High above “the City”

You Can’t Touch This, Intangibles Make a Difference

A nod to my fellow Oaklander, Mr. Burrell. The world of risk management and how it impacts most any industry can be organized, cataloged or segmented in an easy to understand way. A sector of the risk management field that sometimes is neglected unintentionally by an organization is the value of intangibles. It applies just as the definition in a dictionary, something that cannot be held or has a physical form. An intangible can apply internally or externally to an organization. The topic in this instance relates to external, customer facing.

Often when sharing analysis with an executive team, or decision maker a rebuff we hear is “profit margin”. Almighty profit margin. The usual response we ask is, “how did you determine what your profit margin is?” The answer is typically, “it’s the industry standard”. Fair enough. A follow up question might be, “OK, if the industry decided to reduce the profit margin by 5% would you follow along?” Responses to this question varies. Some cases the response is anger. The point is not to upset the business owner, it is designed to encourage creativity for the organization to challenge a so called, “status quo” in their industry. Moving along the value proposition of intangibles, a company may have a high-quality product or service and assess a higher price point, absolutely reasonable. Stick with me, this is going somewhere relevant. We will cover several emphasis points (in future articles) where standards of operations can be challenged with the intent to better the customer experience. We don’t advocate to “give it away” by any means.

Talking through the ways we interact with our customers is equally important. A prospective buyer is always a potential repeat buyer. We want that to be the result more often than not. There are some very effective marketing programs one can implement, discounts, customer appreciation days, giveaways, referral programs and so on. A method that is highly effective can use any of the marketing programs noted however; there is one missing ingredient, the experience. A customer may frequent a business for a high-quality product, convenience or competitive price. To make a lasting impression doesn’t take much. It may be as simple as a genuine greeting, opening a door, or helping a customer reach a product on the top shelf. Being attentive makes a difference. We as customers regularly without thinking about it, become advocates for brands by sharing our positive experience with friends and family. Some companies are known for their high prices (for example Bloomingdales or Tiffany), provide a customer experience. When shopping for a suit, sales associates are trained to ask questions beyond what size or color. He or she will ask what is the occasion? Have you considered a different garment material like cashmere? Perhaps the sales associate will share specific details about the construction or where the materials are sourced. That is a far more appealing experience, and we as buyers pay for it willingly.

Service based businesses equally share the value of a customer’s experience, possibly more so. Professional services, typically don’t have the luxury of distinguishing their “product” with a shiny package or eye-catching slogans emblazoned on a box. The interaction with the customer is the most glaring difference one may make to separate from the competition. An effective method to adopt customer experience best practices is to simply be mindful of how sales professionals interact with you, what you liked and didn’t like and most importantly think through why. What did the salesperson say, not say, the tone — genuine, or not. There are simple keys, visual and verbal we can notice and incorporate or avoid. The best thing about intangibles there are so many ways to creatively separate your business from the competition. So often the phrase, “you get what you pay for” applies directly to the experience, the intangibles, what a business cannot add as a line item on a balance sheet.

A prime example with a service focused business is education and follow through. An informed buyer is more confident and satisfied by their experience than a service company selling a “canned” training program or a going through a scripted sales process. By no means do we dispute the importance of scripts as a device for training new staff, we only point to the impact when a script is used as the only sales tactic. We as buyers of a service want a positive experience. Since we aren’t taking home a gizmo to treasure it is urgent service professionals act with distinction.

A service-based business (attorney, engineer, interior designer, etc) rely on winning clients by their knowledge, expertise and confidence in their skills. A buyer rarely will move beyond a consultation if the presentation is drab or lacking insightful content.

When an attorney (for example) shares some methods to resolve a dispute without bringing a lawsuit, a client is receiving not only an education on his legal quandary, he is learning why the attorney is worth hiring, her expertise.

Follow through is equally as important. A sure way to lose a prospect is to give a time line and not deliver. One may make an excuse or admit the timeline was a bit aggressive and salvage the prospect however; avoid letting it become a habit. People talk, word spreads.

Just because a client can’t touch, hold, see, ooh and ahh over a widget doesn’t mean your business is dependent on the product itself. A life changing product is not enough, we still must be aware of how we present it, tell its story, and relate it to our buyers. A product or service is only as successful as the people who present it.

More business stories and insights @ www.clarastellabc.com

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Josh Black

Josh Black

Human being, writer, traveler, music lover, California native IG: @realjoshblack