Relationships: A Competitive Advantage

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? Can your competitors copy your products and services? What about your private relationships with customers? Are those more difficult to duplicate?

We all want our customers to believe "I can't get it anywhere else" when they think of us. Relationships between you and a customer are often the best opportunity to create something unique and irreplaceable in your customer's mind.

Put your "customer hat" on. Aren't you the most enthralled with a business—or most upset—when the relationships you have with that business is either really good, or really bad?

Do you agree—are strong customer relationships one of the best ways to keep the competition away from your customers?