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Re-think core and non-core: It’s what’s around the edge, not what’s in the middle, that counts

The problem with focussing all your resources on core competence is that if the ‘thing’ you provide – product, service, whatever – isn’t that exciting, then it won’t be that memorable. You’ll just ‘get it right’ and, to be frank, so what. That’s what you’re supposed to do.

It brings to mind what the former CEO of Burger King, Barry Gibbon, described as Nightmare Number 1, when he first took up the job and toured Burger Kings to find out more about the customer experience. Nightmare number 1 was this: “Even when we did it right, it was still pretty ordinary”.

Despite all the talk of passion and excellence, most companies provide pretty mundane products and services that customers will never get passionate about or never think “That was excellent!” You’re not going to make customers go ‘Wow!’, for example, if your job is to tell them what time the trains are due to arrive. Or, are you?

You are if you get the core competence right as a basic, a hygiene factor, then add something extra. The ‘something extra’ then goes from being superficial and unnecessary – which is how managers tend to see it – to the reason customers remember you. In other words, what most managers see (or don’t see – it isn’t even on their radar) as pointless and unrelated to the work is, in fact, your competitive advantage.

Here’s a story from the UK to illustrate the point:

“Passengers on the platform at Leicester aren’t just informed of train times; the railway announcer, John Palmer, also gives them a thought for the day (example: “Why is there only one Monopolies Commission?”) or a history lesson.

Last Tuesday he told them that on June 23, 1314, the battle of Bannockburn took place. “It’s a harmless way of brightening up people’s days,” says Palmer. And his bosses agree.

“We get a lot of positive feedback from passengers and hope John will carry on,” says a spokesman for East Midlands Trains.
– From The Week

Good for them. The little things, you see, are now the big things in making a difference to the customer experience. What John Palmer is doing is the best form of innovation in customer service – It’s personal, it’s unique and, hey, it doesn’t cost anything. Did he ask permission? I doubt it. Is there a process or a standard for what he does? Of course not.


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