Fitness health is a crowded marketplace, and it may seem challenging or even impossible to create a distinct competitive advantage for your brand. But if you’re willing to look beyond the restrictive definition of branding, you can create an experience that will earn you return customers and increased sales.
Branding is an illusion, nothing more. It’s a marketing tool that companies use to appear different to consumers. To really stand out from the crowd of competitors in a meaningful way, you need to offer your customer base tangible benefits that they may not find elsewhere.
To make a difference to a stagnant bottom line, a savvy business owner will explore their company’s commitment to the five basic types of competitive advantages – pricing, services, products, customer service and distribution.
My favorite of these five is customer service because it requires less money and takes less time to implement. If you want to see big differences quickly, focus on customer service when looking for angles that may lead to a valuable competitive edge.
Don’t be guilty of crimes against your customers
Every industry commits certain crimes against its customers. Cellular companies used to mandate two-year contracts to lock in their customers and charged exorbitant fees for data overages. But then T-Mobile offered no-contract cell phone service and the industry was overturned by this one small act in favor of the customers. Any cell phone provider who embraced unlimited data in this era also had a powerful competitive advantage.
Cable companies as well were constant offenders against their own customers by charging excessive installation fees and subjecting people to frustrating schedules. Many online retailers had restrictive return policies, making it less-than-easy to ship something back if you didn’t like it. Zappos made a decisive effort to please their customers when they began offering free return shipping, earning them many customers’ loyalty in the process.
The fitness and wellness industry commits these types of sins against their customers, too. Two decades ago, 24-hour gyms were not de rigueur, but pressure from customers and a keen sense of what their customers wanted led many gyms to open their doors all day and night for added convenience.
Additionally, gyms didn’t always live up to their customers’ standards when it came to cleanliness. Many gyms were dark, dank and stinky, but a firm grasp of what their customer base wanted pushed many gyms to adopt more stringent standards when it came to how their gyms looked and smelled. Today, dedicated customer bases accept pristine gyms with 24-hour service as par for the course.
Five steps to gain customer loyalty
If you’re looking for that one thing that will elevate your company and earn you unparalleled fealty from your customer base, try following these five steps:
1. Align internal machinations
Get together with your salespeople and customer service team and create a list of common grievances that frustrate your customers. It can include any type of issue, big or small, such as policies, contract issues or delivery challenges that leave your customers feeling displeased with your business. It can be anything like a return policy, hold times, shipping guarantees or scheduling availability.
2. Validate with your market
Conduct a survey of your top customers. Call them up and ask them directly about how your company can do better. (You may want to offer them a special incentive for participating in your poll). Explain that you’ve amassed a list of common problems and ask how they feel about each separate issue. Once you’ve gotten enough data, look for common themes or what they call in business-design thinking “UDEs” – the undesirable effect of buying from certain companies. Essentially, you’re looking to confirm what you’re doing that consistently irritates your customers.
3. Create a different, superior experience
We know that people would prefer to buy a memorable experience than a product. To convince a broad swath of the population that you can offer them an attentive customer service experience, you have to make sure you are actually offering a different (and better) experience from your competitors.
Once you know what infuriates your customers the most, it should be your team’s aim to brainstorm solutions for a more favorable customer experience, including major operational or policy changes. Remember – you’re on a mission to create a real competitive advantage, not just a tagline.
4. Test your market
Once you’ve implemented some new changes, reach out to the customers who took your poll and ask them to assess your new stratagems, possibly with more incentive for participation. If you’ve tapped out your customers’ generosity, you can always test these changes by rolling out a mini version to your own team members to get their feedback.
5. Roll it out
You’ll know if you have a winning value proposition! Once you do and you see how you’re now delighting customers, roll it out. In order to complete a successful roll-out of new policies or other changes, your whole company has to know what’s different about how you deliver your product or service. If you’re a banking institution and have committed to ceasing overdraft charges as a way to appease customers, then every employee down to the tellers has to know about it. If you’re now going to offer free undercoating with every car sale, then a prominent add-on transparency clause should be made clear to everyone working in your lot, all the way down the receptionists who take calls and schedule appointments.
Make your changes, then reposition your marketing
Finally, now is the time to reposition your marketing! Now you need to become known for this new angle on your service and experience. You want to be known for being different. Offers, messaging, taglines, creative can all get the story out.
The more deeply ingrained the policy or operational procedure is in your industry, the more press and attention you will get for upending the practice with the primary goal of showing your customers that you can serve them better than a competitor.
The most advantageous competitive edge you can provide is the one that keeps your customers front and center. Any policy or operational change that shows people you have their best interests in mind will make them pick your service or product over others and may create customers for life.