It's been a while since I've shared one of my customer service stories but I've got one that I think will resonate. I'm sure, like me, you wonder how to evaluate the cost of technology. How do you recognize the price-value equation if you have nothing to compare it with? What do you do if you can't readily discern the differences among various pieces of equipment because they won't become evident until you've worked with each of them for a while--and how often do you get the chance to do that?
My story is about a laser printer. It isn't new technology, but there've been a lot of advancements in their manufacture. A friend recommended a particular model so we called its local distributor.
The salesperson met with us and asked a lot of questions. I thought from that he now understood our needs. He was clear and thorough in explaining what the machine could do and established rapport by expressing how he loved that we brought our dogs to work, walked around with our shoes off and thought our environment was very homey.
We ended the meeting gleeful about what great features this equipment had, including some standard features we'd never had before. He was pushing a lease that would cost the same as what we've been paying for maintenance on our current unit but, as a general rule, I don't like leasing so I asked him the purchase price.
He threw out an approximate price but said he'd e-mail a written quote with revised monthly maintenance fees. His ballpark quote was almost six times the cost of our current model but when the written proposal arrived it was actually eight times higher! "Wait a minute," I said. "The cost of technology generally goes down, not up. Our needs haven't changed and our current printer was less than $5,000, so why do I need this very expensive one? What else have you got?"
He'd spent enough time with us and asked enough questions to know we didn't need that high-end piece of equipment, nor did we need the extra-cost bells and whistles he'd dazzled us with during our first interface. But, because we were also dazzled by the additional standard features I realized, in hindsight, that I'd been remiss in asking if there was any other equipment that could do the same thing for less.
Now, however, I did.
It turns out he hadn't even presented us with the model recommended by my friend. Only after I asked the right questions did he come back to me with a quote for that lower cost model. In fact, there were two other equally capable and less expensive models he could have recommended. When I asked another "right" question: "What will I sacrifice in terms of quality if I choose one of these other units?," his answer was, "Oh, the quality of the printing is exactly the same." The only differences are speed (we'd already told him speed wasn't important to us) and some of the options we'd already told him we didn't want!
So now what? Do I really want to establish a relationship with a company whose salesperson hopes to gain my business by showing me only the top-of-the-line item even though the quality I will get from the less expensive equipment is the same?
My answer, of course, is "No, I don't want this relationship." I turned off to this salesperson and the technical advisor who accompanied him since neither of them opened the door to lower-cost alternatives on their own. I really don't want to work with a company whose salespeople are what I consider to be "old school." But that's just me. For me, selling well is based on meeting a client's needs, not self-servingly trying to "sell up" when it isn't called for.
But buying well has responsibilities too. People are people and that's what makes the world go 'round. Caveat emptor--let the buyer beware--is essential to our free enterprise system. If we want to get the right products, we have to ask the right questions.
P.S. Even though our economy remains in the doldrums, our American entrepreneurial spirit remains strong. There is keen interest in advanced laboratory technologies and all things that add to your productivity. With this issue, you have everything you need to begin your research for the right materials, equipment and services for your operation. With the addition of a separate subcontractors directory of services, it's our community's most comprehensive sourcebook; our largest ever, in fact, with almost 500 manufacturers and suppliers.