Most talk of trade shows on the COW is related to NAB, CineExpo, IBC and the like - trade shows for our trade - media production tools and techniques. Attending these shows helps media professionals do their jobs better and offer their clients excellent services.
I am in a unique position at Cine-Med, in that I occasionally attend such an industry trade show. However I regularly attend trade shows in the industry in which Cine-Med does business - healthcare.
You see, we do work for clients in the medical industry. There is not better place to network with current and potential clients that at a trade show like the ones we attend. Think of it this way - if you shoot videos about race cars you may go to NAB to pick out a new camera, but you also should go to racing shows to find prospects for your services. Same concept with us.
We also have a number of product lines - DVD's, CD-ROM's and our ever-growing series of textbooks - all designed for sales to individual medical practitioners as well as to hospitals, medical libraries and residency programs. Again, representatives from these groups are in great supply at medical trade shows.
At the meeting we are attending next week in Washington DC we have a number of functions:
1. Traditional trade show booth.
This year we have reconfigured slightly to include an LCD monitor playing a promo loop, video store style DVD racks and our selection of books, including the debut of nearly half a dozen new titles.
As mentioned previously, our booth location serves as a meeting point for both pre-arranged and on the fly meetings with current customers, industry partners, new contacts and the regular stream of people checking out the exhibits.
3. Lead generation
Every name badge has a bar code that can be scanned. We can instantly print out a thermal paper slip with contact details, and we also get a thumb drive at the end of the meeting with the contacts. Of course you only get the lead if you have engaged someone in a conversation and they either purchase something, sign up for a catalog or ask to be added to your mailing list. We cannot just go around playing Lazer Tag with peoples' name badges!
4. Audiovisual support
While the meeting has its own A/V support vendor, we manage the surgical video library. Over the past few months we have received and formatted nearly 200 10-12 minute procedure videos which will be shown over 4 days of the meeting. We work closely with the audiovisual vendor to stay organized, format all videos appropriately and digitally transfer the appropriate files to each meeting room over the convention center network.
5. Preparing for future meetings
One good trade show deserves another. Most large meetings are planned years in advance. I can tell you the city and dates of at least two shows per year for the next 4 years. Makes it easy to arrange vacations and surprise parties!
Thus, we promote our own future courses and meetings, and make contacts with those we will interact with during the planning process.
Sometimes we take advantage of the gathering of minds to get other goals accomplished. We may schedule a meeting or dinner with a group of faculty for an upcoming project. In the past we have rented tv studios or hotel meeting rooms to do multicamera focus group video shoots. I have done some light video editing with a doctor either at a coffee shop or in my hotel room. Actually, a quiet hotel room in the middle of the day makes a decent voice over booth.
As a company, we attend 2-4 large shows each year, and individuals go to another dozen smaller meetings as well. Some of the smaller meetings double as distance learning continuing education courses. Some of these courses we administer and/or provide CME or Continuing Medical Education credits. In addition to a media production and publishing company, we are also meeting and event planners and we are accredited to sponsor courses for physicians, nurses and pharmacists.
Do not discount the value of attending a trade show for the industries in which you do business. If you have a plan and realistic goals it can be good for business.
Thanks for attending.
It's 1AM - do you know where your clients are?
Hopefully in bed dreaming of the latest hernia surgery DVD - but what if the client is:
A) On the opposite coast and it is only 10pm.
B) In Europe or China and it is...well...some time in the near future.
C) In a crisis
I. Crisis = Something that is a matter of life and death
II. Crisis = Someone has lost their USB thumb drive and has a 7am presentation
III. Crisis = Something in between I & II.
D) Working on the same project as you and assumes you are still awake.
E) A doctor who, apparently, does not sleep.
If you are like me, you have experienced all of the above.
During the day, phone calls, emails and meetings are the norm. The sun is up. But when the sun goes down, anything can happen. Most of the time, you go home, watch some tv and chill out. Sometimes.
If you are an independent contractor, a small business owner, a large business owner, not the owner but in a position in which you manage projects, or somewhere between the owner and the low man on the totem pole, or the low man on the totem pole, you probably have a set of standards that goes something like this:
Should I Answer the Phone at Any Hour?
