Working in a competitive, oversaturated industry is not easy. There are dozens of similar companies, each and every one fighting for the same customers.
If you are working in an industry like that, how do you survive?
Undercutting the competition on prices is not sustainable. Sooner or later the margins will become so small that you will start losing money.
You can start developing a new feature or improve what you already offer, but that takes a lot of time and resources.
However, there are some other ways you can grab the attention of potential customers. You can add value to your product with additional services.
What Is Added Value?
Added value is “something extra” that you give your customers alongside your standard services or products as a means to improve your offer.
It doesn’t necessarily have to revolve around your product. For example, really good customer service doesn’t affect the way your product works, but it is something you can market to gain more customers.
Let’s say there are two similar ecommerce clothes resellers. They use the same suppliers so their product range will be virtually the same.
Based on this information, you can’t really predict which business a customer will choose. It would probably depend on which website they reach first. However, if we add some value to one of the businesses – for example, instant customer service through phone or live chat – that business will start to stand out.
Any interaction a customer has with your business can be leveraged to improve the overall experience and encourage them to use your services or buy your products.
That’s the theory at least. In reality, one small change probably won’t sway customers to your site. But what would happen if you stacked on a few differences and made them more significant and harder to copy? The difference in your business, compared with others, would start to be more and more apparent for customers, leading to more business.
How to Add Value to Your Business
Even though our app – LiveChat – is pretty feature-rich, we faced these problems for years. Not entirely because the competition tends to copy each other, but also because customers often don’t take the time to compare different solutions. All chatting apps look the same in their eyes.
To deal with that, we had to make the difference more noticeable – something customers wouldn’t be able to ignore when checking out different live chat solutions. Here’s a couple of methods that worked for us.
1. Amazing Customer Service
Customer service undoubtedly has a huge impact on your sales. Even if your customer service is doing just OK, it will help you earn more. However, if you manage to turn it up to 11 (on a scale of 1 to 10), it can really set you apart from the competition.
One of the more popular success stories that shows how much value can be added through customer service is the story of Zappos.
Zappos operates in one of the most competitive (and somewhat bland) industries: online shoe reselling. However, that didn’t stop them from turning it upside down with stellar customer service.
We could list the amazing testimonials about the service all day, but it really comes down to always going beyond what’s expected and looking to delight customers.
Customers pick the company over and over because, with each purchase they make, they get a bit more of that amazing customer service to boot. In a sense, Zappos is not only selling shoes but also good customer service.
In the case of LiveChat, we wanted to distinguish our customer service from the customer service offered by other providers by adding 24/7/365 customer service coverage. You can come to our website at any time of the day or night and get a reply from one of our Support Heroes, no matter if it’s a normal weekday, a weekend, or New Year’s Eve. It’s a huge commitment that requires a considerable investment and organizational shift. That’s also what makes it really hard to copy.
What else can you do to sell good customer service?
First, you need to provide proper customer service training. You want to avoid what has become the norm now – agents who can’t do anything and just bounce cases among themselves until the customer gives up.
Think of how the biggest telecom providers offer customer service and what kinds of stories you hear about them. You want to offer something completely different.
Instead of constant switches, you need to focus on delivering a solution right away, in one touch. To do that, your agents must be able to do one of the following:
- Know the answer right away: This requires knowledge and experience from past cases. To do that, you need a knowledge base to store the helpful solutions, and you need to encourage agents to keep it up to date. Agents can use any downtime they have in between cases to read through existing articles or write new ones.
- Know where to find the answer: Since reading the whole knowledge base back to back will get harder and harder over time, it’s more useful to simply know where to find specific information. Agents don’t have to learn the knowledge base by heart. As long as they remember where a specific answer is located, they can access it within seconds and pass it on to the customer.
- Know who can help: Another good practice that leads to faster case resolution is knowing who’s responsible for different parts of the business. If an agent needs to transfer a case because they can’t solve it on their own, it should go directly to the person who can, and one transfer should be the limit here.
