Review: Collapse of Distinction

 First published June 22, 2009 

“People are craving, even coveting, distinction. Being different, standing out, getting noticed in a sea of sameness is vital to an organization’s sustained growth and profitability…businesses that stand out ‘provide a service of perceived higher value to buyers.”

This is the basic premise of Collapse of Distinction by Scott McKain. Each of us can list on one hand the times and companies that have delivered to us a customer experience that was memorable or distinctive. Why is that? The author argues that it is because businesses, for the most part, are focused on achieving their sales goals and not on creating value for the customer. “It is overwhelming how many companies focus on not losing to the competition rather than on delivering what customers really want.”

In McKain’s opinion, the truly successful companies are focused on providing value to the customer at every point of the relationship. There is a difference between customer service and creating the “ultimate customer experience.” Even if you implement “customer-focused” strategies – “distinction is created by developing a customer experience focus. In other words, concentrating on customers is not enough if you want to become a true market leader. You must take it to an even higher level and focus on the creation of experiences for your clients and prospects.”

Imagine a three-leveled pyramid with “sameness” at the bottom (the largest group); differentiation in the middle (a smaller group); and distinction at the top of the pyramid – the most select group.  The author uses Apple and its line of MacBooks as an example of company who has achieved distinction. They have created their own category – separate and distinct from any other group. McKain calls this the ‘Ebert Effect’ named after the film critic Roger Ebert.

“The Ebert Effect:  When people, from their perspective, are inundated with indistinguishable choices, they perceive a product, service, approach, or experience with a specific point of differentiation to be superior.”

McKain reminds us at several points that it doesn’t matter what we believe about our product or service.  The customer’s perception is the only thing that matters.

“Product focused companies have diminished their value because their “customers focus less on the facts about the products and more on their customer experience and on how they feel about dealing with you.”

There is not a lot to argue with in McKain’s theory. It makes sense. It strikes a chord. It reminds us of those handful of times when we’ve had a unique and distinctive customer experience. Understanding it and delivering it are clearly two different things. There are so few companies that do it well. That’s what makes it notable when it happens.

Creating a company of distinction must be an integral part of every action of the company. McKain reminds us that it must be embedded in the company from the vision to the execution. It is not a separate function. He challenges us to examine our people, our strategies, our processes and our abilities to create compelling relationships with our customers.

Because, here is the end goal: to create a business that delivers customer experiences that are so compelling that customer loyalty and profitability are guaranteed. Easier said than done, of course, but well worth the effort. Invest a little time in Collapse of Distinction. It will challenge your thinking about your own company.

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