Last week, I attended the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas for the first time. I was there supporting Nuance’s presence at the show, mostly talking about virtual assistants for our connected world but also discussing how Nuance’s technologies and solutions are permeating nearly every aspect of our connected lives. While I spent most of my time at CES meeting with customers, analysts, and the press, I was able to find some time to make my way over to the show floor. Among the shock and awe that is CES (especially for a first-timer), I learned an unexpected lesson about how critical customer service has become as a competitive differentiator.
CES 2015 was spread across three different venues – Tech East, Tech West, and C Space – along with a number of private hotel suites. My first stop on the show floor was the Sands Expo in Tech West. As I entered the exhibition area, I was immediately immersed in new fitness technology (which was great since I’ve gotten more and more into personal fitness over the last few years). My colleague Dr. Nick van Terheyden often talks about the emerging trend of the “quantified self” and all of the health and fitness devices on display (my favorite being the Skulpt Aim) made it abundantly clear that Dr. Nick’s prediction will surely come true. The more and more I explored the show floor, however, my sense of excitement quickly turned into a feeling of being overwhelmed. This feeling reached its climax as I entered the smart watch area – which was literally the size of a football field! As I looked at one new watch after another, a persistent question kept running through my mind – “How can any company possibly rise above the noise amid all of these options? Surely many – or most – of these products will fail but what will determine the winners and losers?” In the case of smart watches, my colleague Tanya Kraljic provides at least part of the essential formula for success.
But this experience got me thinking more broadly. Is the challenge facing all of these smart watch companies that different from the challenge facing banks, telcos, or retailers? With so many options available to consumers, how do these companies rise above the noise to gain and retain customers in highly competitive markets? Product differentiation is one tempting answer. Brian Whetten over at Huffington Post puts it well, though, when he says “in today’s globalized world, products are becoming commodities. Brands are becoming hollow. And competitors are always just one mouse click away. But customer service is here to stay. Customer service is one of the last frontiers of sustainable competitive advantage.” Research by the Institute of Customer Service found that nearly three-quarters of business leaders singled out customer service as a key loyalty driver, ranking it above product, brand reputation and effective sales and marketing. This was the unexpected lesson I learned from CES about how critical customer service has become as a competitive differentiator.
For more on how companies can use self-service to influence consumers, check out the webinar below.