Years ago, I saw a sign posted in a print shop that said:

“Quality, Service, Price …Pick Two”

In other words, if you want superior quality and excellent service, you’ll have to pay a premium for it. Or if low price matters to you, either the quality or service will suffer.

I’ve seen that or similar signs in a variety of business establishments ever since. You probably have too. While not exactly a customer-friendly philosophy, it used to be the norm. As consumers, we instinctively understood that “you get what you pay for.” We’ve all paid extra for fast turnaround, special treatment or a high-end product. Companies like Mercedes-Benz, Nordstrom and the Four Seasons built their reputations on it.

Conversely, if a deal seems too good to be true, it usually is. I first learned this as a child when an ad in the back of a comic book offered 100 army men for $1.25. After an agonizing eight-week wait, the soldiers arrived in a really small box – my first clue that something was horribly wrong. As you can imagine, they were microscopic in size, much smaller than the pictures in the ad. That’s when I found out about fine print. I relearned that lesson (nobody said I was overly bright) when a battery-operated submarine turned out to be “not a water toy.”

For years, the “pick two” equation seemed to be an immutable law. But not anymore. In today’s challenging business environment, I believe it is incumbent on organizations to provide all three. There’s a chain restaurant in town that consistently offers two-for-one dinner deals. The service stinks. Saving a few bucks isn’t worth waiting an hour for a messed-up meal. They’d be better off charging a fair price and making patrons feel like they received good value for their money.

That’s the key these days: Balance. Try to figure out a way to provide quality, service and price in a way that makes sense for your business and keeps your customers and clients satisfied. If you don’t, your competitors will.

Brian Rouff is the managing partner of Imagine Marketing.

Previous Post
A Tale of Two Novembers
Next Post
Simple lessons in business from Reality TV