustainable advantage, provide a great customer experience, one customer at a time, and make this part of the DNA of your company’s culture. This is an important path to growth for your company.

Stan Silverman is the former president and CEO of PQ Corp. He also is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and is vice chairman of the board of trustees of Drexel University. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School.

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