Tag Archives: clients

Truth About Deal Sites. Part 2 – While You’re At It

Dealing with clients who are coming from coupon sites is a whole different can of worms compared to regular clients (and a form of entertainment – if you are into that sort of thing). The mentality of a person, buying under-priced deals and expecting same or better level of everything: service, attention and respect is beyond me. If you are buying something tangible (say – a tablet or another gadget) with 80% discount, you can realize that you are buying a four-year old model that someone overstocked on awhile ago. You get what you pay for. When it comes to services this understanding goes away. People expect getting $600 worth of service for $99. Let me break a hard truth to you – if a company is providing a six-hundred-dollar service exactly the same way for a hundred dollars they are either selling an overpriced service or they are losing money.

Let’s look at it from money perspective.

Most of laser hair removal treatments come in packages of six. Let’s say you purchase six sessions on a small area for $99 on a deal site (the most common purchase so far). Looks reasonable, right? Only $16.50 per session – close to lunch money, if you’re in Manhattan. With coupon sites splitting the check around 50/50 (they get half and merchant is getting half – or close to that), the business only sees half of the money you paid. Which means they are making $8.25 per treatment.

An average laser technician is making in the vicinity of 10 – 15 dollars per hour. Some places pay a percentage off of each treatment on top of that. Some let the technician keep all their tips (instead of, say, sharing all tips across all technicians who worked that day) and allow them to sell and make a percentage off the sold treatment. But for the sake of simplicity let’s settle on $15 per hour as a close approximation to hourly rate and percentages. Surely, a small area doesn’t take an hour to do, but even the busiest places can hardly squeeze a small area into less than 10 minutes – with client getting in, prepping or applying gel, treating, signing consent form, removing gel, etc, etc. Facial treatments are even longer, because you have to be more careful with the treatment itself. So we can expect an average technician to perform about five small area treatments per hour if she worked like a factory worker at a conveyor belt. Let’s not discuss the fact that you don’t want to be treated like a piece of machinery, but rather like a human being. So an hour of one technician’s work can generate close to $40 of revenue. Out of which $15 dollars is her salary alone. Which leaves business with $25 per hour to cover the rest. There are lost appointments (when customer cancels or reschedules at the last minute and there’s no one else to put in his/her appointment slot), laser machines payments (a single good laser machine can cost up to $200,000 plus its own maintenance and insurance plans), supplies, utilities, rent, business insurance, maintenance, salary of the receptionist (if there is one) to consider as well. If you add all costs together, a business can consider itself lucky if they break even on a coupon sale. It gets worse if a deal site starts competing with another deal site and tries to bring your coupon price from $99 to $79 (for the lazy – a business is then makes $6.58 – just over a price of cup of coffee at Starbucks). It gets worse on larger areas, that’s why most of businesses stopped selling large areas on coupon sites. In other words – it’s next to impossible to make money on coupons, your best bet is not to loose money on it and hope to convert.

Given that, business owners are doing two things. First and foremost – they are trying to upsell coupon customers – obviously. A converted customer is the only way to make money on a coupon sale. Recently we noticed some coupon customers complaining on Yelp that businesses are trying to sell them other packages. How dare they! The fact that Yelp decides to publish these reviews also tells you about the overall quality of their review system. But that’s whole another story.

Second thing any reasonable business owner would do is to try and minimize his costs on coupon customers – especially those who don’t convert. Given that each customer gets six treatments, a business has about four to five chances to sell to one particular customer (it’s almost impossible to sell on first visit or two, so I am discounting for that). Some customers complain that their treatment at our place took longer than at other places. That’s because at their previous place they weren’t converting and that business owner decided not to waste technician’s time on these clients. They still got their treatment, but without the regular zeal and a lot faster – as their own words confirm.

Speaking of mentality of coupon buyers even coupon agents themselves note that customer loyalty on coupon sites doesn’t exist. The whole coupon industry have groomed a special kind of customers who shop based on price alone. In my many negotiations with deal sites one of the reasons cited to me was literally “if we make our coupon one dollar more than competition – no one will buy, they will go with the lowest price”. It’s not necessarily the absolute truth, as we found out in our running, but it is the general case.

Another edge of this, apparently, multiple-edged knife, is the next level of deal-searcher. They like a place, but really don’t want to spend money. They load up on coupons purchased through multiple credit cards so that coupon site cannot track and enforce their “one voucher per customer” rule and show up at the door with stack of vouchers (the most we have seen so far was six vouchers for one client – all purchased through multiple accounts with slightly different name) and demand the service because they “have a voucher you must honor”. If for some reason a business owner isn’t around to intervene – they have a chance to succeed in getting their treatment, because a technician or receptionist don’t have any say in these matters. The proper course of action, of course, is to call the coupon site’s customer service and let them deal with a cheater. From my experience most of deal sites do their best to protect merchants in such cases, but it requires some effort.

