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Selling the Invisible
By Harry Beckwith

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 Selling the Invisible

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Selling the Invisible
By Harry Beckwith
ISBN: 0446520942
Genre: Business & Money

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Chapter Excerpt from: Selling the Invisible , by Harry Beckwith


The Greatest Misconception about Service Marketing

In a free-association test, most people—including most people in business—will equate the word "marketing" with selling and advertising: pushing the goods.

In this popular view, marketing means taking what you have and shoving it down buyers' throats. "We need better marketing" invariably means "We need to get our name out"—with ads, publicity, and maybe some direct mail.

Unfortunately, this focus on getting the word outside distracts companies from the inside, and from the first rule of service marketing: The core of service marketing is the service itself.

I am not suggesting that if you build a better service, the world will beat a path to your door. Many "better services" are foundering because of rotten marketing. Nor am I suggesting that getting the word out is enough. Getting the word out and attracting people to a flawed service is the preferred strategy for killing a service company.

This is what I am saying: The first principle of service marketing is Guy Kawasaki's first principle of computer marketing:

Get better reality.

"Better reality" in your service will make marketing easier, cheaper, and more profitable. In fact, some companies have improved their "reality" so much they can almost eliminate the "getting the word out" part of their marketing plans.

The first step in service marketing is your service.

A World on Hold.

For years we've heard this is a cold, hard world.

What makes us think that?

It's not our family, friends, or neighbors; we get this idea from dealing with services.

We get it from calling a public television station in New York, which puts us on hold for six minutes before it tells us—electronically—to call back; all lines are busy. We get it from the credit card company that sends a replacement card three months late. We get it from the Minneapolis printer who promises an estimate by noon Thursday, and doesn't call until the following Monday (my experiences in just the last three weeks).

Will Beckwith, age ten, says it perfectly: Too often, service sucks.

Service quality has sunk so low that if no one complains about your service, you shouldn't feel good. Most people have given up complaining.

Why has service gotten so bad?

It is partly because companies cannot show precisely that investing more in improving service—whether in training, salaries, or increased staffing—will earn them more. To improve their profits, companies squeeze costs by squeezing their service until someone—usually a client—screams.

Think of the times when you have received extraordinary service. How much more did you end up spending with that company? How many people did you tell about your experience? How much did they spend?

No, you cannot get a precise figure, but it is a huge figure. And it's all in that company's bank.

First, before you write an ad, rent a list, dash off a press release—fix your service.

The Lake Wobegon Effect: Overestimating Yourself

"The Average American thinks he isn't," someone once said. Psychologists have proved it.

We think we're better than we are.

When researchers asked students to rate their ability to get along with others, 60 percent rated themselves in the top 10 percent. Ninety-four percent of university professors say they are doing a better job than their average colleague. Most men think they are good-looking.

Our illusions of superiority are so widespread that psychologists have come up with a name for it. They call it the Lake Wobegon Effect, after Garrison Keillor's famous radio show sign-off from his fictional hometown, Lake Wobegon, "where the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and all of the children are above average."

Being human, everyone in your company suffers from the Lake Wobegon effect, too. You think you are better than you are—and that your service is better than it is.

Service in this country is so bad that you can offer above average service and still stink. By definition, the odds are that you're average.

Assume your service is bad. It can't hurt, and it will force you to improve.

Those Cartoons Aren't Funny

You've seen the Quality, Service, Price, Pick One signs, and the You Want It When? cartoons. (Not surprisingly, it's the worst services that are most likely to display these cartoons.)

When I see these cartoons, which suggest that customers expect too much, I always tell the clerk, "I'm going to talk to a couple other places before I decide." But I have decided. I'm not coming back.

If you decide that you cannot offer quality, speed, and price, you're not trying hard enough.

How can McDonald's deliver spotless rest rooms and world-class french fries in 50 seconds for 79 cents?

Forget the excuses, and remember McDonald's.

Let Your Clients Set Your Standards

In many service businesses, the industry—not the client—defines quality.

Consider advertising, law, and architecture, for example.

In advertising, when most creative people say, "That's a really good ad," they don't mean that the ad might build the client's business. They just mean that it has a good headline, good visual—it's good. Neat. Cool.

Lawyers think the same way. They'll say, "That's a really good brief." Never mind that the brief was equally effective for the client $5,000 earlier. And never mind that the brief covers an issue that might have been avoided entirely through good lawyering.