A. If the caller ID is from someone I know - let it go to voice mail, then check it and decide what to do.
B. If A + it is someone directly involved in a current deadline, and you are awake, answer the call.
C. If it is someone involved in a deadline and I am awake working on the project, then answer the phone.
D. If the client calls and does not get me, maybe they will send an email or a text. Then I can reply if I want to, need to or would not dare not reply.
But what if YOU initiate contact?
A. You are checking email before bed and you reply to a query or send a new message, assuming the recipient will get the message in the morning.
B. If you sent a message and the recipient is awake, in a different time zone, bored or antsy, perhaps they will get your message instantly, and reply.
C. If B happens, you have the possibility of engaging in conversation either via text, email or phone.
D. If 2 to 5 back and forth cycles of text or email does not seem to make 1 + 1 = 2, then it may be prudent to dial a number, or expect the phone to ring.
E. Assuming you intentionally engage in telephone talking or simply accept a phone call, and it is 1AM, then be sure to get to the point and get off the phone.
F. If you are in an all night edit session or whatever, then phone calls, Skype video chat or whatever may be the norm.
In general, I do not answer the phone after 7pm, unless there is a hot deadline in the works, or if one or more of the following criteria are satisfied:
A. A hot deadline is imminent.
B. A hot client is calling - this is someone you stop what you are doing for, morning, noon or night.
A and B may be mutually exclusive or inclusive to each other.
C. It's the boss.
D. It's the fire department/police/alarm company.
E. It's a co-worker who is out of town on a shoot, or working an all-nighter, or broken down on the side of the road with no one else to call.
F. I'm awake and in need of a surprise.
Note - if you are awoken by a call, clear your throat before you answer. Nothing is worse than answering the phone like Peter Brady going through puberty.
Sure, I could turn off the phone completely and avoid these concerns - but as you can surmise, I have a system of tolerances that if followed lead to sanity as well as the providing of customer service when appropriate.
Here are a few examples from the real world (details have been changed to protect the guilty!):
Call Out of the Blue (aka, I am not expecting it)
9pm (7pm Jackson Hole time)
Woman, "Hold for Dr McDreamy"
McDreamy, "Michael? Derek Shepherd."
Me, after a split second to get my game face on, "Hi, how can I help you?"
McDreamy, "I'm here with Trapper John, Quincy, Dr Quinn, Marcus Welby and Cliff Huxtable. Can you instruct us on how to import DICOM movies into Powerpoint. You're on speakerphone."
I went on to boot up my computer, find some links and send out some emails with instructions. I later got a call from my boss apologizing, who was there also and had no idea what was about to happen until it was already happening.
Expected Call (and one that never seems to arrive)
I was, maybe, going to fly down to East Buttonhole, North Carolina to shoot a new procedure. As of 5pm Friday when I left the office, it was not confirmed. I booked a last minute flight on a puddlejumper out of Raleigh. Saturday - nothing. Sunday AM - nothing. I am leaving voicemails and emails all the while - this was long before smart phones or even regularly used cell phones. Sunday afternoon - nothing. Finally at 10pm Sunday night, with a possible 6am plane the next morning, I finally got the call that we were on.
I initiate the call
Recently, while completing work on a publishing project, with hundreds of images to prepare for the final layout, I happened to be awake at 11:30pm. I had previously texted a doctor, who had just gotten back from vacation, to please text me when he was home. He did, and I replied "thanks, please download the new PDF." He did, then he called me around midnight. This is a scenario outlined above - don't send a message in the wee hours of the night unless you are prepared for an immediate respone.
Me, "Hi, how was your trip?"
notice I did not say "do you know what time it is?" - if you have that attitude you are best not to answer, which is perfectly acceptable behavior.
Doc Brown, "Marty, you'll never believe it. I just realized that the time circuits in the time vehicle are irreparably damaged. I'm afraid you are stuck here with me in 1885."
Me, "Cool, I've always wanted to learn to use a lasso. Hey, what's that noise in the background?"
Doc, "That's my steam powered ice machine. I've just invented Cream Soda!"
It was the middle of the night, but seriously, I engaged in friendly banter for a few moments, just to demonstrate that it was ok to call, because this was a hot deadline. I would not have answered the phone if it was not important.
