Often we receive many great questions and comments from the readers of our Inc.com column. Many inspire us to expand on the topic. One such comment from Jeff Taylor did just that. He wrote, in response to our article 4 Rules for Better Marketing:

I believe strongly that in today's environment where the consumer has the power, companies need to be bigger than their products/services and connect at a much deeper and emotional level. The customer relationships we enjoy are less about our respective widgets and more about the relationship value we offer.

We agree wholeheartedly with Jeff.  In our experience, products and services alone can only create limited value from their customers. The companies that excel at building lifetime customer relationships and sustainable customer value are those that solve customer problems.

To pick one example, Google is not in the business of providing e-mail and search products/services, they are helping customers to store, share and find useful information.  Indeed, at times we feel as if we have outsourced half our memory and brainpower to Google, as it is often easier to search on Google than to remember the name of that actress in that one movie (you know, the one with the guy who did the thing?!). That is the problem Google is solving for us.

Every business manager should constantly ask himself or herself:  What value am I offering in my customer relationships?  How can I solve more of my customers’ problems today?  How can I better win their loyalty?

This is how sustainable customer value is created. Building a better widget will only take you so far.