Even cheapskates want customer service

“You get what you pay for” is a mantra that has been with us a long time but that doesn’t keep people from complaining and wanting more than their money’s worth. The Internet has given us more and faster ways to provide feedback and we as consumers are quick to utilize those channels. From the businessman who tweeted about his rotten Hyatt stay in San Francisco (he got free room nights) to the shopper who shared a bad experience with Pottery Barn on Facebook (response time was 8 minutes), we are all quick to complain.

But better service comes with a price. You can’t expect low prices and great customer service, shares Paco Underhill retail anthropologist and author of “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.” in a recent Star Tribune article (Want better customer service? Quit being a cheapskate). With consumers expecting more for less, something has to give. “Customer service got lost in the process of consumers demanding cheaper prices,” said Underhill.

So which is it? In a hypercompetitive marketplace, are low prices and good customer service to be expected? How does that impact the brand? Star Tribune writer John Ewoldt thinks that WalMart gets good marks for customer service because the bar is so low in the first place.

Apple chooses to go in a different direction. Innovation is key but so are the Genius Bar, free training classes and lots of company representatives in every Apple store (try that in Macy’s!). By providing those things along with desirable, cool products Apple enables the highest prices in the industry. And record sales and profits.

The businessman in me says set expectations up front. Don’t offer what you cannot provide. It will just get worse when the customer service you offered is of poor quality. And if low prices is where you compete, that’s OK. Customers get value in different places in different ways. Just ask Apple.

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