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Service is Not a Commodity

Picture this… two vendors offering SEO consulting. Both include keyword research, competitive analysis, and link building services. The first also includes blog writing, the second does not. Both companies have solid references. Both bids cost the same.

So who has the better bid? Reflex says the one offering more stuff for the same price, but is that right?

This is an issue I’ve wrestled with for years as a web developer and SEO consultant. The true answer is much muddier, because the services offered by both companies are NOT the same thing – even though they are called the same thing.

While both companies have solid references, we must ask how the quality of their services compare. I mean, you can get a good reference for half-assed service if the customer doesn’t know any better, right? What if one company does pretty good work, while the other does outstanding work? Without a point of reference to compare, customers of both companies would likely be satisfied with the service but ignorant of which was actually better.

Here is the unfortunate truth about these kind of services:much as we’d wish it otherwise, services are not a commodity. Commodities are pretty much interchangeable, but services are not because of that little word called “quality.”

At this point in the post, I’d offer some sure fire ways for the shopping business owner to be able to pick out the higher quality vendor. Sorry, folks, I haven’t got a magic bullet for that one. I guess it boils down to doing your due diligence – check the references, with an eye on the working experience the vendor and customer had. Look for some of these tell-tales that can suggest a higher quality result:

  • Good exchange of information – When vendors make the time to answer questions and keep the customer in the loop, it demonstrates that they have the customer’s best interests at heart. Vendors that take the money and go work in the corner tend to not go that extra mile for the customer, and the lack of communication can translate into misunderstanding about the customer’s business that could result in missed opportunities to do some real good. Look for a vendor that keeps those communication lines open, and wants to understand your business better.
  • Watch for the hard sell – These vendors are dominated by the sales guys, who are more interested in closing another sale than in delivering superior results. Look rather for the softer sales approach, where they lay out the issues to consider and let you make an unrushed decision.
  • Judge the contact as well as the vendor – Do you like the person you’re dealing with? Do you trust their character? If you can’t answer yes to both, you should think twice. A company is made up of its people, so untrustworthy people make for an untrustworthy company.

Eventually, all manufactured products will become commodities as suppliers and production methods even out across the industry. Most services, on the other hand, can never do that, since services are ultimately manifestations of a person’s expertise and no two people are exactly alike. For the customer searching for a good service provider, follow the age-old guideline – caveat emptor!

Image courtesy of Kieran Shalloo on Flickr.

Have any more tell-tales that help you find a good vendor? Let us know in the comments below.

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