PICTURE this in your shop front: A customer service employee easily makes small talk with a prospective buyer, keen to uncover her needs. Showing empathy, your employee patiently listens to the customer’s objections and concerns while nodding to show her understanding.

Fifteen minutes later, the smiling customer checks out at the cashier with a large purchase of products. She also cheerfully asks to be placed on the mailing list for future promotions.

That customer experience is crucial for consumer brands today. How are you claiming your share of the customer’s pocket? What else can you do to create defensive differences from the competition? What is the opportunity that lies in the retail or consumer sector today?

Today’s retail landscape is an arena comprising long-time players challenged by daring, young upstarts, some bricks-and-mortar but others that operate on a lean baseline cost to fight for the customer’s share of the wallet. And the customer is spoilt for choice.

So how can your business thrive amid the mighty torrent of intense competition in the retail and consumer industry? How do you maintain your competitive edge against the avalanche of new players in the marketplace? Where is the value proposition when customers are swamped with a plethora of similar offerings?

Some would say that companies must look inwards to reinforce their strengths while others would opt for a brand revitalisation initiative. Yet others believe that more staff training is in order for employees to master their company’s product features and benefits effortlessly.

 

Moving from good to great

But if you are already doing all of the above, what can your business do to move from good to great?

It is worth noting that a Gallup survey revealed that “customers who are fully engaged represent an average 23 per cent premium in terms of share of wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth over the average customer”.

In the recent Budget 2014 debates, Singapore’s ministers advocated the need for higher productivity through job mastery, especially in sectors such as the retail sector, one of the sectors that is pulling down Singapore’s average productivity level.

From our work with companies, we have seen how they can increase productivity, gain sustainable competitive advantage and build a mindset of job mastery through service excellence and customer engagement.

Customer engagement is a vital business strategy the entire organisation should adopt because this is a compelling and defensive key to sustainable competitive advantage.

Why focus on engagement? We have observed that companies stand to gain sustainable competitive advantage through premium pricing, continued sales, customers’ brand loyalty, customer insights and feedback on products and services. Engagement allows organisations to unearth customers’ needs and leverage insights to propel ideas for improvement. How is this so?

In the classic 1995 management bestseller, The Discipline Of Market Leaders by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema, one of the keys to sustainable differentiation that creates enduring competitive stamina was what they termed “customer intimacy”.

This is the degree to which the customer is emotionally connected to your organisation, your brand and your products.

 

Article by Regina Chua, managing partner and founder of Discipline Dynamics, a customer engagement strategist. She has more than 25 years of corporate and consultancy experience.