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“Provide Value To Customers,” They Say. But What Does That Mean?

"Provide Value To Customers," They Say. But What Does That Mean?

Right up there with “write epic content” and “be awesome”, you probably hear or read something at least once a day that reminds you to “provide value to customers.”

It sounds so obvious. Of course we’re going to provide value to customers. It’s what we do! It’s so obvious that nobody argues it or thinks about it. It’s a given.

But then recently I had a conversation with SuperFred Kaarina Dillabough who asked a very simple question: “What does that even mean?”

And I had to stop before answering.

She didn’t ask because she doesn’t understand value. And I didn’t pause because I don’t know how to provide it. But in a moment of what we over here at Web.Search.Social like to call “challenging the status quo”, we both had to stop and consider that this bit of fluff is tossed around so often with no context, no explanation, no rationale that it’s simply assumed to be “a thing” and that we all know precisely what that thing is.

Today I want to challenge you to consider what it means, first, by telling you that…

Value May Not Be What You Think It Is

Nobody is born intrinsically knowing what value is. We have to learn it. And nothing is inherently valuable. Take a diamond. The only reason that particular bit of rock is valuable is because a marketing company somewhere told you it is. No kidding. There isn’t even a shortage of them. And we make them in labs these days anyway.

Such is the same for the cars we drive, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the desks we sit at to type out our blog posts on the concept of value.

Things are only valuable if they are valuable to you.

Now that might sound weird to say but it’s worth mulling over when you’re trying to provide value to your customers. Because what’s valuable to one person might not be the same thing that’s valuable to another.

Maybe one person values your affordable cost. And another values your prompt customer service. Maybe someone else values your willingness to customize a product or service.

You can actually provide all those things – affordable pricing, great service, customization – and have them be valued differently by different people.

I had another conversation recently with my brother Kevin who said customer service is nice and all, but he’ll deal with worse service if the price is better.

Does that make customer service less valuable than cost?

Well, to him it does! If you have a customer like my brother you could reasonably argue that providing good service is not valuable.

As for me, I’d pay more to have a great experience.

As a business, it’s important to understand what your customers value before you can give it to them.

And it’s important to understand that while you can’t be all things to all people (maybe great service is in your purview, but low costs are not), you still need to take a broader approach to “value” than simply what it means to you – or what you think it should mean to someone else.

To truly provide value, you have to consider all the ways that you can provide it, because people place importance on different things to different extents.

Value Does Not Mean “Free”

Call it a side effect of Internet marketing but it seems as if “provide value” has been conflated with “give something away for free.”

Read any blog post about how to grow your email list to a billion subscribers in ten minutes or how to drive traffic to your website instantly every time you guest post on another blog… and they will all tell you that the secret is in the free thing.

Why else would someone conceivably sign up for your email list, if not for “the free thing?”

Well, I’d argue that it’s the value you provide to that person as a subscriber and not the bribe you offered to get them on your list.

I’m not going to argue whether or not you should be giving something away for free – heaven knows we do it, and it’s proven to be a double edged sword. Perhaps that’s for another blog post!

But what I am here to tell you is that enticing someone to join your email list or visit your site or take some other action (short of actually buying from you) is not the same thing as “providing value”.

Is the thing you’re offering “valuable”?

I would hope so, but again, it is only valuable to the subset of people who find it valuable.

Confused yet?

Let me give you an example. I recently signed up for someone’s email list and was incentivized to do so with a free report and assessment. That sounds awesome. Except I didn’t want it.

I merely wanted to sign up for this person’s email list because I wanted to hear what she had to say.

So I did.

And yes, I got “the extra value”, which I glanced through because that’s what you do when you download something onto your desktop, and I promptly threw it away.

I bet that report and assessment helped a lot of people. So for them it had value.

As for me, I find a lot more value in the weekly communications and insights.

The problem with giving something away is that I think we can confuse that as the end of the road in our value chain. “Well, I provided value,” we say. And then we wait for people to do business with us and love every second of it.

Value, however, is a lot more than free. And it’s a lot more than something we do once. It has to permeate everything we do and going back to the first point, we have to consider the different ways that people place value on our products or services.

So What Is Value, Really?

Value is affordability. And it’s making people’s lives easier. Value is helping people do things better and faster. Value is educating people. Value is making people feel good about themselves and their interactions with you. Value is empowering people to make good decisions and take the right action. Value is improving lives and solving problems. Value is creating a great experience.

Value is all of those things, and none of those things.

So if you thought this was going to be easy and that I’d answer all your questions by the end of this post, I guess I should have mentioned in the beginning that figuring this stuff out is hard and that there are no right answers for everyone at all times.

Besides, even if you decide that “a great experience” is part of the value you provide. Everyone has a different interpretation of what “great” means. For one person, a company that answers emails the same day is pretty darn great! For me, that’s the bare minimum I’d expect from a company that wants my business.

We used to think that educating our customers was of tremendous value. But over time, we discovered that people who hired us didn’t want to be educated. They just wanted to go run their businesses and leave the marketing to us.

Does that mean none of our customers appreciate an education? No – some still do. And we educate them. But we can’t expect everyone to find that valuable. And when people don’t appreciate our educational tendencies, we can’t rail and shout, “But we’re providing value! What’s wrong with you people!”

And there’s yet another challenge when it comes to providing value – we’re all influenced by our own biases. Education is huge for me. So I infuse that into my business because that’s what I find valuable and I assume others must, too. But you can see where that kind of tunnel vision can lead to lost opportunities and even unhappy customers, in spite of all the “value” I think I’m providing.

In the end, the best I can do to sum up what value means is by saying that it’s giving people what they want. Not only that but giving them what they didn’t even know they wanted. It’s that little bit of je ne sais quoi that leaves people feeling, “Wow.”

Piece of cake, right?

Value doesn’t grow out of a certainty that you’re doing a great job and focusing on your customers. It comes from actually focusing on your customers and figuring out what they want, one person at a time – and never feeling 100% sure that you’ve nailed it!

So tell me… did you find this conversation valuable or are you settling for no less than “the answer”? Chime in below in the comments and let me know what value means to you – and how you translate that into providing value to your customers.