Value vs. Service

My plans over the weekend took me across the bridge and into New Jersey for an errand and dinner. For those of you in the Delaware Valley, you know that New Jersey is the land of sprawling suburbia, jughandles, and cheap gas. Looking to make the most of my trip, I took the opportunity on the way in to shop for value and then stop at the gas station with the lowest price on my way out (for the record, I paid $1.999/gal.). It struck me – as the lone attendant was running around trying to pump gas for all the customers, collect cash, swipe credit cards in the booth, and talk on the phone at the same time – that perhaps customer service was suffering, or at the very least not the top priority at this particular location. And it got me thinking about all of the value-based messaging we’ve been seeing over the last 30 to 60 days.
With the economy clearly in a precarious position and people around the country nervous about their jobs and their future financial security, value makes perfect sense. It works for a number of retailers (Wal-Mart showed a 2.4% increase in October) and other businesses (McDonald’s showed an 8.2% increase) that have been branded as a good value for some time. But when you start introducing low prices in areas where quality is typically an important selling point, you often run into trouble. Unless you change your product, you have to change the way it is sold and serviced to reduce overall costs and then pass that savings on to your customer. No one wants to eat at a five-star restaurant where the waiters look slovenly and unkempt.
Service has long been an issue when ordering a product online, and these unusual times seem to be moving that trend from the digital realm into the real world. As you position your organization and your products and services, make sure that you stay true to your brand. If you have always competed on value, continue to do that and supplement your message with all the great things you do to differentiate yourself. If you have always competed on quality and service, make sure you stay on course. Poor service is a great way to alienate your customers and reduce the value of your brand and a decrease in quality is a surefire way to give your competition the upper hand. Everyone knows times are tough and you may eventually have to make a difficult decision. Take the time to decide how your customers – both present and future – will be best served. If I ever go into New Jersey again, I plan to bypass the station I used this weekend and head down the street to the huge complex that houses 20 pumps and 10 attendants eager to pump my gas, all for just $2.019/gal.
Value and service? What a great concept.
By the way, as you evaluate and re-evaluate your current advertising and media plans, make sure you consider radio. It continues to be the best value out there, providing the largest audience for the lowest cost per unit (and thus the highest ROI). Plus, radio companies are eager to show you just how great their service is.