The real eternal triangle: quality, service and price

There has long been a viewpoint that, in business, it’s not possible to achieve the holy grail of quality, service and price. Commentators have argued that aiming for two of the three works, but a business  that seeks to deliver all three is bound to fail. This understanding determines how a business markets its products. Luxury brands rarely mention price. Discount supermarkets always do, but they neglect to mention that you’ll be allowed nano-seconds to reload your trolley.

There are counter-arguments, of course, and businesses who believe it can be done. Amazon, for example, manages to satisfy its customers with swift delivery, quality products and good prices. Even so, it has more than enough detractors who happily pick holes in other aspects of the company’s management and strategy. And its business model isn’t exactly responsive – try phoning someone to discuss having that widget you’ve found online, packed differently or produced in just a slightly different shade of blue.

Amazon’s success has, however, contributed to altered buyer behaviour and expectations. These days, few people retain the fear of online commerce. Familiarity with this new method of sourcing goods may have started with purchasing a book or DVD online, but it has spread like wildfire. With commerce enabled by smart technology, and shipping and transportation costs low, customers can shop around. They are no longer tied to buying local and no longer suspicious of imported goods.  In this brave new world, we would be foolish to ignore price as an influencing factor in a purchase decision. There will always be those for whom it is the most important factor, but we believe that for a sustainable business and for long-term consumer satisfaction, price should have much less weight.

A business needs to know where it stands on the price-quality-service triangle and then, critically, to ensure that their customers understand their position. Sending confusing messages to the market risks alienating all sectors of it.  It’s hard to trust organisations that claim an ability to do everything when, in reality, they rarely can. Price sets expectations. A price that is very low can act to turn away customers, signalling, as it does, poor quality and the potential for poor service. Throwing an old chestnut into the mix, the attitude that ‘you get what you pay for’ remains as strong as ever.  Besides, competition based solely on offering the lowest price is never healthy. It’s a vicious spiral where quality must necessarily decline and where business survival depends upon cutting corners and possibly on the use of substandard working practices and materials.

Today’s business environment is populated by savvy buyers, who are looking for more than just a rock-bottom price. They are looking for quality and service, but also for confidence and a relationship with their supplier. Customers want to feel understood, that their needs will be met and that there is time to talk.  If they want that widget in a slightly different shade of blue and packaged in an altered format it should, at the very least, be something that is up for discussion.

Suppliers need to demonstrate that they can react to their customers’ concerns, address them, deliver the products they need, when they need them, and not just once, but over the long term. This approach builds loyalty, rapport and mutually beneficial trading relationships. Importantly, it’s a foundation for growth and improvement, instead of decline.

But, back to price. It never goes away, does it?  It still matters because everyone’s money is tight and every business has a bottom line. But the way to manage price is not by slashing it. It’s by making the operation more efficient, by investing, by eliminating waste and getting things right first time. With costs under control, prices can be fair and sustainable. Our triangle is balanced and all three components – quality, service and price – are aligned to the promotion of a viable, responsible and growing business.


Tina Moorhouse is MD of Oakland Glass Ltd, suppliers of specialist glass and sealed units to the construction industry. To find out more visit