Focusing on product choice or social networks is less important

Anyone in business needs to differentiate themselves from the competition. So it is inevitable that businesses try to produce services or products that have an “edge” that set them apart. It means that companies spend months working out just what they need to do to be different. Apple, for instance, has spent the past year or two working on the iPhone 6 and its new smartwatch, just to make it seem different. Even though Apple is hugely successful, this focus on difference is not working. After all, the smartphone market is dominated by Android phones which now sell twice as many times as iPhones. Once the dominant force in the smartphone market, iPhones are now fading.

One of the crucial differences is availability. The iPhone is not available in every phone shop, whereas you can get a wide selection of Android devices. Furthermore if you want support for you iPhone, your local phone shop will send you off to the Apple Store or to the Apple website. But no matter what kind of Android phone you have, you can get support from any phone shop, there and then with the convenience of immediacy.

New research shows it is this kind of availability that is more important to customers than the product itself. Furthermore, showing you are customer centric by increased availability is more important to customers than having an online community. Whilst many businesses are spending time developing new product ideas and features, or building social media empires, their customers just wished they could phone them.

The research is based on asking marketers what they believe to be the most important from their knowledge of their own customers. It shows us that companies know what is really important – being available to help customers, being present in the “here and now” and responding fast to queries. However, many companies are avoiding doing the very things they know to be important because these cost money – whereas they can build a social media campaign and think they are doing something for customers at a relatively low cost.

The issue is this. Social media activity or providing new and innovative features are important for any business; but they are not as important to showing your customers you care about them as making sure you are available for them. That’s why “live chat” facilities on websites really help, as does having a prominent phone number and being able to answer that phone 24 hours a day.

One of the problems of the Internet is that it gives an illusion of closeness to customers, but how close really are you? If you spend all your time creating social media content and not actually speaking to customers and being available on their terms, you are not really as close as you think.