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Your one thing is not your only thing

I wrote here two weeks ago that every business has its one thing – the thing it must deliver above all others. For restaurants, the one thing is the taste of the food; for banks, it is trust; for hotels, hospitality. You can think about what yours is in your industry: the one thing that if you don’t get right, you don’t really have a business.

No one really wants to eat in a restaurant with poor food – no matter how happy-clappy the service or how wow the furnishings. No one sticks with a bank that has trust issues, no matter how funky the mobile app.

But this leads to a question, which many of you have asked me after reading that column. Wait a minute, you say: aren’t we supposed to be focusing on the multifaceted customer experience as a whole? Aren’t we supposed to make sure we get all elements of customer interaction right?

Yes, you are. But my ‘one thing’ argument still applies. To explain, here’s a personal example.

I have been a subscriber to the Harvard Business Review for decades. Once upon a time it was the only real source of cutting-edge management content. It was a must-read in my line of work. It’s always been expensive, but it was always worth it. Where else would anyone thinking about strategy, management and leadership get access to the insights of the top thinkers? It was worth it for me because it helped me to succeed in my life.

Last week I cancelled my subscription and asked for a refund. Why would I commit this heresy?

For two reasons. First, the HBR does not allow a digital-only subscription. You have to subscribe to the print edition in order to get digital access. That means the paper copies have to be posted to you. In the past year, I received pretty much zero copies in my Kenyan postal box. I tried complaining to Posta Kenya, which did not work. The printed copies have high resale value, so are a prime target for pilfering.

HBR’s customer care was also not helpful, other than offering to resend the copies or extend my subscription. What’s the point, if they don’t arrive anyway? Their poor customer service led me in circles and wasted much time.

And yet I would have still persisted and paid for unreceived print copies while accessing the content digitally – if the content was truly powerful and unique. Sadly, I don’t think it is any more. There is too much shallowness and superficiality now to warrant the price tag; and similar content is available in a multiplicity of sources anyway. So it’s goodbye HBR. I’ll only return if you go properly digital, and have proper content uniqueness.

My point? When the ‘one thing’ weakens, weakness in the other things becomes fatal. The Michelin-starred Singapore hawker stalls I referred to last time can get away with no ambience and long queues because the food is irreplaceable to those who love that kind of thing. But should the food also become no better than the norm, the business fades away fast.

So, if you’re a bank, priority number one is to have the tightest possible governance and controls. Your customers must trust that they are safe with you. Once you have delivered that trust, remember that this ‘one thing’ is necessary but not sufficient. A modern bank must also be very easy to access and use; it must be quick and accurate; it must be relevant in the lives of its customers.

I also ditched a long-used home ISP last year. I had stayed with it for years because it offered a strong ‘one thing’ – reliable connectivity. But then it started messing around with billing and introducing phantom charges, and was surly and unhelpful when queried – and so, snip. Gone. Had this been the only ISP able to offer always-on, reliable speeds, I might have been forced to swallow the other stuff. But no, the industry has changed and we have real options.

The take-home is this: in business, figure out the must-have ‘one thing’ your customers want from you. Deliver that one thing at all times, and protect its uniqueness. Then move outwards and add other features to provide an overall experience that customers value – while never forgetting your one thing. Take that to your next strategy session.

(Sunday Nation, 26 March 2017)

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