Situation: A company has remote employees who are on a wide variety of schedules. Retaining great employees is a challenge, and with this consistent service due to turn-over. How do they improve the relationships that they have with remote employees? How do you assure consistent reliable service?
Advice from the CEOs:
Guarantee employee income for a period after they lose a client and as you seek another assignment for them. Limit your exposure by setting hurdles – an employee must have served the company for X time to qualify for this benefit.
Create your own “down time” bank. Say you pay an employee $10. Give them $9 and put $1 into a bank so that you can pay them once they lose their current client. The fact that their bank is limited to the amount of these contributions creates an incentive not to draw down the bank.
Offer a paid day off per month of service.
How do you shift your business from commodity to specialty, as a value add business?
What Peace of Mind features could you provide to your clients to create added value and stickiness? For example, can you provide a portal into your system so that clients can access information on the services that you’ve provided, or enhance their ability to communicate with their own clients? What about access to time schedules, account notes, etc.
Look for a solution that will shift the industry.
Look at menu driven packaging and pricing options. Examples include discount pricing for purchase volume commitments or iPads for a significant level of investment.
Interview with Dirk Boecker, President, Toto Consulting
Situation: Through the technology revolution in medical diagnostics, products in some markets have become commoditized. For example, a proliferation of low cost blood glucose monitoring products has driven down price while increasing incidence and prevalence of diabetes has driven up demand. How do you create new value in a commodity market?
Taking a broader view of the market is key. Analyze the entire customer experience, not just your segment. Assess markets and industries surrounding your primary offering and look for un-served interfaces and gaps.
Where you find opportunity, elevate your offering to the next level by integrating your product as component. Create a compelling advantage but avoid unnecessary adaptation of your existing product or service.
Blood glucose monitoring is used to support insulin and diet adjustment in diabetics, a disease which is accompanied by a number of complications and complex to manage. Can your monitoring technology become part of a broader service offering, or even part of a personalized solution? Can you move higher up in the value chain?
Begin your transformation at the first signs of commoditization. Being first brings a huge advantage.
Once you identify an unmet need, consider working with related industry groups to create new standards addressing these gaps. Implementing the resulting standards will give you a new competitive advantage against your competitors.
Find other applications for your product or service. Consider new applications for the components used in your current offering. Find new customers outside of your historic customer base. Consider alliances with other companies experienced with the new opportunities you find.
Within your own organization begin a process that routinely analyzes the customer experience and general needs beyond your current offering. Working with an outside consultant can help by adding a new perspective.
Situation: A key customer just asked for a price reduction. Our raw materials costs have increased and eroded our margins. What is the best way to respond?
Advice from the CEOs:
Are you selling a commodity or a unique and differentiated product?
Commodities rarely command a premium above market unless you can bundle with differentiated delivery.
Unique or differentiated products justify a premium because the customer has only two choices: purchase at your price or try to develop an alternate source.
The customer may have valid reasons to request a lower price.
Counter with a combination lower price and lower level product to retain your margins.
If the sale involves service, assign less expensive resources in return for a lower price to preserve margins.
Define the trade-off to the customer so that it becomes their decision, not yours.
Adjust your terminology. Use “run rate” vs. “price,” and speak of balancing resources assigned. Avoid cheapening or commoditizing your offering to meet the customer’s price demand.
Don’t assume that there is such a thing as a “fair price” or “fair margin.” The price is whatever the customer is willing to pay for your offering. The price increases the more unique it is, and the more critical to the customer’s needs.
Do NOT share your cost and margin information – as company policy.
Consider combinations of pricing, terms and delivery that keep you whole while offering the customer different price points.
Situation: The Company has had success with a few large clients but wants to expand their customer base for long-term growth. How do they differentiate their products in what is perceived as a commodity market?
Advice of the CEOs:
One company created differentiation by getting to know everyone in the business – building long term relationships, based on reputation and trust.
They spent time up front understanding the needs of customers that they wanted to develop.
As opportunities arose, they built relationships and asked questions to clearly define client needs.
While it takes time and patience, the objective is to be able to say “We know your business” – with credibility.
Study the business, sector, and customers that you wish to serve.
Leverage the success that you have had with large customers. Talk about how you helped subunits within your large customers. This makes a big customer seem more like a collection of small customers similar to your prospects and makes your experience relevant.
Let prospective customers know, when appropriate to the situation, that you are hungry and will go the extra mile for their business. Simply out-serve your competition.
Learn who currently serves your prospective clientele. Study these competitors, their strengths and weaknesses. Talk to their customers – learn what they love about competitors’ service, and what they would like to see changed. Find the holes in what they provide and fill these holes with a better offer.
Look for and encourage repeat business and references to new business.