As a marketing consultant, I am often asked how to differentiate a service business from its competitors. After all, most accounting firms deliver the same services other accounting firms do. Ditto for law firms, IT firms, banks and even marketing agencies.

One strategy is to focus on the knowledge and experience of the firm’s employees. To effectively market a professional services business, emphasize what you know (your smarts) rather than what you do (your services).

But there is another factor that can help differentiate your company in a competitive market, and that involves how your employees make your customers feel. Case in point: my UPS delivery guy, Tom.

Delivering packages and much more. I opened my first UPS account almost 20 years ago when I started a marketing consulting business from my home near Cleveland. A driver named Tom was assigned to my area. Later, when I moved the business to a nearby office building, Tom’s route covered both my home and business.

Like most UPS drivers, Tom is smart, courteous and efficient. But Tom delivers much more than packages. He provides a level of personal service that is exceptional; he goes far beyond his job description. As the competent, caring face of UPS, Tom helps ensure our loyalty to the company.

Here are the five principles of customer loyalty and retention that Tom practices every day:

  1. Know the customer. Tom figured out quickly that my home was also my business. From the very beginning, he treated me like an executive, even though my office was only 10 feet from the kitchen. As we grew, he came to know our whole team and what our business is all about.
  2. Value the customer. Though ours is a small business, Tom gives us the same respect as a large client. Our packages seem to be just as important as the ones he’s delivering to the biggest tenants in the building.
  3. Anticipate the customer’s needs. If there’s no one available to sign for a package, Tom will deliver home-bound shipments to our office and vice versa. That may not be in the UPS rule book, but it gets important packages to us without delay, and we appreciate the extra effort involved.
  4. Know your own business. Tom can answer almost any question about shipping via UPS. We can consult the UPS website (and we do), but it’s nice to get the right answer from a real person.
  5. Delight the customer. When my business was home-based, my children helped answer the door. Tom used to bring them Dum-Dum lollipops and Tootsie Rolls. All these years later, he still leaves treats for my dog. Is this a corporate strategy to protect UPS drivers from dog bites? I doubt it! He’s just a sincerely nice guy who cares about the people he serves.

What are the lessons for your smart-marketing strategy? If you provide a service, then your people are the ones who help deliver that service. Their commitment to great customer service is essential to your success.

Here’s how to make customer service a core part of your brand and your marketing:

  • Hire and train employees who make your customers feel so good about your company they wouldn’t consider switching vendors because they place so much value on your team.
  • Ask customers to help you tell your story in marketing campaigns through testimonials and case studies. Feature employees alongside customers in your advertising.
  • Never forget that business is about relationships. Building great relationships with customers, who have the power to refer you to new prospects, is the smartest marketing strategy of all.

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Jean M. Gianfagna is a marketing strategy expert and the founder and president of Gianfagna Strategic Marketing which provides marketing strategy and creative services to leading business-to-business and consumer marketers. Read her blog for more marketing tips at http://www.gianfagnamarketing.com/blog.