Top sources of competitive advantage

PricewaterhouseCoopers recently released its 2008 Global CEO Survey that asked CEOs to name their top source of competitive advantage. A total of 36% of companies identified a topic that fits squarely with our areas of practice. The #2 answer was customer service (19%) while the #3 answer was recruiting and retaining top talent (17%). (The bad news is we aren't much help with the #1 source of competitive advantage, technological innovation.)

Of course, it's one thing to announce "service" or "retaining top talent" as strategic priorities, but actually doing so takes real work and commitment. I recall a customer service campaign at a catalog company I once worked for called "one call resolution" where we would attempt to resolve every customer service issue on the first call.  The Vice President of Customer Service kicked off the program by giving a speach and unveiling a banner.  Unfortunately, that was the extent of the program. The operational issues, lack of empowerment, and poor interdepartmental communication that led to many of the customer service calls all remained.  (Yes, that story does sound like it came right out of the movie Office Space.)

Getting started on real change can be a daunting task, especially given the "duck and cover" mentality that's so prevalent in many companies.  I like to make things as easy as possible, so here are three steps any organization can take to leverage customer service or talent management as competitive strengths.

  1. Clarify your vision.  What does "outstanding customer service" or "retaining top talent" really mean? Discuss examples with the team to gain a general agreement. 
  2. Set a SMART goal that represents progress towards the vision.
  3. Align your customer service and/or talent management processes around the vision and goal.

Still need help?  Drop me a line at jeff@toistersolutions.comand let's see if we can take your competitive initiative beyond a speech and a banner!

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