Economic data in the U.S. over the last decade has followed a diverging pattern. Coming out of the last recession services activity expanded more rapidly than manufacturing activity. What’s more, services activity did not suffer the same degree of slowdowns seen in the three periods of manufacturing weakness over the last decade. The upshot is that the gap in the pace of expansion for services and manufacturing, which have deviated for some time, are now near historical highs. Services continue to be the key ingredient to economic growth in the U.S.

Against this backdrop, I find myself thinking of a call I just had with a customer service rep from a large media & telecom company. I was seeking a credit to my bill and was fully prepared to jump through hoops, and take any steps necessary, up to and including severing my business relationship if my concerns were not adequately addressed. But the customer service rep who picked up my call, Ashley, utterly disarmed me. She was patient, she was pleasant, and most importantly, she was helpful. She completely changed my attitude about doing business with the company she represents.

In a country where the consumer controls nearly 70% of spending, these interactions between customer and company gain relevance by the day. Products and services are both more available and comparable than ever before. To differentiate themselves today and in the future, businesses need to NAIL the customer facing segments of their operation.

Check out this article in Forbes highlighting 100 of the world’s most “customer-centric” companies. This list shows companies we interact with on a daily basis. Not every experience can be a good one, but companies on this list likely produce more positive outcomes than most.

As investors we are constantly on the lookout for narratives that suggest a compelling investment opportunity. They can be based on financial data, or something as subjective as how a company treats its customers, which is how more and more companies are distinguishing themselves from competitors in a world with endless choices.
Investment ideas and themes can be found through everyday interactions with companies and people. Fundamentals, financials, and research, they all matter. However, something as simple as thinking about how companies treat their employees and how those employees then treat their customers can be the differentiator needed in separating potentially good investment ideas from those that are merely average.