Jun 32009

PPC Client Services: Waiters or Doctors?

"The Customer is Always Right"

That's the maxim, it doesn't seem to apply to all relationships between service providers and those who hire them. More importantly, customers don't want it to.

Consider the doctor-patient relationship. Doctors provide a service, patients hire doctors to take care of their medical needs, but there is no corollary notion that "the patient is always right." If I walk into my doctor's office and say "Doc, I feel awful, I think I have Ebola", I most certainly don't want him to take my word for it and send me to an Emergency Quarantine facility.

Similarly, I wouldn't want my lawyer to turn to me in court and ask "Do you think I should object to that?" or "What questions should I ask this witness?"

If I ask an engineering firm to build a building using only tissue paper I trust that they'll politely decline.

However, in a restaurant if I ordered a burger, fries and a beer I'd be pretty upset if the waiter said "You're a bit over weight, and I'm a bit worried about your blood pressure. I'm going to bring you baked fish, a side salad and a glass of nice cold water instead."

Even if we ask the waiter to bring us some lemon for our glass of milk, we expect the waiter to do what we've asked.

What's the difference?

Three come to mind:

  1. Knowledge Differential: The doctor knows more than we do about medicine, but we know more than the waiter does about what we want to eat.
  2. The Stakes: Asking for and receiving a goofy haircut, buying a ridiculous tie, or ordering a Cabernet with halibut may offend the service provider's sensibilities, but what's the harm? Indeed we do want bartenders to refuse to serve us our fourth martini because the consequences of alcohol poisoning, drunk driving, etc are deadly serious.
  3. The service provider's comfort zone: It is no more difficult for the landscape contractor to plant the wrong shrub for the climate than it is for her/him to plant a better choice. However asking a lawyer to practice law differently, or a relief pitcher to throw pitches that aren't in his repertoire poses significantly more difficulties. Imagine Susan, an orthopedic surgeon having shoulder surgery. If she hires Fred to do the surgery it's probably wise to let Fred do the procedure his way, even if she'd do it differently.

What about the relationship between a PPC management firm and its clients? Is this closer to doctor-patient or waiter-customer?

Undoubtedly it varies. Some agencies and consultants offer little more than "a pair of hands" that require the customer's guidance, but certainly the top agencies should be expected to have much deeper knowledge of search than their clients.

With respect to the stakes: to my knowledge, no one has died as a result of PPC advertising gone awry, but the volume of money can certainly mean jobs. Certainly if a client asked us to run "Daddy needs a new pair of shoes!" as the ad copy we'd try to talk them out of it, but would certainly accede if pressed. We do believe we have a responsibility to advise our clients against tactics that we know from experience will be a disaster for them, but there are no lives on the line.

The last criterion might be the most salient. There are different philosophies of what matters in search, different bid management approaches and different ways of handling account management. Asking your PPC vendor to engage in practices that they're philosophically opposed to doesn't make sense all around.

A good client-vendor relationship is predicated on a good fit between the client's needs and the vendor's approach. A critical part of the sales process should be assessing that fit. Neither party will be happy if the fit is wrong.

Is the PPC Client always right? No, but ultimately Yes. We think the responsible agency should push back when asked to do what their experience suggests will hurt the client's interests. We think the agency should ultimately do what the client asks, and we think both parties should be free to exit the relationship quickly if the fit isn't right.


7 Responses to "PPC Client Services: Waiters or Doctors?"
Marc Adelman says:
Great analogy George! Here is what I want and don't want out of an agency. What I want above all: To bring an expertise to the table that my company currently doesn't have. What I don't want at all!!!! Extra hands on deck to set it and forget it. In even more detail - I beleive that the strength of an SEM agency above all is it's ability to do the following: 1. Listen to the real needs, goals, and pains of it's clients. 2. Comprehend complex data!!!!!! 3. Translate that understanding into a strategic and tactical plan or approach. 4. Execute and bring consistent results loud and clear. I don't need someone to "serve" my business. I want someone to make my business better. If an agency can't prove their ability to excel in #1 & #2 above then #3 & #4 will never happen.
Thanks Marc, I can see the value of the "pair of hands" approach for a small business where they just don't have the bandwidth internally to do the job, but even then it seems like it's cheaper to hire an intern or a temp than it is to hire an agency. Why pay for the expertise, algorithms and technology if all you want is someone to "follow instructions"?
Tom Hale says:
Nice piece. I have learned to try and listen carefully to what the client wants, and not be too arrogant in the "professionals know best" doctor mode. They do know better than I what they want to eat. It is my job to articulate the best I can if I think what they want to eat will choke or poison them. But that is analogy, in reality nobody is choking or getting poisoned. So we do what we can....without treating every client discussion like a life or death situation. -T
Thanks for your comment, Tom. Clearly the PPC firm needs to pursue the client's goals, even if we don't think those goals make sense. The prospect that comes to us and says: "I just want traffic, I don't care about ROI, just bring me traffic" we might try to steer to a different firm, but if we can't we'll do our best to achieve that goal. The cases in which we have a responsibility to act more like doctors involve tactical issues more than objectives. The client who want us to push their ads up the page hoping to improve efficiency needs to be warned that that tactic will not achieve their objective. Should we do it if they press on? Sure, but we do them no service by ignoring our experience and not warning them in advance that the tactic they advocate will surely have the opposite effect from what they seek.


Check out what others are saying...
[...] PPC Client Services: Waiters or Doctors?, Rimm Kaufman [...]
[...] It’s interesting to think about the knowledge, experience, and power dynamics that color the interactions between PPC professionals and our clients- George Michie analyzes those dynamics, and talks about what you should consider when developing [...]
[...] It’s interesting to think about the knowledge, experience, and power dynamics that color the interactions between PPC professionals and our clients- George Michie analyzes those dynamics, and talks about what you should consider when developing [...]

Leave A Comment