The second thing you need to do to improve your customer service is empower your agents. The more hoops they need to jump through while helping a customer, the fewer cases they will be able to quickly and/or successfully solve.
Agents shouldn’t have to go to the manager every time they need to give a customer a discount or grant them free shipping for some inconvenience.
This may sound like it would generate a lot of extra costs but, in the end, it will save you more than you spend.
If you do the math, the cost of losing a customer is much higher than the cost of forking over $10 for free shipping. You not only lose the current order but potentially any future business the customer would bring in after receiving amazing customer service.
Finally, the way customers communicate with your business is also a major factor affecting customer experience. Customers want to have options. They don’t like to be gated into a single communication channel. Running all communication with customers in the same exact way may be convenient for you but it’s definitely not convenient for customers.
For example, at LiveChat, we get some calls from customers. While we mainly use chat for customer service (because in the time it takes to answer a single 5-10 minute call, an agent can handle 4-5 chat conversations), we still want to provide help over the phone. Some customers simply want to get in touch via phone, and that is all the reason we need to provide that option.
The same goes for email, tickets, and social media. Different customers will prefer different channels, and if you want to provide good customer service, you need to take this into consideration. You just need to be where your customers are.
All that said, the introduction of new channels should be gradual. Multi-channel customer service is great as long as the quality of support is high on each channel.
You can start with email, as it is the most “forgiving” channel. It has a lower learning curve since customers contacting you via email don’t expect instant responses.
Once you get used to answering emails, it’s time to kick it up a notch and go for live chat and social media customer service. Both of these channels require a lot faster response time (response time counted in minutes instead of hours).
Then, finally, you can go for the most demanding channel – phone. It’s very inefficient and requires an immediate response from your customer service team, but it can be used to deliver amazing customer service in the most pressing situations.
To sum up, creating an amazing customer service experience involves resolving cases in one touch, empowering agents so that they don’t have to constantly ask for permission to do something, and making sure customers can reach your customer service using their favorite channel.
What do you get in return? An impression that lasts and helps you bring the same customers to your website over and over again to make more purchases. That’s the kind of loyalty you can get from upgrading your customer service from good or OK to amazing.
2. Loyalty Programs
Speaking of loyalty, another method you can use to add value to your product is a loyalty program.
You basically set up a plan where customers get a certain number of points for each purchase they make. This can be tied to the amount of money they spend or to specific products. Customers can use these points to exchange them for prizes or special deals on different products.
For example, Macy’s is running a program where customers can earn points for making purchases using a special card. As an example, for 1000 points, they can get $10 to spend on Macy’s products.
How does this help? Let’s go back to the scenario with two similar companies, and let’s say one of them introduces a loyalty program.
The company with a loyalty program is more interesting in the eyes of customers. That’s because, with each purchase, there’s more and more reason to use the same company again. This can even keep a customer from wanting to leave (because they won’t want to lose the points they’ve accumulated).
Even though customers don’t get anything until they gather a certain number of points (for example, at least 200 points in the Macy’s program), they will see value in what they’ve already accumulated. Some customers will see that value even if they never redeem the points!
In the end, you get an inexpensive way to keep your current customers close to your business and encourage them to spend more on your products to net a few additional points.
Pro Tip: Try not to be too stingy with your rewards program. Remember, everyone has seen the $1 for 1 point rewards program, where after 100 points you get $5 off. Not too exciting right? Since repeat orders are really the driving force behind any business, try experimenting with significantly larger rewards. It can be a key differentiating factor between you and your competitors, and can drive repeat business off the charts.
3. Working with Partners and Affiliates
Partner/Affiliate marketing is one of the ways you can expand the reach of your business. You find people who are willing to sell your product for a commission (usually around 10-20 percent), which allows you to sell to a bigger group of customers.
What does this have to do with adding value?
