Guest Post - My Pool Guy Called Me Cheap

By Mike Maddaloni on Monday, June 22, 2009 at 04:00 AM with 18 comments

Editor’s Note – The following is a guest post by Ralph Ingrassia, President of Endeavour Technologies, LLC, and a project management consulting guru. A longtime reader of The Hot Iron – not to mention client of Dunkirk Systems, LLC and close friend of Mike Maddaloni – he shares some of his wisdom and experience here, which we hope will be the first of many guest posts.

Who isn’t trying to cut costs these days, whether those be business or personal costs? One cost I was considering cutting was my weekly pool service. But, having tried that in the past and failed miserably, I had decided that maybe this wasn’t a cost worth cutting yet.

Over the years I’ve used the larger pool servicing companies, but have always been left disappointed by the higher prices, nickel and diming and lack of professionalism. So, being a small business owner myself, I settled on an independent Pool Guy and have been happy for the last few years. I could pick up the phone and he’d be here if I was having a party or if I had any problems whatsoever and it was always clear that his priority was that I was happy with his work.

Things started to change this year. The first point of concern was that his price went up this year again for the third year in a row. Now last year I understood a price increase due to the rising cost of gas but this year’s price increase left me confused. If anything I would have anticipated a steady price this year. Still, his prices were much more competitive than the larger companies mentioned above so I didn’t say anything. Then the nickel and diming started. Not much, but a few bucks here and there. Again, I was still saving money so I decided to just keep an eye on these charges over time.

Last week, however, was the deal-breaker. After completing my service he knocked on my door for payment and I happened to be on a conference call that I had muted. I decided that it would be easier to pay cash which left me $8 over the service price. I informed him that if he didn’t have any change we could just apply it to next week. The response was, “Ralph, you’re cheap just like my Dad.” “He won’t give a tip to save his life.” Now, anyone who knows me knows that I value good service and in situations where a tip is warranted, it is awarded. I worked in the restaurant industry and completely understand how the American restaurant system makes it so gratuities make up the lion’s share of a server’s income. Jokingly, I also thought that the fact that I actually had a Pool Guy would classify me as being not cheap.

But from the customer perspective, a line had been crossed here. As small business owners, we try to price ourselves competitively, prevent scope creep to manage the need for cost increases or business losses, and provide the utmost in professional service. In most cases, I find that it is the professional and personalized service that is most valued by my customers relative to my fees. The example I’ve detailed with my Pool Guy can be applied to my own business as well.

So what has gone wrong here? Is it just a case of temporary insanity or has the service provider forgotten that I am a long term customer that he has a pleasant relationship with and not a friend? Or, is it that this particular small business owner has forgotten to holistically look at their services and fees and evaluate if his customers are really receiving a superior service for their dollar regardless of a competitor’s price? In this case maybe it’s all three.

In the end, the decision that I made was to cut back on my service to bi-weekly instead of weekly. Was this decision driven solely by the lack of professionalism? No. But, it was a factor in a decision I had been teetering back and forth on.

This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.

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