To add injury to insult – the coupon clientele is the most vocal when it comes to complaints. If you cannot accommodate their appointment this week they will call the voucher company and tell them they can’t get in touch for weeks (this is mostly entertaining when they have purchased their voucher a day ago) with you or you’re booked for three months or some such nonsense. Surprisingly, people who are purchasing direct (even if with a discount) are usually very respectful and a lot easier to work with. Guess they understand the concept “you get what you paid for” much better.

But This Is A Brand New Computer?!

While doing various demos with clients I can’t help but notice one scary trend. Client usually checks the demo page from his or hers computer, prepares a list of issues and then we meet to go over them. A lot of clients complain right off the start that their web site doesn’t look exactly like it should or behaves strangely. The reason, of course is not the fact that the web sites we designed aren’t compatible with their browsers, but their browsers being dramatically out of date.

There were so many times when this had happened, it actually became one of the internal internet memes. The phrase “but this is a brand new computer, we only bought it year and a half ago” isn’t that funny anymore. People are becoming increasingly overprotective of their computers, calling them their “friends” and “babies” – “my baby is sick, can you fix it”, “my dear friend have been acting strange lately, maybe he’d caught a virus or something”.

Worse yet, when you point to those issues you face further complaints that you are trying to avoid your responsibilities and you should make web site work with any browser on Earth. While in general it is true, the task is all but impossible – try stuffing that intro flash movie down the throat of Lynx and you will get the idea :). Or, more realistic scenario – the famous Internet Explorer 6.0, that some people still think is good enough browser. In fact, according to statistics on my most traffic-heavy clients’ web sites the IE 6 is 4th most popular browser, after IE 7, IE 8 and Firefox (all versions).

Unfortunately, quite a few things are simply impossible to achieve in this world. One of them is the browser compatibility. However, there’s a pretty good chance that if you make something look critical and urgent and very important overall – people would listen, look and take action.

So from now on if you venture to this web site using one of the older browsers (Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox are supported at the moment) you will see a bright yellow bar on the top of the page saying that your browser is old and needs to be updated with a link to a page where you can choose what to do as well as a link to page where I explain why it is important to keep the browser up to date. If you are using the latest and greatest but just anxious to to see what the page looks like – feel free to look here: http://www.istudioweb.com/browser-information/.

Can You Please Stop The Spam For Me?

Anyone who ever worked with customers knows that customers are ignorant. They don’t care how, what or when, they want their instant gratification now. Now, damn it! I mean NOW! Certain providers are happy to oblige, some would spit in customer’s soup to return the favor, some would turn such a customer away and ask not to come back ever. Everybody’s got their own favorite story to tell.

However, there’s another trend, that you may observed if you stick with your clients long enough, especially if your relationship is more or less successful. It’s the trend of ignorance rising, based on belief that you, the service provider, can solve any problem out there. From e-mails bounced off to Sun stopped rolling around Earth. And the better you do your job, the more unreasonable client’s demands become. While working as a systems administrator awhile ago, I have experienced this firsthand. Once you fixed something unbelievably hard once or twice, clients start thinking you can fix internet for them, no less. With them just asking.

Recently, one of our clients asked us to route a few common e-mailĀ  pointers to actual people’s mailboxes. Immediately they started having, what they called, a “spam problem”. As in: “After he did this we started to have a spam problem”. Inclined to say the famous “welcome to the real world, Neo”, I tried to educate client’s staff on what is spam, how it originates and why I can do absolutely nothing to stop it, except for a set of measures that will definitely reduce it, if applied properly. Client wasn’t interested in spending any time on implementing spam protection (not to mention implement any of the commercial tools), while his staff is forced to use web mail instead of any other e-mail client. I still did what I thought I should – turned on SpamAssassin on the server to at least mark the most obvious cases of spam, so they could bulk-delete them and explained how to use filters in Outlook. Not that I expect any significant improvement of the “spam problem” for that particular client, but too I can’t be very pushy.

One of the reasons, as I see it, for not adopting any solution whatsoever, is that instant gratification thing:

What? You can’t turn off the spam? What about that solution? Still not 100% proof? Then I don’t want any solution at all!

While this approach works perfectly in 10022-SHOE zip code, it doesn’t really work in a world of Bayesian approach to catching spam. The only way to do this is to hire an interpreter from SHOE-ish to English.