Many architects treasure buildings that are enormously inconvenient for the people who work inside. Still, architects call them great buildings. Quality service produced them.

Ask: Who is setting your standards—your industry, your ego, or your clients?

Bad News: You Are Competing with Walt Disney

I stride into a coffee shop one morning, hopeful.

Four people are in line, but I decide I can bear that.

Unfortunately, nothing is in line behind the counter. A server hands Customer One a large decaf. The customer had asked for a small regular. The other server is flirting with Customer Two. It's touching and nostalgic to me, but not entertaining enough to make me overlook the delay. Four minutes later, I get my large latte.

Twenty years ago, I might have accepted that delay. Twenty years ago, I also accepted rest rooms carpeted with wet paper towels, waiters wearing catsup-stained aprons and chewing Bazooka bubble gum, and ten-day delivery from catalogs.

Then McDonald's came along and raised everyone's standards for rest rooms, better restaurants raised our expectations of waiters, and Federal Express raised our standards for catalog delivery. Those services changed our expectations forever.

Now we expect cleaner rest rooms, faster services, and more attentive waiters.

More people every day have experienced extraordinary service. Many have seen Disney World; they know how clean, friendly, and creative service can be.

They have seen world-class service, and now every service has to accept it. Printers, for one wretched example, cannot expect their customers to tolerate service that meets printing industry standards if those industry standards fall below customers' expectations, which they routinely do. The printers' customers have been to Disney World, and that experience has raised their expectations.

A service that does not jump to meet these rising expectations will have a small revolution and a customer exodus on its hands.

Ignore your industry's benchmarks, and copy Disney's.

The Butterfly Effect

In 1963, meteorologist Edward Lorenz announced a stunning conclusion.

For decades, people had viewed the universe as a large machine in which causes matched effects. People presumed that big causes had big effects, and little causes produced little effects. Lorenz doubted this.

The question posed to Lorenz sounded strange but simple: Could the flap of a butterfly's wings in Singapore affect a hurricane in North Carolina?

After considerable study, Lorenz answered yes.

Lorenz's postulation of what is now called the Butterfly Effect was one of several findings in the last twenty years that reflect the unpredictability of everything: weather, the likely outcome of direct marketing programs, and the distant but often enormous effects of tiny causes.

One group of people was not surprised by Lorenz's discovery, however. Those people had seen the Butterfly Effect at work every day. They were careful observers of service companies—a world where tiny efforts often produce enormous, though sometimes distant, effects.

Remember the Butterfly Effect. Tiny cause, huge effect.

A Butterfly Named Roger

On September 16, 1993, a Minneapolis man remembered that Dayton's suit department had promised they would have his summer-weight jacket repaired and ready by that afternoon.

The executive approached the register and was quickly met by an energetic dark-haired clerk named Roger Azzam.

"I'm here for the jacket," the executive said.

Three minutes later Azzam returned from Alterations with bad news. "Sorry, not ready." The executive had barely started to complain that his heart was set on getting the jacket when Roger disappeared, shouting, "Be right back!"

Almost as quickly, Roger returned. "They will do it right now and have the jacket in five minutes, I promise," he said.

The customer reacted as most people would. He was touched. Actually, he was more than touched. The clerk had gone so far out of his way that the customer now felt indebted to him.

While the customer waited, he started walking through three aisles of sports jackets.

He spotted a handsome brown herringbone Hugo Boss jacket with a matching price tag: $575.

Naturally, the story ends with the executive buying the $575 jacket—but not only that. He also had to buy a $110 pair of black slacks and a $55 brown, black, and white-striped tie to match them.

In seconds, a tiny flap of a butterfly's wings—Roger Azzam's five-minute dash up to Alterations—created a $740 sale. Not to mention the value of all the publicity Dayton's is getting here right now for Roger's gesture.

The morning after that sale, the senior buyer in Dayton's men's suits department reviewed the sales figures on his computer screen. "I sold another of those Hugo Boss jackets," he complimented himself, crediting his shrewd buying and understanding of his customers. But Dayton's buyer did not sell the jacket. Roger Azzam did—with a gesture almost as tiny as the flap of a butterfly's wings.

Be a Roger, and hire Rogers. Flap your wings.

Excerpted from Selling the Invisible , by Harry Beckwith . Copyright (c) 1997 by Harry Beckwith . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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