Just had an interesting experience with my daughter and my "very highly trusted" dentist.
My phrase is in quotes because CPAs and lawyers frequently tell me their clients don't mind their surprise after-the-fact hourly bills because their "clients trust them." I'm sure they do. Just like I have always trusted my dentist.
I've trusted my dentist because a) he's a really good guy, b) his office staff is nice, and c) he has always priced me fairly. Sound familiar?
He's not the cheapest in town, but he's reasonable, especially in light of my being a private-pay patient whereas other dentists sometimes charge inflated (as they would for insurance) prices even for private pays.
This recent experience has caused my past unquestioned level of trust to shift to a more skeptical trust. It's because I was surprised with a post-treatment bill that was about 50% higher than I thought the visit was worth.
I don't want this to be seen as one of those gripey, sour-grapes posts. Rather, I want to illustrate how someone whose bill I've never, ever questioned became someone whose prices I will now inquire about in advance—how someone who hasn't been a price-sensitive buyer, is now going to behave like one.
The dental appointment was for a non-emergency—my daughter's baby tooth, loose for a couple months, was still not coming out. I inquired whether it was something they needed to check out and they said to come on in, they'd take a look...
I trusted them to advise us well so I didn't ask obvious questions like, "is there any reason we can't just let nature take its course?" and, once she was in the chair, they rapidly took action to remove the baby tooth. They numbed her and she wiggled her own tooth out.
Presented with the sizable bill at the end, I had that awful, awkward feeling you have when you know that if you'd had alternatives, you would have chosen one. In other words: trapped. I had to write a check for something I'm pretty sure I would not have bought if I'd had the price in advance.
As a result, my dentist has lost some of my trust. Not enough to make me switch today. But enough that I will now be asking how much things will cost before I commit. And they'll probably begin to view me as one of those annoying fee-sensitive clients.
And the irony is that this check was the smallest one I've ever written to them.
At the root of the problem (sorry, couldn't resist) is that I disagreed about the "worth" and I had reason to question the "need."
A simple conversation with me before proceeding would have prevented my shift from very trusting to skeptical. Discussion could have clarified need, created context for me and my daughter (risk, comfort, peace of mind, convenience), and solidified the worth to me of his price. Or it would have given me the ability to choose: "not today...let's give it a week or two and we might be back."
CPAs and lawyers, it's the same for you! Just because clients seem to trust you even though you've surprise billed them in the past, it can all change on a dime.
Have you ever quickly jumped in and fixed a problem, and then decided to bill your client later for the fix, confident it'll be obvious to them it was worth it? Don't be so sure. It's pretty high-risk behavior.
Think: what's the right thing to do here?
Buyers deserve control of their purchases. Very key is that we, as buyers, also need context to gain a sense of true value—to decide "is it worth $x?" My daughter's visit might have been worth even more than they charged if they'd discussed it with me. But that's not what happened. I felt held captive. And underinformed.
A really awesome example of context is found in this little story "What a Dead Squirrel Taught Me About Premium Pricing" from Fast Company today. (Paying $125 sounds awfully good next to $20K, or next to not using your beloved porch.)
Keep the trust high. Provide information. Provide context. Provide choice. Giving the gifts of personal control and sense of worth to your buyers will keep them trusting you forever.