Products and services are increasingly weakly differentiated from each other in the marketplace. You could argue that one bank is much like another and that one washing machine is much like another. Companies can easily copy competitors products and services and in a service industry that is very easily done. Companies can copy other companies’ IT systems and they can even copy their customer service strategies. But the one thing that is very difficult to copy, the one thing that can provide companies with a significant competitive advantage, is the quality and history of the relationships that staff have with customers. For this reason, ‘engaging people’ in the organisation is increasingly becoming a top boardroom agenda item. Companies are recognising that their staff can really add value to customer relationships and as a result are jealously guarding their cultures and their relationships with their staff. They recognise that this is an integral and fundamental part of delivering service excellence to customers. Jeff Bezos, Chief Executive Officer of Amazon.com, echoed this point of view in an interview in the Wall Street Journal in July 1999:
The most important thing we have that’s hard to duplicate is our culture of customer obsession. It pervades customer service, logistics, software and marketing. Companies’ cultures are impossible to copy. They’re like starter pieces of sourdough. Either you’ve got them or you don’t.