Avoiding the Price/Quality/Service Trap

It does not drip. There are never any long sticky marks on the outside of the bottle. I am talking about honey jars here, and we all know how messy these can get very quickly. So I buy the same brand over and over again because it has this super cool jar—a jar that lets me pour the honey just so and never, ever is sticky.

Before the honey connoisseurs among you get all up in arms, it is a good quality organic honey. Is it the best honey ever? Maybe not, but what sold me was the combination of good quality honey and the super-efficient jar.

My honey buying pattern came to mind the other day when a heated discussion was going on in one of my online groups. The question was this—What matters more: price, quality or customer service?

Now before you roll up your sleeves and join the argument (and believe me, there were ample champions for each side), step back for a minute.

The chicken or the egg?

The question reminds me a lot of the cliché: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Or in my case, honey.

Quality and customer service—and price for that matter—are all intertwined. You can have the best quality procedures to run your projects efficiently, but if your customer service team falls short of expectation, you lose.

And vice versa. You can have the most amazing customer service. The phone is always answered politely. Any customer query is responded to swiftly. The final product ships right on time every time. But if the quality is, well, sad, you lose as well.

But what about pricing?

I hear you. The common battle cry these days is that customers buy based on price and price alone. If the price is too high, your customer will print somewhere else…Well, yes and no. If your price is outrageously above the competition’s, then yes, probably.

Sabine Lenz is the founder of PaperSpecs.com, the first online paper database and community specifically designed for paper specifiers.

Growing up in Germany, Sabine started her design career in Frankfurt, before moving to Australia and then the United States. She has worked on design projects ranging from corporate identities to major road shows and product launches. From start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, her list of clients included Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Deutsche Bank, IBM and KPMG.

Seeing designers struggle worldwide to stay current with new papers and paper trends inspired Sabine to create PaperSpecs, an independent and comprehensive Web-based paper database and weekly e-newsletter. She is also a speaker on paper issues and the paper industry. Some refer to her lovingly as the "paper queen" who combines her passion for this wonderful substrate called paper with a hands-on approach to sharing her knowledge. 

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  • Stan Konwiser

    Yes to PQS, but the real issue is Risk! Every purchasing decision is actually an assignment of risk that the project will not succeed or the product will not perform. Most people making purchases do not understand the concept until something goes wrong. When you fill your tank with gas, there is always the risk that the gasoline is contaminated and will destroy your engine. Some folks are very concerned about that and will only buy from a major brand as they think the risk is lessened that way. Some people figure all the gas coming out of a pump is ‘good enough’ and only shop price, never really considering the risk to their car’s engine.
    Print buyers fall between those two extremes as well. One of the reasons it’s so hard to break into a new account is the buyer does not want to ‘risk’ giving the work to an unproven vendor. For an experienced buyer, the cost incentive has to be very strong to let him/her take that risk. Or, the current supplier is seen to be slipping in some performance parameter and your promises of PQS seem better than the assessment of current supplier’s risk.
    The inexperienced buyer is more likely to simply search the internet and pick the lowest price without understanding the risks involved. It’s hard to sell into that mentality. After getting burned once or twice they understand the risk and will become ‘experienced’ and act accordingly.
    Remember, the risk to the buyer is high: his/her job is on the line! As a buyer, you only get to screw things up a few times and you will be gone. No wonder they run scared.
    So put your sales efforts in this perspective. If you are lucky enough to hear a buyer complaining about the performance of any vendor, get ready to pounce with your PQS sell. If he/she is complaining about you, fix that right away before the risk of doing business with you gets too high.