Reducing Fear and Uncertainty, Part 2

On Monday, I introduced the topic of reducing consumer fear and uncertainty, and the distrust that often accompanies those emotions. I suggested that building a reputation for post-sale customer service and offering free samples might help overcome these marketing obstacles.

Today I will discuss offering satisfaction guarantees.

3. A self-described marketing expert once insisted I needed to offer a “100% money-back guarantee” to win new clients. It gets worse! He also suggested I guarantee savings of at least 10 times my fee. I had two major issues with the suggestion. First, in a profession where it was actually illegal to advertise only a few years ago, it sounded too much like an old-fashioned “snake oil” marketing approach. Secondly, all I do is counsel and advise clients. The value of that advice is ultimately dependent on their success in implementing recommendations in a timely fashion. I cannot guarantee the actions of others. Neither can you!

With that said, the concept of a money-back or satisfaction guarantee might have value to service providers within some narrowly defined parameters. Carefully consider the following matters:

  • At the risk of sounding like a cynic, get paid up front. Clients will be less likely to take advantage of your guarantee if they have to look you in the eye and lie about their dissatisfaction while asking for a refund.
  • Place clear and reasonable boundaries on what customers must do to qualify for a refund. Assume for example that I promise to develop your website and have it running within 60 days. That commitment must be contingent upon you providing a list of items like graphics and content, and on your timely approval of my work at various stages of completion. If your failure to perform those obligations is the primary cause of me missing the deadline, forget the money-back guarantee.
  • Consider offering a money-back guarantee on only part of your services. For example, weight loss centers advertise you will lose 20 pounds in 10 weeks for $20, or you get your money back. Since these centers cannot guarantee customers will follow the program, they cannot guarantee anyone will lose weight. They do not seem to fret much over that minor annoyance. Part of the weight loss program is that you eat their food for the entire 10 weeks. That will cost another $75 or more a week. No one can reasonably expect a refund for food they consumed, no matter how little weight was lost. Furthermore, some customers will simply be too embarrassed to admit their failure and ask for a refund. More importantly, for every customer who has their $20 fee returned, others will be so pleased with the initial results they will decide to lose 50 pounds. The extra 30 pounds are not at $1 per pound, and you still buy food from the center. This money-back guarantee is pure marketing genius.
  • Be aware that guarantees sometimes carry negative marketing connotations that can reflect poorly on your brand. That is largely due to all-too-common marketing promotions that border on deceptive advertising. I once had a client who previously developed a product marketed exclusively on late-night infomercials. You are no doubt familiar with the type of promotions to which I am referring. Everything is a huge value (whatever that is), yours for only $19.95 plus shipping and handling charges. The product always comes with a satisfaction guarantee. My client explained the rules of the game. The key phrase is “plus shipping and handling,” a greatly inflated sum that includes the actual cost of the product. That explains why infomercials frequently offer a second item “free” if customers pay separate shipping and handling fees. The $19.95 is pure gross profit! If a disgruntled consumer wants a refund, they must first return the product at their expense. The shipping and handling is not refunded. Therefore, the seller’s “worst-case scenario” is that the customer paid the full cost of the product and is now allowing them to resell it. Meanwhile, the refunded $19.95 was an interest free loan. I trust this deceptive practice is incompatible with your mission statement and value system. Do not risk long-term customer relations and reputation for the sake of short-term gains.

I will conclude this series with a discussion of introductory offers and giving free service. I look forward to meeting you here bright and early Friday morning.

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Comments

  1. I like your view on this, USP’s and guarantees can if not clear be impossible to police i am big on guarantees and buy some products over others due to their guarantees and therefor would like to pass more on to my clients. You have opened up some thinking space here.

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