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Make sure value-added really adds value

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Value-added is the currency of the new economy. The idea is this: You do business by giving people what they pay for, but you gain and retain customers by adding a little something extra on top.

When the Eat ‘n Park restaurant chain gives each child a free Smiley cookie after dinner, that’s value-added. When UPS and FedEx provide tracking numbers so you can follow the progress of your package, that’s value added.

But beware of providing value-added that fails to add value. That can actually harm your business.

Here’s an example from the business-to-business world: On behalf of a client, I recently placed some small advertisements with a local media outlet. Ever since, I have received a weekly e-mail letting me know that my online customer profile has been established and that if I fill it out I will receive a free listing in some under-explained and over-complicated online system. They call it value-added; I call it extra work with dubious benefit for which I won’t be paid. But ignoring it leaves me with the inescapable knowledge that maybe – though not likely – I am shorting my client on some meaningful opportunity.

Here’s another, from the business-to-consumer world: The pharmacy placed four automated calls to my house the other day.

One was important; it directed my daughter to call the store about a question on a prescription she had transferred from another location. Over the next few hours she called several times and nobody ever answered the phone. In the end, she drove to the store and waited in a long line to speak to the overwhelmed pharmacist.

While she was there, I asked her to pick up another family member’s prescription that had been submitted electronically the previous day by the doctor. Not only wasn’t that prescription ready, nobody in the pharmacy could find any evidence it had ever come in. But 20 minutes after my daughter got back home, another robo-call arrived to announce the prescription was ready.

That phone call was intended to be value-added, but instead, it emphasized that the pharmacy is understaffed and has flawed processes – resulting in the inconvenience of another trip to the store.

By the time I returned home, there were yet two more calls – “courtesy” reminders that it was time to refill some maintenance medications.

I never asked for these reminders. In my household, we have a better reminder system: When the pill bottle is close to empty, it’s time to reorder. But the pharmacy decided its calls would add value, and opted us in to receive them.

I’m sure there is a way to change the settings for these automated calls. But why should that be my job? I didn’t ask for all this value-added in the first place. Aside from the momentary pharmaceutical chaos in my household, we’re basically healthy and view our business with the drug store as a transactional necessity.

This, of course, is what the pharmacy corporation hopes to change. By offering all this value-added service, it hopes to turn our transactions into a relationship.

It’s having the opposite effect; rather than figuring out how to change my preferences, I simply seethe in the background while the answering machine records each call.

The lesson is this: If you’re going to offer value added, make sure it really adds value. Otherwise you’re just spending money on something that actually harms your business.

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About the Author:

Bob Rosenbaum is founder and principal of The MarketFarm, a content-oriented strategic communications firm.

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