When I started in contracting, I used to brand our company and work with "we have the very best service in the world, we'll do whatever you need to get things right."
Eventually, I got away from that. While I liked solving client challenges and working really hard to get a great ROI for clients, it didn't ring correctly to me. Something about how we said it, and how we did it, made things not quite right.
We always liked going the extra mile, and we offered a 100% guarantee on our work (sometimes even 100%+) to take the risk away from the client. We priced our services aggressively below market and looked to demonstrate results, in order to get repeat business. And indeed, we did -- it was just a few clients that provided the huge bulk of our revenue by coming back to us with orders for 5x and 10x larger than their original, and eventually getting to a trusted point where they'd ask for work over email and say "just bill me whatever, you guys have always been fair." That's a nice feeling.
But I found we got more successful the less I branded us about service. We'd be all about good service, but some aspects of it for a very small company are difficult. I personally do best when given a focused 3 to 7 hour block of time to do one thing, and I'm unable to do really high-end game-changing work when my day is broken up by phonecalls.
Of course, when you brand around best-service-ever!!, you're expected to answer the phone or make callbacks relatively promptly. And we'd often fail by that standard, which caused friction. Which was our own fault, mind you -- we set the expectations, and then didn't deliver by those standards.
Later, service was an a key component of what we did, but we advertised and branded more around measurable ROI, innovative solutions, much lower costs relative to functionality, and the fact that our strategy was built around long-term relationships with clients.
It gets me thinking about service, because I can see a huge difference between how it's done in Japan where I am right now, and, for instance, a place with great service in Vietnam.
In Vietnam, there's definitely nice restaurants, spas, hotels, and businesses that offer amazing service. But when you dive in, the majority of them have what I'd call now "strategic service." The service is built to attract an affluent clientele and get their business.
Which is fine, to some extent, but it falls apart when there's a miscommunication, when there's an unknown, when there's a crazy event, when there's an opportunity to go the extra mile that might not even be noticed.
In Japan, the service is completely sincere. When you ask for something in a cafe, they actually honestly want to help you get there. There's little quirks, especially when great service comes into conflict with obeying the rules laid out, but aside from that, the Japanese will do everything they can to help you have an amazing experience.
So, I ask, what's the difference? And I'd say that "sincere service" like you see consistently in Japan, like you see from sincere Muslims who follow the Islamic hospitality codes, like you often see in Thailand, comes from an internally driven place.
Upon reflection, that sincere service seems to come from an extensive pride in their work, a high level of self-esteem, and a self-identification of good service as a key component of being a good person.
I never had that when contracting. I took pride in helping my clients make money, have good relationships, I took pride in taking extensive measurements and always being able to show great data and measurable ROI, but I never took pride in answering the phone quickly or delivering that extra wow service. It wasn't my identity. My self-esteem in the business was oriented around numbers, results, and a genuine care for clients, but definitely not for answering calls within 2 rings.
So it was never sincere, and thus perhaps didn't carry the weight it should.
Looking back, we could have gotten the best of both worlds by hiring an account manager who genuinely loved service and just loved thinking about making the presentation of things and aesthetic experience as nice as possible, in addition to results. As it was, we did fine, and we wound up with some hardcore results-oriented clients who didn't care so much for frills, and we did a lot of business with them, and it worked out well.
But I'd advise you this, definitely: Don't brand yourself as having great service unless it's buried deep in your psychology and identity. The truly best service seems to come from a person who takes immense pride in their work, has high self-esteem, and feels that providing great service is a key component of being a good person.
If you don't have that near-compulsive desire to serve well, brand around something else -- creativity, innovation, speed, cost-effectiveness, results, whatever -- or get someone onboard who lives and dies by serving people well.
If you want to truly provide excellent service, you've got to have an internal compulsive desire to do it tremendously well. There's no shame in not having it, because we can't all be good at everything -- but sincerity in your offerings and who you are is a key to having a great business.
I see a lot of car dealerships branding based on "Being the number 1 dealership in _(insert location)_". They'll then list something about being the lowest price leader, offering the best service, etc. etc. What strikes me as FASCINATING is that they're completely unaware of how badly they actually are NOT DIFFERENTIATING themselves.
They place such importance on their branding, but their branding actually means nothing! Nothing because it's the same thing everybody says, but more importantly, they're not genuine assertions!
How hard is it to be number 1 in a city where you're the ONLY dealership of that brand of car??? And are you really committed to being the lowest price dealership when your whole business model revolves around squeezing as much profit out of each customer as possible using old school negotiation techniques (regardless of whether they take that from you up front or by hiding it in the finance structure)?
The branding is dishonest. It's like a peacock's tail, advertising characteristics and qualities, but without actually having them.
And car advertising just REEKS of corporate guys in business suits trying to sound like they're "hip." I don't even want to get into that.
Moral lesson of the story is deliver what you promise. And if you can't deliver it, 100x genuinely and consistently, don't promise it. Otherwise your business is a fraud.
And the inverse good of this is that when you do deliver on a genuine brand, people are much more receptive and appreciative of your business because in addition to your awesome product, you're also delivering no bullshit customer service.
Question from a reader --
People greatly enjoyed "How to Set Your Consulting Scope and Fees," and there were a number of questions. Here's a crucial one -- reader "Tom H" asks --
Here is the exact verbatim language to put in your proposal --
The quality of work is guaranteed, if the work is not consistent with the quality expressed, your full fee will be refunded.