Posted by: midpen | May 23, 2008

Member Post: Professional Service Customers Want It ALL

Three types of ServiceProfessional Service Customers Want It ALL

How to consistently deliver the “good stuff”

by Tom Penck, Service for Profit

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson may not have had anything nice to say about the virtues of consistency, but in my experience, professional services customers value it above all other things. A work product that is predictable in delivery time, price and quality — with no surprises — goes a long way toward winning business the next time around.

 

Early on in my working life, I learned the importance of these three elements. When I was 14, I spent the summer working with a professional painter and a friend of the family. During one episode, when I was hurrying to finish a section just before lunch, Hutch, the team lead, took it upon himself to explain how things worked in the painting world:

 

“There is FAST work, CHEAP work and GOOD work. We specialize in the good stuff. We get our referrals on the quality of our work. Look there, you got more paint on the floor than you did on the wall ….”

 

A few years later, I spent a summer stocking shelves in a drug store. My supervisor encouraged me to exhibit greater speed:

 

“Now Tom, at our store, we know working fast keeps our prices down. And customers want lower prices. You’ve got to be faster.”

 

I also learned about CHEAP work at the drug store — by what they paid me!

 

Thus, I was introduced to the “fusion cuisine philosophy” of service delivery: Any combination of FAST, CHEAP and GOOD are possible and can produce wildly different experiences.

 

Two out of three won’t cut it.

 

Now that I have years of professional services marketing and delivery behind me, I have realized a basic truth: Those who deliver and sell professional services must buck the common belief held by product-focused organizations that it’s only reasonable to deliver on two of the three elements. If you’re selling services, your delivery must be FAST, your pricing must be CHEAP, and you must maintain the highest quality (GOOD services).   

 

  • FAST: Every professional services engagement I have been associated with has had a time component. Speed is value: Speed is money in the bank for customers. Even if the engagement is long-term, they measure progress (and judge value) by speed in attaining milestones. Indeed, in the technology services space, the advantage of speed (fast time to market, etc.) is often a competitive advantage and the reason for purchasing the professional service in the first place.

 

  • CHEAP: If speed is one key, value pricing is another. Cost is always an object, even when the client says it isn’t. Clients who opt for professional services frequently look for a “reasonable” cost — a value that equates favorably to getting the work done some other way (with an alternative internal resource, a different vendor, etc). They want to be assured that their service purchase is reasonable for the project and will provide a positive ROI for their company.   

 

  • GOOD: By definition, professional services staff delivers services by virtue of special training, knowledge or expertise. Therefore, customers have a deep-seated expectation for high-quality service and guaranteed satisfaction. Ask any provider how long he or she expects to keep the business of a customer for which the provider had to “redo” a project or correct obvious errors.

 

If all service providers maintain this level of performance — FAST, CHEAP and GOOD — we would never lose a client and would be successful in all of our proposals, right?

 

We all know that is false. Everyone loses business because of contracting issues, geographical preferences, technology mismatches, etc. — factors one can’t control. The good news is that every service provider experiences the effects of these factors, which even out the playing field in the marketplace

 

Change their perception to change everything.

 

Here is why professional services differ from other types of services: PERCEPTION is the hidden variable. Communication with the client is the floating constant that evens out the bumps from a rocky delivery experience or bridges the pricing gap between you and your competition. Setting client expectations, communicating problems and proposed work-arounds, and closing the loop after the job is done can make the difference between service that is perceived as FAST, CHEAP and GOOD, and service that is lacking.

 

I’ve found that it’s best to focus on the elements you can control (speed, pricing and quality), and open an early, clear channel of communication with your clients. Your customers may like surprise endings in movies, and in their fortune cookies, but not in their professional service engagements.

 

bio for Tom Pencek

 

Tom Pencek is an independent professional services marketer, practicing in the SF Bay Area and works with service clients of all sizes to help them deliver Good, FAST and CHEAP services. He can be reached at tom@tlpencekandassoc.com, or thorough his web site, http://www.serviceforprofit.com

 

 

 


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