Running a partner program is a bit like creating your very own micro-market – one where there is only one product; and if someone wants to win new sales, they simply cannot go without adding value to the offer.
Your affiliates are in a sense competing against you and other affiliates. If they don’t come up with a way to add value to the product, they won’t be able to make much. This kind of environment stimulates a lot of great ideas, which is what you are looking for.
Your partners and affiliates can offer all manner of additional services bundled with your product. In the case of LiveChat, we have partners who offer web design and customer service training opportunities for their customers. This is something that happens completely without our involvement but still adds some extra value to the offer.
For example, one such business, OrthoChats, offers not only the core LiveChat product but also customer service outsourcing. What’s more, OrthoChats specializes in providing customer service for dentist offices. This allows them to beat competitors offering only generic support. They even provide chat transcripts with patients on their website to prove that they know their stuff!
Most of the time, you wouldn’t be able to offer the same kind of extra services that partners and affiliates provide. It’s simply a matter of scale. It’s easy for an affiliate who has 10 customers. It’s a lot more challenging for a business that has 10,000 customers.
At the small cost of the commission, you provide your customers with more reasons to use your product/services while grabbing a larger portion of the market for yourself.
Strong Brand Values Are the Best Kind of Added Value
Improving different aspects of your service in order to provide added value to your customers is fine as long as you keep doing it. Although you will see some improvement after each change, that’s nowhere near the level of customer satisfaction you can achieve by orienting your entire company toward added value.
That’s right. Literally every aspect of your business can serve as a way to bring additional value to potential and existing customers. You can achieve that kind of effect by promoting strong company values oriented to customer satisfaction.
Going back to the Zappos example, the company works according to very specific company values. Each and every action they take as a company, and as individuals working for that company, has something to do with these 10 core values:
- Deliver WOW Through Service
- Embrace and Drive Change
- Create Fun and a Little Weirdness
- Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
- Pursue Growth and Learning
- Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication
- Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
- Do More with Less
- Be Passionate and Determined
- Be Humble
A lot of these values have something to do with customer service. However, they also go way beyond service and talk about building a family-like team that wants to grow, learn, and prosper.
If you’re skeptical about listing company values like this, I don’t blame you. We’ve all seen company pages with a list of values that rarely find their way into the business itself. The problem is that many companies like to talk about their values, even boast about them, but few decide to live by them.
If you want your company values to really show and add value to your business, you not only have to list or talk about them but also make sure your employees share the same values. You can go as far as hiring for specific character traits that align well with the values.
It’s very important that people working with you share the same values. The values can’t be seen as a burden or yet another hoop people need to jump through. People not only have to know what the values in your company are but also believe in them. This may sound a bit cult-like and rightly so! You want to start your little cult of customer excellence. You want to recruit loyal followers who will do everything in their power to make the brand values (as well as the promises they make) come true.
It’s definitely a difficult task. Setting up a loyalty or affiliate program is only a tactic. Introducing, working, and living by strong company values happens on a strategic level. You can’t do it overnight. It will be gradual, and it will require a lot of changes. However, if you take the time to go through the process, you will be able to join the likes of Zappos and Amazon – companies that take simple ideas like amazing service and orientate their whole company philosophy around them.
What do you get in return? You get employees who don’t consider their jobs a burden and truly want to help customers and make them happy. You add value to every aspect of your product and make it very hard for your competition to beat your offer.
Beating Tough Competition with Added Value
If you want to dominate a specific niche or market, you need to do more than just provide a good product. There will be 10 other companies that can do that. By going beyond product and adding value to your service, you essentially start dictating the rules of the game.
Your competition will have to adapt. Too bad for them because things like good customer service and the loyalty of customers are not easy to replicate.
Are you already adding value to your product? Feel free to share your experience in the comments section!
About the Author
Jacob Firuta is a Content Manager at LiveChat, provider of the best live chat software for online businesses. He’s responsible for preparing articles, reports, and other materials that help companies create better customer service. You can reach him through his Twitter here.
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