The Ultimate Competitive Advantage

By Scott Westerman
In three decades as a telecom guy, I’ve enjoyed both technological and price advantages… and disadvantages. I’ve learned the most about customer loyalty in the situations where we’ve had intense competitors, some of whom appeared at the time to have the better value proposition. I always found it possible to win if we remembered one thing:

It always comes back to customer service.

Here’s a great example. At one point several years ago, I had responsibility for a rural cable system that had been bypassed for the upgrades that would have kept it line line with the plethora of channels offered at the time by the satellite guys. Even though the competition offered more stuff at an arguably lower price, this little team seemed to have an iron lock on the market.

All you had to do was to visit the local system office to see why. About 80% of the customers paid their bill in person, just so that they could say hello to the women who worked behind the counter. Although we had a toll free phone number to a well equipped call center, the ladies routinely gave out the local office number and the customers had the technicians’ cell info taped to refrigerators with post-it notes. Our employees were scout masters, PTA officers and school board members. They weren’t afraid to wear their cable sweatshirts to the grocery store and would happily take a bill payment in the ice cream isle. When there were questions, customers would say, “I have to call Bonnie at the cable company.” The relationship was personal.

When I asked one of our 20-year-plus front counter people why so few people went to satellite she put the secret into a single sentence:

It’s always harder to say goodbye to a friend than it is to say it to a company.

I tell that story to every new employee orientation class that comes through our doors these days and recommend that they read Bob Greenleaf’s terrific monograph, “The Servant As Leader”, to really understand what business is all about.

Like any habit, service excellence is something you don’t always get right, but if you practice it with a passion, the rest of the numbers usually take care of themselves.