An expensive zipper: Why I happily overpaid for a service

March 8, 2022

and why attention to detail is key to great sales

Life's Business Lessons

This experience took place in Hamburg - during a business trip. It was my first trip in 2 years actually. Since the initial Covid-19 lockdown so many of our public lives had come to a halt (or gone virtual). For the duration of a 2-week stay, I was working from a friend’s office. Three days in, I realized I would need a drycleaning service. After asking around one was recommended to me a block away - even though there was another right around the corner of the office. In retrospect this reminded me of how important word of mouth is in keeping businesses growing.

Once I had arrived at the shop I asked for an express job on 2 pairs of slacks and a shirt - I only had 48 hours before my next destination: Berlin. The employee took and processed my order and accepted my payment. He then handed me my pick-up receipt and pointed to the safety pin I used to open and close the zipper of my jacket. “If you want that fixed, just remind me once you pick up your clothes on Saturday, and I can get this done for you in no time.”

I’d been walking about with a broken zipper on this jacket for several years. A safety pin was holding things in place, and I had been way too busy building my business and creating opportunities to take the time out of my schedule to take care of this "minor" issue. So there I was. I had come in to get 2 pairs of pants and a shirt cleaned. Now, for no extra cost or time, an additional, useful service was offered.

When I picked up my things, there was another man handling my business and handing me back my clean clothes. My "hero" was sitting next to him on a sewing machine, with his back turned to me. He was busy as a bee sewing away for another client. When I told the man at the counter that his colleague had offered to repair my jacket when I came in, the "hero" immediately stopped sewing, turned around, greeted me and asked for my jacket.
2 minutes later it was fixed and he did not even ask for money.

It took a bit of convincing on my part, but I insisted on it and ended up paying him 10€ for this extra service. This obviously was a hefty overpay for the time on the work (2 minutes) + the cost of material (= most likely zero). So why would I do that?!

As an entrepreneur I am trained to look for a great bargain and grab it when I find one. But this event was not about the fiscal value of the transaction. I did not pay for the cost input he put into the solution, but for the value the solution had for me. Getting a quick repair of my jacket (expanding the lifeline of this useful item) without having to undergo the process of searching for a solution, a place where I can get it done and making time in my calendar to get it fixed. From my perspective, all of these factors counted as part of the true value of the transaction.

As an entrepreneur I am trained to look for a great bargain and grab it when I find one. But this event was not about the fiscal value of the transaction. I did not pay for the cost input he put into the solution, but for the value the solution had for me.

The entire episode reminded me of a "pricing formula" I picked up on a business trip to Los Angeles many years ago: 

Value = Quality *(Product + Venue + Service + Emotional) / (Price + Time)

The value of a good or service is determined by the Quality of the Good/Service, the Quality of the Venue where said Good/Service is offered, the Quality of the Service coming with the Good/Service and the Quality of the Emotional treatment/interaction with staff over the Price of the Good/Service and the Time spent necessary to consume the Good/Service.

It is not a mathematically 100% scientific formula to apply - more like a guiding strategic principle to make yourself aware of the value of the service or good you are offering to your customer. To quote Matthieu Ricard from his TED talk entitled "how to let altruism be your guide", he reminds us that “more consideration for others means better economics, healthier environment and a better world.” 

This is something we as early stage founders can't make ourselves aware of often enough. 

So looking back at what my hero at the laundromat actually did:

  • He created an opportunity for additional business due to his presence and attention to detail - instead of merely getting the job done, he gave me proper attention and noticed that I had a problem with my jacket - a problem which he was able to solve.
  • He allowed me to interrupt his work, without getting grumpy. He gave my problem as well as my schedule his top priority.
  • He did not push his services on me, in fact due to his attentive detail to my clothes he offered me something of value and invited me to participate at a time that worked best for me.
  • He made his customer's problem his problem and created a solution that was highly convenient for me.
  • He delivered value, just because!
  • He acted like a living, caring human being

My question to you is: How can you transfer this lesson to your own business. What can you do to serve your customers with this kind of care and attention? What can you do as of next week?! 

Have you experienced a similar situation yourself? Feel free to drop me a line and get in touch to share your own reflections.