Why Charging for Time Makes Sense.

One of the fundamental principles of The Experience Economy is that a truly Experience-based business charges its customers for time rather than services.  As Jay Ehret summarizes in his blog:

“If, and only if, you charge for the time your customers spend with you, are you in the experience business.”

This may be the single most challenging concept in The Experience Economy, but it contains the greatest lesson in terms of actual market differentiation.  The challenge, obviously, is to understand how one can charge for time when competing in a market that is largely driven by goods and services and ‘stuff.’  It makes sense to charge for a cup of coffee.  But how does it make sense to charge for the time needed to pull the shot of espresso?  The answer has a lot more to do with scarcity than coffee.

Time is inelastic. It’s the truest commodity we have.  Never enough of it and it’s always shrinking.  Such is life’s brutal hourglass.  As such it has immeasurable value.  

The first step towards charging for time is a gut-level understanding and urgency to make time actually matter.  It’s not about filling an appointment with catch-phrases and pitch statements.  It’s about filling that time, that limited resource, with authenticity and meaning.  You can only charge for your time if the time itself is perceived as significantly more meaningful.  It has to matter.  And it has to matter to your customers.

Beyond that, if you’re going to charge for your time then the content of the time has to exemplify an unmatched level of customer-centric quality.  There has to be some real substance to the engagement.  Problems have to be solved.  Solutions have to relevant.   Recommendations have to built from the ground up–from the customer’s perspective.  Objections have to be collaboratively resolved.  People have to work together as People.  And it all has to be couched in very human, real terms.  No jargon.  No spiel.  Just a sincere and significant interaction.

I’d be remiss to say that there’s a simple solution to this.  The answer doesn’t lie in equipping a sales team with fancy tablets and gadgets.  These trappings aren’t a substitute for elevating value.  I’d be equally incorrect in saying that a paint-by-numbers playbook for customer service will get the job done.  It helps, but it doesn’t replace two people sitting down together–listening, asking questions, understanding, solving problems together.

In order to charge for time the message has to resonate from the very first phone call: “Sir, we understand that your time is valuable.  In fact, you’ll never get any of it back.  We get it.  Our goal is to give you the best information possible in the limited time we have together.  We’re not going to play games with your day.  We’re not going to squander a second of your time during our appointment.  And we’re not going to manufacture a situation that you feel is coerced or manipulated.  That would be wrong.  Instead, we will fill the time with relevant content.  We will respond to your questions in a way that is substantial and real.  We know you may have concerns.  We will work with you, not against you, to find the very best answers so you feel completely at ease with the decision.  And we feel that this level of quality, contained in a brief period of time, sets us apart in the market.”

If a business is going to charge for time then it needs to set a far higher standard for not only understanding the value of time but also what it means to extract the most meaning from it.  

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