Stormy sea with a seagull

‘Sea of sameness’: How to truly differentiate your CX programme


Leaning on the findings of their latest research on customer loyalty, CP2 Experience’s, John Aves, explores the common mistakes that companies make when trying to differentiate their CX offerings, and provides tips and advice on how to truly stand out from the pack. 

12th May 2023

Let's not waste any time. ‘Sea of sameness’ was originally used to describe the more or less generic offerings by resorts in the early 2010s. You probably flicked through the 'palm tree and white sands' brochures yourself.

Fast forward a decade and it's still as strong a wake up call for businesses as it was when it was first coined by Piers Schmidt – regardless of the sector you work in.

Lots of CEOs and executives are convinced that they do customer experience differently.

“Yes, we stand out”, “everything we do is for our customers.” But peel back the layers on  most differentiation strategies, and it becomes clear that many are still stuck with product and pricing models.
Moreover, they don't yet see customer focus as an operational model, with most of the time it being viewed as just a mantra.

This begs the question: if your competitors' products and prices are superficially similar to yours, what do you do that makes you so different? This is the wake up call.

Meaningful differentiation and strong customer loyalty go hand in hand. The list of  businesses that do this well will be familiar to you: Ikea, Amazon, First direct, and Starling  Bank (coming up on the flanks).

Think about how difficult it is to prise customers away from  these brands. Yes it's true that high-growth businesses like these often have a first mover advantage. But these types of business are relentless in finding ways to focus on perfecting the secret sauce that differentiates them in a way that creates value for customers. They  also know customers are prepared to pay more for value they can't get elsewhere.

Different, but the same …

We often ask businesses we meet about what they do differently to make their customers  more loyal.

The answers are all similar:

“We've invested in digital”, “our products and services compare well”, “we've installed new customer service systems”, “our loyalty programme is popular”, “we've got a team that has been with us for years”, “everybody is friendly and helpful.”

The list  goes on. But there is a problem here.

These reasons aren't differentiators. You can't rely on doing the basics well to stand  out. Offering the same as every other brand that is doing okay means you're only  differentiating from the bad firms.

Offering the same as every other brand that is doing okay means you're only differentiating from the bad firms.

What business isn't investing in digital or technology? Customers have multiple loyalty apps on their phones or cards in their pockets – why choose you?

We're not saying that being consistent on the basics isn't important; it is. Let customers down on these, and they'll take their business elsewhere. But it doesn't drive customers to return, trade up, spend more, or recommend you to their friends and family.

Your products, prices and promotions will only get you so far. Customers are mired in  adequate experiences from businesses jostling to differentiate on 'good'. You need to set your sights on 'wow' to grow the customers you've already got. And tempt others away from your competitors.

You need to offer an experience that keeps you front of mind and makes customers want to come back time and time again. An experience that makes them want to  stick with you – no matter what.

There are two ways to differentiate  

  • Do something nobody else has done … difficult.  
  • Do something competitors are doing but in a way that is uniquely identifiable to you, and at the same time, valuable to them.  

Miss the mark, and your customer experience becomes ineffective.  

  • Efforts to differentiate usually result in insignificant changes that customers don't notice or don't care about. 
  • Some businesses just end up imitating their competitors.  
  • The rhetoric continues. Many businesses think they put customers first but the reality – with a few exceptions – is different. 

75% of senior executives believe their organisations are customer-centric, yet only 30% of customers agree.

Where does all of this leave your business?

If you're a retailer, you can't out-Ikea, Ikea. If you're a bank, you can't out First Direct, First Direct. But neither should you want to.

You need  to do customer experience in a way that becomes a hallmark of your brand to create a branded customer experience. You want to be different (not the same), and distinct (customers should be able to notice why you're different without you having to tell them).

Are you stuck in a sea of sameness?

Here are a few questions to get you thinking:

  • What is our organisation known for? 
  • What is our niche? What do we do that makes us different?  
  • Are we creating meaningful, memorable experiences that only our brand can offer? 
  • How does our 'difference' align with what matters most to our high-value customers?  
  • Are we trying to please too many customers? 
  • How does our 'difference' disrupt the monotony and routine experienced by most  customers? 

Separating yourself from the pack

Working out the answers to these questions is the easy bit. There's hard work ahead to truly stand out. Separating yourself from the pack will most likely require an organisational and cultural shift.

Businesses that are struggling to stand out almost always find the organisation  isn't wired in the right way to create and sustain differentiation.

Learn more by downloading our report today.

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