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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.
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