Week 5: Differentiation and The Pursuit of Wow!

Tom Peters makes a great case that there is no excuse, no matter what kind of business you’re in, for thinking that what you offer can’t stand out from your competition. This week is all about suggestions for ways a business can reframe the way it thinks about differentiation and many practical ideas that can be implemented to make a business one of a kind. Customers are loyal when they connect with your business, and those connection points are the things you do that surprise, delight, and inspire them.

Customer Service Matters – Reinforcing a culture of excellent customer service pays high dividends to a business. There are several ways this can prove to be a differentiator. First, many companies tolerate mediocrity (and sometimes even unintentionally encourage it). Exceptional customer service is a strategy that almost any company can employ, yet it continues to be an underutilized strategy. Understanding your customers’ wants, needs, and expectations and then exceeding them in as many ways as possible can establish unbreakable customer loyalty.

Your People Matter – Who you hire mediocre people, don’t be surprised when you get mediocre performance. If you hire creative people, they will likely come up with new ways of doing business and see opportunities that others have missed. Reliability is important, but reliability does not have to equal boring. People can be visionary and reliable. Seek out the best people in the business, treat them exceptionally well, and reward them when their performance is outstanding. They will delight customers and drive profit over and over again.

Design Matters – Peters shares a list of 142 different examples of great design. Some of my favorites are:

  • the precisely correct placement of an airbill on a package being shipped to a finicky customer
  • the formal position of chief designer on a corporate organization chart (and the importance that role plays in every decision about a product or service)
  • a 20-year-old sweatshirt that you love
  • the smell of a new baseball
  • the garnish that makes a plate of meat and potatoes an elegant dish
  • stuff you can’t explain but know is there
  • the fact that you sometimes buy books for the cover and wines for the label
  • something that old folks appreciate…and wee kids…and the handicapped
  • a truck stop where you feel at home

Really Listening Matters – Beyond customer service, listening to your clients creates an ongoing dialogue that can yield amazing results. If you hear and address little problems, you can avoid them becoming big problems. Customers often have great ideas…often beyond what you could have imagined yourself. Hearing those outrageous ideas might produce your next breakthrough product. Peters also suggests interviewing 5-15 irritated customers and sharing it with your colleagues and management. It will likely produce a big discussion and inspire some memorable changes for the good.

Everyone Matters – Everyone in the organization should be able to produce a wow list that captures the things they are doing or projects they are working on that produce memorable results. HR might be doing things to improve the lives of employees so they can deliver better service or products for customers. Accounting might be working on ways to make customer payments easier for them. Everyone in the business has a role to play in making it stand out among a crowded field of competitors.



4 thoughts on “Week 5: Differentiation and The Pursuit of Wow!

  1. As I read through your list I not only thought about my experiences as a consumer, but also my own organization – which is a school. These very same elements apply. Our customer is the parents and how well we develop relationships with them absolutely matters, who we hire – oh my so true. Our teachers must be top notch, our admissions, administration, etc. We all must be great at what we do, reliable, and supportive. Design matters – this all about curriculum and not losing the foundation and marketing ourselves well- the tried and true that work – but at the same time being creative with new ideas so we are the “bottle” that the parents choose. Listening – this important skill can never be stressed enough – we have so much to learn from each other. My favorite one though is everyone matters – I have no idea what other people are doing all day at work because I rarely get to leave my classroom. So I love this idea of a wow list, I know it takes everyone pulling together to make it all happen and we would appreciate and grow together if we knew what each person/department was spending their energy on. I am going to share this last piece with the powers that be and see if we can all come up with wow lists, to not only share our endeavors and celebrate them, but also to foster an appreciation for each person’s role in the organization.

    Thanks so much for this post – I enjoyed thinking in this way about my own community.


  2. You bring up some very important concepts for every business! And treating everyone, employees and customers, with respect is they key!
    I’ve always been told the “customer is always right” and in a business perspective, they have to be if you want to continue to have their business. But that has always made me wonder, is there ever an appropriate time (besides breaking the law) that company can/should say, you’re not allowed to talk to another person that way? What are your thoughts?
    Treating your employees with respect and kindness and showing them appreciation is truly the only way to have a successful working environment. If the employees do not show appreciation or care about their place of employment, then they will not go the extra mile to be sure other people feel safe and comfortable there either.


  3. Jeremiah

    Your post brought up a lot of ideas that I’ve thought would be great to be used at where I work.

    I really enjoyed the part about Really Listening Matters. I agree about talking to the irate customers and seeing what they have to say, and learning from their experiences to make your company/store/or whatever better.

    Customer Service is also an important to a business. Word of mouth is a free advertisement. I believe that excellent customer service will encourage customers to tell their friends about what a great business it is.



  4. Jeremiah,

    I think customer service is one of the most important aspects of a company, if not the most important. When customers are treated well, and feel like someone listen to their thoughts or brightened their day, they will want to return for that same experience. Sometimes it is hard to keep up a positive attitude if customers are rude or mean. But you have to remember that you don’t know what is going on in their lives or their day, what has put them in a bad mood, but maybe you could be the difference to turn their day around and make it just a little bit better for them. And people appreciate that kind of effort.

    – Mackensie


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