Friday, 3 August 2007

Valuing money vs service gestures

I often harp on to our handymen about the importance of billing accurately. We bill in half-hour intervals, so if a job has taken one hour and fifteen minutes, that's billed as 1.5hrs. The customer expects that, it is generous compared to most firms who bill in full hour increments (so 1hr15 would be billed as 2hrs), and crucially you don't really get any brownie points from the customer if you under-bill. At least not enough brownie points to justify the massive dent in your day's revenue if, say, you rounded DOWN three jobs in the day. That'd be 1.5hrs of billable time which you've lost out on, and the customer, really, will hardly have noticed. Customers notice small, important SERVICE gestures, but don't really notice PRICE gestures (e.g. returning to a customer and spending 10mins showing them again how the new combination lock on the door works without charging would be hugely, hugely valued by the customer. But rounding down the original 1hr10min bill to 1hr would be hardly noticed, customer would just think it was a standard policy, wouldn't really register that you'd just surrendered 33% of the entire bill).

I saw this first hand today. As a customer.

We had to drop our Ford Focus off at the local dealer to get a new front window fitted (friendly policewoman had to break into the car on Wednesday to rescue baby Lara after Robyn (wife) had somehow managed to lock both key and baby in the car. No huge drama, but did obviously result in broken window).

I also asked the dealer to programme a new key as we only have one (hence having to break into car in the first place.)

I picked up the car this evening and noticed that they had charged us a lot less for the window than they had quoted. I even managed to draw attention to this, as I thought they might charge more: they had originally quoted something like £180, I asked them to match Autoglass's price of £157, which they said they would do, so I was keen to check that they had charged £157. They hadn't, they'd charged £103! I quickly moved on to check that the new key worked OK.

So, at this point, I knew (and dealer knew I knew) that I had already saved over £50 on what I expected to pay.

I checked the keys and found that the zapper on the old key no longer worked, only the new one did. Dealer offered the perfectly reasonable explanation that, actually, the old key had never worked 100%: the unlock button was mechanically defunct, which meant they couldn't get it to transmit its full range of signals, so couldn't programme a new key to match it. They'd just reprogrammed the car and the new key to match, leaving the old key fine as a key, but no good as a zapper.

This is a completely satisfactory explanation. I now had what I needed: a perfectly functional zapper key for everyday use, and a spare key to use to if we ever lost the first key.

You'd think, given that they had just given me £50 (by, for whatever reason, underbilling for that amount), that I'd be happy with that. But I wasn't. I was expecting to have 1 fully-functional zapper key (the new one) and one 50% functional zapper key (my old one). And I was mildly irritated not to have that.

The dealer was great, offering to replace the zapper bit of the old key, offering to come and collect the car from our house (as I had pointed out it wasn't that easy to bring car back, involves taxi or 2-car / 2-person trip), etc.

I was perfectly polite about the whole thing, and quickly realised I was fussing over nothing, but it struck me later how much I had fussed over the trivial matter of the zapper, compared to how little I had appreciated the free £50 I had just got.

Had, for example, the dealer never underbilled by £50, but instead had produced, immediately, a third key free of charge (value about £30), I would have been ecstatic and raving about them even though I would have actually been £20 poorer than I am under the £50-lower-bill / half-a-zapper scenario. To be honest, they could have produced a £20 bottle of Chablis, or bouquet of flowers, or whatever, and I would have valued that much more highly than the £50 off the bill.

We aren't that rational when it comes to things like this. We, as customers, value gestures and service far more highly than we do cash, which is odd, but extremely interesting.

5 comments:

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