The "Other" Competition (the real one)

When asked the simple question “Who is your competition?”, an astonishingly high number of business owners will respond with the “obviously right, WRONG answer”. If you’re a cabinet shop, I’d expect to hear you respond with the names of several local cabinet shops offering similar products and services. While technically that answer is right, it’s a limited view. The reality is, your company is competing with any company where the customer walks away with an experience… so, every company.

As an industry, we compete against Apple, Uber, DoorDash, Amazon, etc. We may not compete at the product level, but we compete on the experience dimension. By now, these tech companies’ contributions to our lives are almost an entitlement we’ve all come to rely on.

I can reach in my pocket, push a button, and hail a “cab” two streets over. On the way to my destination, I can compare hundreds of restaurants from every category. I choose a menu, and in seconds place an order that will meet me at my destination. While traveling, I can order groceries and send a customer a care package in seconds. I don’t have to pull out my card, search for cash, give directions, carry a grocery bag, talk to anyone, or any of the things I would have had to do even just a few years ago. This is just one example of the new customer experience we’re beginning to expect.

Because of experiences like those, my experience at the post office or at the gas pump seems worse than it used to be. It’s not that the gas pump has gotten slower, or that the post office has changed, it’s that the experience in other areas of my life have widened that customer experience gap. Whether the experience at the post office has gotten worse or not, it’s still the post office’s problem. The post office is competing with Apple.

Your business is competing with Apple. How does a person feel shopping for a new Iphone versus buying a new kitchen from you? How does a person ordering groceries on their phone feel throughout the experience versus placing a molding order with you? How much more stress is involved getting a drawer box bid with your company than ordering takeout?

Those customer experience gaps are widening for most of our industry, and fast. It means we’re not just competing with technology companies that have given us pampered versions of customer experiences. The wider the gap gets, the more consumers will look for alternatives. The more comfortable our society becomes doing business with Amazon, the more likely they are to substitute what they really want for something that is almost what they want, yet convenient. In other words, consumers will choose a convenient second choice over a cumbersome first choice.

Consider this example. A year from now a potential customer will have some money budgeted for a new kitchen. They will go into the project with the aforementioned expectations and with the plan of executing a fully custom remodel. After some research the customer will realize they have to choose between agonizing and stressing through a months long kitchen redesign with your company (who failed to see this coming and didn’t make any changes), or they can just order some new hardware, paint, and accessories in a beautiful kit with from an upstart who attached a great customer experience.

The competition will become a company you don’t normally compete against selling products you normally don’t lose business to because they understand psychology. As manufacturing techniques and machinery advance, it becomes easier and easier to produce an acceptable product. There will come a day when the product will be expected to be great just to play the game, and the customer experience will rule all.

So, think of times you’ve had a great customer experience, one you talked about later. How can you implement a version of that in your business? What great services out there are your customers beginning to compare you to? How can you borrow those techniques? What can you do today to make the whole customer experience more in line with the new economy? If you’ll stop thinking about your competition as the shop down the street, you’ll never have to worry about the shop down the street again!

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