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What is competitive advantage?

I am working to develop a computer support business plan and I am trying to come up with some competitive advantages.  So far I have a few ideas but I’m not sure they are tangible.  For example I know I could make a better website to advertise my services, I could provide better service, newsletters; brand some turnkey solutions etc.  Are these really enough for an advantage over my competition? 

I am racking my head about better ways to provide the better service.  Most of the time I put myself in the eyes of the customer and I see the basics.  “My computer is broken and I need it fixed”.  Any thoughts what is really a competitive advantage?  Is it something that blows away your competition or doing something just slightly different from your competition?

Saturday, May 15, 2004

It seems to me the computer support business is flooded in my area of the US.  Look in the local paper there's no less than 3 - 6 ads per week advertising various computer fix it - teach it - code it shops/people.  Look in the yellow pages and you will find the same thing.  Drive through the smallest town and you will see a computer shop.  (I don't buy from these thieves.  Their markup is too high.  Besides I can build a computer better than anyone I know.)

So what the heck is going to give you a competitive advantage over all these other people?  Word of mouth.  Networking.  It's that simple.

Most of the people I assist don't give a rat's arse about computers they just want the darn things to work.  Install a printer driver = $50.  Re-Ghost a hard drive = $120.  They think I'm a miracle worker and yet I don't do jack squat.  Most of these people don't have a clue about their computer.  Set up the computer so that when they turn it on it all they have to do is click internet explorer, automagically connect to the web, set HotMail as the homepage and bam they think you cured cancer or something.

These people don't care about your website or your qualifications.  They just want their darn computer to work.  If you fix their computer, make sure they give your name to a couple of other people.

Word of Mouth
Saturday, May 15, 2004

My experience with computer shops is that they have utterly horrible customer service. That's not surprising since they are usually run by techies who aren't known for their well polished social skills.

Recently, my desktop just beeped and squealed at me when I turned it on. I'm capable of fixing my own machines but it's not something I really enjoy doing so I carted it down to a local computer shop. Given my past experiences with tech shops, I fully expected a bunch of pony-tailed high school punks with scornful arrogance to be behind the counter.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a shop full of polite, professionals who not only fixed my machine, but went out of their way to clean up the mess of tangled wires and cables I had left behind from my last upgrade. They performed the kind of service that I expect from anyone else, but rarely see from the technical industry.

Good ol' fashioned service with a smile. It won't get you in the door, but once you're in, you might be surprised at how long it keeps you in.

Mark Hoffman
Saturday, May 15, 2004

See my later thread. I agree with "Word of Mouth". The generalist computer business is very VERY tough to break into. I have  tried and I think I am going to subordinate it in favor of some other approaches.

Approaching a niche (example: dentists' offices) is "supposed" to work better for computer consultants.

Bored Bystander
Saturday, May 15, 2004

You could use a formula such as Hooters or when we go behind your computer you will not see our crack.

Seriously I think for a small bizz that will enter peoples homes stuff like this could help:

1. Be personal. Not I'm worker nr 45 drone assigned to such and such task.
2.  Remember your customers names and their personal stuff like wife's/husbands name, children, their interests.
3. Send a birthday/christmas cards to customers that A. called you more then x times and B. Recomended you to friends and stuff.
4. Garantees: We will fix your problem if not get a replacement computer in the time being. Offer backup solutions (simple secondary HD which will mirror stuff)
5. Have an option to act as their system admin, meaning you manage their security, backups and other stuff that corparate sysadmins do. If using WinXP enable remote admin else install VNC like software.
6. Have a cheaper remote assistance option meaning only telephone support or VNC.  Not really different from 5.
7. Act as their computer upgrader. Meaning when time is due they will use you to upgrade the hardware. However at  Dell like prices.
8. Notice your customers PC hardware and allow them an option to recieve automatically via mail a CD with updated drivers. Or download the drivers via your website (Dell offers this and it's very nice)
9. Option for unattended Windows installation with correct drivers and settings. User just boots from your CD to reinstall Windows with everything correct.

Well thats all that I can think off now.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Another thing novice computer users can be a pain in the behind. If you once fixed something and when 3 months something goes wrong it's your fault. Well anyway that is how my mother is.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

In that market, willingness to work on-site, out of hours is a real competitive advantage, especially for busy small businesses where you can offer zero downtime upgrades/service.

Motown (AU)
Saturday, May 15, 2004

> It seems to me the computer support business is flooded in my area of the US.

Just this week I saw a friend driving his car around on the side of which he had painted: "American Computer Consultants -- Home Visit and Repair for Under $25".

About sums it up. He used to be a well regarded games developer.

Dennis Atkins
Sunday, May 16, 2004

Do something extra for every customer something he doesn't expect. He will remember it and talk about it with others.  Be sure every customer will leave the shop happy -I mean every customer not just the CEO.
Then keep track of all the testimonials and post the best ones on the site.
Make sure that if people are not happy they can complain and the complain will go to you not disappear somewhere.

It is a easy as this.

Computer man
Sunday, May 16, 2004

Communication, communication, communication.  Spend a few minutes at the beginning of a job paying total attention to your customer.  Listen to what they ask you for, do it, and then explain to them in as much detail (or as little, which can be much more difficult) as they want.  If appropriate (e.g., not a random hardware failure), show them how to avoid the same problem in the future.

"Word of mouth" above has it right.  I'm a good programmer -- I write clean, well-commented code and I do it quickly -- but the only people who give a rat's ass about that are other programmers.  The majority of my testimonials (and paychecks!) come from non-programmers, and the major theme is "Sam explains complicated things so that I can understand them."  It really stands out in this business.

Sam Livingston-Gray
Sunday, May 16, 2004

Some would say Porter invented the modern interpretation of competitive advantage.  Google "Porter 5 Forces".

Example literature:
Porter, M., The Competitive Advantage of Nations. Macmillan Press Ltd. London, 1998.

Monday, May 17, 2004

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