I was eating lunch with an executive of a hotel company, in a restaurant located at one of his company’s hotels. He was talking about competitive threats, describing how companies in his category are constantly copying each other’s innovations. I said, “If I were your competitor, I could walk into this hotel and easily copy your physical product. I could study your service standards, and copy them too. What I could not copy are the personal relationships you have with your customers. Those relationships would be impenetrable to me.”

In an age of interchangeable products and easily duplicated services, customer relationships have become one of the most powerful competitive advantages available to a business. Do you agree?

What about your business? What is it that your customers “can’t get anywhere else?” Your products? Your services? Their unique relationship with you?


  • Amanda Cullen
    Feb 11, 2008 - 11:07 am

    An example of emphasizing customer relationships can be seen especially with Apple Computer. In their retail stores, they are moving towards focusing on the “personal.” They offer Personal Training and Personal Shopping. The entire point of these interactions are not to sell products but to create relationships with their customers. Microsoft may be able to copy the pretty buttons, but try getting someone to teach you how to use your Windows system once you purchase it.

    • Steve Yastrow
      Feb 11, 2008 - 11:13 am

      Great comment, Amanda. In Chapter 1 of We I actually discuss how this made me switch from Dell to Apple. Good for Apple (despite other faults) for looking beyond the cost of today’s transaction and, instead, investing in the long-term relationship.

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