One of your company’s best market differentiation opportunities is in establishing performance standards, and managing customer expectations to align with them.  We’ll start with an obvious example – Disney. When you visit a Disney property, you expect magic. You expect scrupulously clean streets and sidewalks, and workers who look freshly scrubbed and wholesome. Your expectations are that the details have been attended to, from the bedding plants to the energetic parades and bands, all the way to the shapes of the cookies in the bakeries and the patterns in the hotel linens. You expect to see the Disney characters large as life, willing to hang out and have their photos taken with you and your kids.

Moreover, as a result of all of the aforementioned, you expect to pay a tidy sum for the privilege of spending a day or a week in the World, the Land, or the Cruise. And you may be happy to do so because of the uniqueness of the Disney experience.

When you communicate your performance standards to the outside world you set the yardstick against which your customers can judge you. When you advertise that you respond to inquiries within 24 hours, you create a feeling of security with the customer by virtue of your commitment. You also create the opportunity for your team to come through as promised. When you commit to something and then follow through, you build psychic capital with that client that leads to repeat purchases and referrals. When your commitments are bigger and better than your competition, you attract clients who can discern your positive difference in the market, regardless of price. Fair warning, though: when you commit and then don’t follow through, well, you’re making a withdrawal from your emotional bank account with that client. They may not forgive you. It’s worse to promise and then not follow through than it is never to have promised.

  1. Who are your best customers, and what do they have in common with one another?
  2. What do your customers value?
  3. Why do they buy from you? Do they choose between you and not buying at all, or do they choose you over a competitor?
  4. What are their expectations, and how consistently well are you fulfilling them?
  5. What are your performance standards compared to your competition?

If you know what your customers value and what their expectations are, and if you know what your competitors are doing, you are on your way to differentiation by fulfilling those expectations. What would happen if you took it one step further, and raised your standards above and beyond what your clients expect? Imagine the buzz you could create, and the referrals your happy customers would send to you!

If you don’t know what your customers really want, it’s high time you find out. If you’re the high-end value, you’d better be able to back that up consistently. If, conversely, you’ve set the expectations that you are always the lowest price provider you’d better be able to back that up too. (Being commoditized as lowest price provider is often not a desirable competitive position to be in. You could wind up competing your way into a hole!)