Our house has a prehistoric radiant heat system, powered by a newish, electronically triggered, instant-on boiler. (As a side note, which has nothing to do with the forthcoming advertising point -- please avoid this type of system at all costs, if remotely possible. Trust me.) This morning, the radiators were stone cold, and the spark on the boiler wouldn't spark. Now, outside of advertising/marketing ideas or executions that need repair, I can fix (to a greater or lesser extent) a lot of things -- but they tend to fall into one or more of four distinct categories: (1) they're powered by an internal combustion engine, (2) they're made of wood, (3) they float, (4) they run the Macintosh operating system. Our boiler fits none of these. Hence, I needed a heating repair guy. On a Sunday. The coldest day of the year, so far. I didn't give my chances much chance.
To my short-lived relief, a web search turned up a cornucopia of heating and a/c repair places in the greater Alexandria area, almost all of which had, boldly displayed on the website, the phrase: 24-hour Emergency Service. I called eight of them, specifically choosing the ones with the best looking sites. I translated that to mean larger operations -- with actual marketing budgets, and probably more available techs, which theoretically meant, for me, a shorter wait for warmth. As I called, though, my relief faded. I became chillingly aware (pun intended) of the fine print attached to that 24-hour claim. Interestingly, attached in different ways, but all to the same end.
"Only if you already have a service contract."
"The tech might call you back today, but service contracts come first, so probably not."
"Someone will call you within 24 hours to schedule something for later."
"I'll page someone. They'll try to call you today."
"We can have someone there this evening. It'll be $190 to come look at it. Repairs, then, will be hourly, at time and a half for a Sunday."
Then I called Thomas J. Fannon and Sons. They had, by far, the worst website of the bunch, which I kind of expected, as I knew they were an old-school family business -- I've passed by the place many times, and over the door it says, "since 1885" (back when there was only heating to fix, as Mr. Carrier didn't invent modern electrical air conditioning until 1902.) They didn't look like a fancy website kinda place. Tell you the truth, I didn't have much hope of even an answering service. To my surprise, someone who knows heating, and who sounded very much like his name could be (or should be) Fannon, answered the phone. "I'll have someone there shortly." And sure enough, shortly, a tech named Brandon came by and fixed the boiler in about 15 minutes. The charge: $150, because it was a Sunday. Any other day, it'd be the regular rate of $125. They'll just send me the bill.
This brings me to the advertising point, which isn't necessarily just an advertising point, so much as it is a business point. It's a point Seth makes a lot, and it's not a new concept at all, as illustrated by the Fannons, who have been operating on this point for over a hundred years. There are two ways to approach business:
(A) Give customers more than what they pay for. Exceed expectations.
(B) Deliver only as much as you have to (less if you can get away with it), and charge as much as possible.
The first one is a good long-term strategy. It's the way I've always operated, personally. I find that, in addition to being the right and decent thing to do, it has benefits. People will say nice things about you to their friends. And they'll keep coming back.
The second one is more common, though. Because it looks really good in the short term. Disturbingly, I find more and more agencies turning to this second approach (assuming they weren't there already,) because the pie's being sliced differently now, and it's harder to get the same bite you're used to having. People panic. They look for short term solutions. So, while this looks like a good way to boost near term profits, it's actually a great way to kill off long-term relationships. And when the word gets out (and it does, instantly, now) it also kills off prospects. No matter how pretty your site looks when they first land.
If you want to know what customers and potential clients think about the different approaches, perform this simple test on yourself: Which kind of business would you rather buy from? Which kind of agency would you rather have creating your stuff? Which kind of agency would you rather work for?
And the most important question: Which kind are you?