PICK TWO

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.

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