We are all experiencing noise – whether it is copious amounts of email, advertising, data, surveys and even human experiences. But the critical question is: how are you, members of the C-Suite, enabling distinction in your organization – from top to bottom to create real customer experiences – that result in customers and prospects choosing your business versus your competitors? This is just one of the difficult questions Scott McKain challenges the C-Suite to consider for 2015. On behalf of Invest NB, I had a thought-provoking conversation with Scott on what predictions and challenges he has for next year. Let’s dig in!

MacLean: We understand that you are working on a new book that really pushes the envelope on the customer experience. What can you tell us about it?

Scott McKain
Scott McKain

McKain: I am working on a new book and while we don’t have an official title yet, it focuses on the belief that the Information Age is actually dead. It is no longer about information, we all have it. We all have access to it. The real question or challenge is what are we doing with all of this information? What insights are we getting from the information and how are businesses leveraging this information to make them distinct from their competitors? What are they doing to train their employees in this new world to deliver the ultimate in customer service?

I would go as far to say that we stop training people and we focus instead on educating people. By definition, training is about doing a repetitive task over and over and doing it the same way each time. Education however, is really about insight, wisdom and discretion and all of the things needed to deliver what today’s customers want and need.

I am really quite excited about this and what it can do to help companies become distinct.

MacLean: Based on your experience and research, what do people, and even organizations, need to become truly distinctive?

McKain: Over the course of working with, and studying, truly distinctive individuals and organizations, it really comes down to four specific actions that they do better than their competitors:

1. Clarity

Truly distinctive professionals are very clear in who they are and what their advantages are in the marketplace. Clarity is critically important and it is something that distinctively sets successful people and organizations apart from those who are not.

On the other hand, research shows that 70 percent of frontline employees can’t explain why their company and/or products are better or more distinct from the competition. If your own people can’t differentiate what they do from the competitors, there is a serious issue. How then can you expect your customer to understand why your products/services are better – more distinct?

2. Creativity

People often confuse reinvention with creativity. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to be creative. For example, the Ford I get when I rent from Avis is the same Ford I get when I rent from Hertz. There is zero product differentiation. Creativity and product differentiation comes into play when you have a competitor such as Enterprise Rent-A-Car, add customer pick-up as part of the service offering. Suddenly Enterprise created distinction that placed it above its competitors.

Creativity then is really about finding a unique and better way to do what you do.

This is not reserved for businesses. Individuals can do this as well. I often think of a salesperson who would come into my parents’ grocery store. He always wore a flower in his lapel. He created distinction by doing this. My parents looked at him differently. They saw him as someone who was classy and a gentleman. It was his hook. He was unique.

It really is all about being distinct and having people remember you for the right reason. You never want to be distinct in the wrong way.

3. Communication

Think about people who are good communicators. Distinct professionals always communicate with a narrative and story rather than just facts and figures. They have a compelling story to share.

The bulk of customers today grew up in an environment of storytelling. For example, North Americans grew up watching and learning from Sesame Street. We learned from the characters. Prior to our generation, learning was more about discipline and repetition.

Distinct professionals know how to leverage a story to share a message and to help move people forward. It just resonates more with people!

4. Experience-Focused

More often than not, businesses are focused more on the service component of what they do. They don’t think about what the actual experience is. They should be asking themselves, on a continuous basis, what does it feel like to do business with us?

Service is about what we do quickly, efficiently and with a smile. However, to take things to the next level – to be distinct from your competitors – you need to understand how it feels.

All too often we overlook emotion in business and I believe that to be a problem. Loyalty is created through emotion. If I don’t have a good feeling towards your business, why would I be loyal?

To put this in perspective, I worked with a restaurant that wanted to increase the speed of its drive-thru. As this happened, they saw something interesting occur. At each restaurant, the winner of the speed initiative was consistently selling less than he or she had previously. In each case, the person no longer asked how the customer was or even said thank you. Often times the the wrong food was given out. The focus was on speed. Overall, they realized that their business volume was declining.

In this case, had they asked earlier in the process what it must feel like to get a bag thrust at you with no communication, no thank-you, and possibly the wrong food in the bag, they might have been able to stop the revenue bleed earlier.

Management and the C-Suite in particular, have to ask: what do we care about? What experience do we want our customers to have? And then, they have to create that emotional commitment and communicate it.

As a customer I don’t want to have to spend more time than necessary completing a transaction, but if there is a compelling reason or experience to do so, that is different. So, it is critical to realize that it is not just speed that is important. It is speed AND accuracy. It is speed AND friendliness. I would rather wait a few minutes to have the right order right versus having a bag thrown at me through the window and have the order wrong. This is not a compelling customer experience.

MacLean: What do you anticipate the challenges and opportunities for the C-Suite to be in 2015?

McKain: I see three areas that are both challenges and opportunities!

1. Education

As a member of the C-Suite I would be thinking about how do I educate the entire organization so that the frontline staff is getting the message of who we are, why we are distinct and how to deliver that message to our customers and prospects.

We know from research that there is a huge disconnect. If 70 percent of our frontline staff can’t inform people of what value our product/service brings and why we are distinct, how can we expect our customers and prospects to know! We also know that every member of the C-Suite can describe exactly what makes them better than the competition. We need to remove that disconnection.

2. Show Rooming and Mobile

When you think about the retail environment, there is a whole new challenge when it comes to show rooming and the mobile opportunities. The added challenge for business now is to create an experience that is so compelling that it persuades our customers to do business with us versus shopping from their mobile phones.

Business can’t just ignore mobile, but rather they need to determine the right way for their customers to blend the two and create a real and distinct customer experience. Using creativity, there are ways to do this.

3. Creating and Maintaining Distinction

While not new to 2015, creating and maintaining distinction is always a challenge and an opportunity. With global options only a click away, it is now critical to businesses to determine and execute upon their distinction – regardless of where their competitors are located.

In the C-Suite we tend to talk about how great we are and what our strengths are. That is fine, but customers don’t buy on the basis of strengths. They buy on the basis of differences and this is why I believe the C-Suite needs to have focus on being distinct and owning that distinction.

For example, when you think about pizza and it being delivered within 30 minutes, you likely think of Dominos, despite the fact that nearly all pizza places offer this now. They were the first to do this and they really put their flag in the ground around it. This also gets back to clarity. They made this a priority for all restaurants and everyone understood the goal.

I stress on this point because often times the C-Suite is disconnected from the frontline. They often have many messages that they are also trying to convey throughout the business. This becomes overwhelming and confusing not just to the internal customer – the employee, but also to the external customers.

You can’t be all things to all people. Focus on who your customer is and what makes you distinct. Really successful people and companies are distinct. They become known as specialists and/or authorities in their respective fields.

MacLean: If you could only give one piece of advice to the C-Suite for 2015, what would that be?

McKain: Create distinction! Focus on why a customer or prospect would choose “us”. Great is not good enough to grow your business. You need to be distinctive!

Note: This a version of this post previously appeared on the Invest NB Blog.