We took care of the immediate question and said goodnight. But then he called back at 12:30 and again at 1:00am. I was up until 2am my time, and he was in Hill Valley, California 3 hours earlier. No worries - I don't do this every day, but given the time difference during business hours, this actually saved about 6 hours of phone tag the next day. I just hoped I would remember what we discussed in the morning.
Final Example - Opposite of Very Late = Very Early
In a nutshell, my good friend Lando Calrissian had to give a lecture to a conference of tabana gas mine workers on Dantooine (something about blowout preventers - especially important on gas planets), but he was at another conference on Malastair. The hotel he was in did not have a holonet transmission suite, nor could we find a vendor who was available at 3am local time on a weekend without involving the Hutts. Sometimes customer service is a black hole.
Luckily my ship, the Millenium Falcon, has a holonet transmitter. However it costs a lot of Republic credits to use it and it is often not working, so we sometimes use a free service that runs on a subspace carrier beacon. We ran a test the night before and it seemed to work, but one problem, Lando did not have a microphone for his computer, so we worked out a system using two comlinks and a microphone on my end. With Lando up at 2:30am, I awoke at 5:30am, we connected to each other's comlinks, then contacted the conference on Dantooine. The slides were transmitted directly from Lando to the conference, but the audio went to my comlink then into my computer to the conference. It seemed to work ok. At the end we had a good laugh.
For the real story (names still changed, but not quite so geeky) check out this blog, which I should have entitled "Mork Calling Orson, Come in Orson..."
Can you tell I have had a lot of coffee? Which reminds me, I think I'll do a blog about the perfect cup of coffee - that should be good for the COW's Google results!
Seriously - our jobs as media professionals are to provide excellent customer service to our...customers. Whether this takes place during regular working hours, any hour of the day, or if you consider any hour of the day to be regular working hours, likely will depend upon the client and upon the project, and upon YOU. Sometimes, duty calls, sometimes not. But in any case, your job is to get the job done.
Preferably while the sun is up!
Thanks for reading.
PS - If you are reading this after midnight, go to bed!
No Steve Jobs, this is not some new gadget you can sell us, just a play on words.
Sometimes we have almost had to keep a separate calendar to keep track of who has which gear and when. For example, we recently had 6 shoots in about 10 days. A shoot that is out of state, which many are, means that a camera and associated kit will leave the office at 5pm and not return until approximately 10am 2-3 days later(a person goes too). Multiply this scenario by two kits and three people and you had better make sure you have planned ahead.
And speaking of planning ahead, you may want to find time to plan two or three shoots in advance. For example, as of this writing, one of our guys is returning from Maryland. Someone else is taking another kit to Vegas - they may cross paths for half a day in the office to exchange tripods. Then the next day I am taking limited gear on my own trip to Vegas where I will meet up with a fellow COW for a couple of days of shooting. Over the weekend another exchange will need to occur for something happening Monday in NY. Next week seems clear so far, but that could change, so we need to make sure we have gear available, which we will. Then I'm back in the office for a day, then out again the following week for a day or two. The TSA guys at my local airport seem to recognize me.
See what I mean? I am planning three weeks out, yet also doing or coordinating work in the intervening days and weeks.
A few months ago we installed an open source calendar on our web server, and we now have an easy way to see where everyone is going to be - all you need is the password. We thought about using Google Calendar, but not everyone has a Google account(believe it!), and honestly it would become one more account to have to remember to check. We just set the company calendar as one of the home tabs on Firefox and that's all you need to remember.
However we have dry-erase calendars tacked to the walls and the odd post-it note for good measure. Those of us with a smart phone likely store our important dates there as well.
So in summary, know who has what, where they are going with it, and when - and when they will return so that you can rinse and repeat. You always want to make sure you will have what you will need when you need it. To paraphrase everyone's favorite scientist, "Maybe in 1985 you can just buy a video camera at the corner drugstore, but here in 1955 it's just not possible."
Thanks for planning ahead.
After a week of travel, which was more like 3 weeks due to the preparation and focus on nothing but the end goal, it is like returning from a long journey. Amazingly, the voicemail was empty and there were no packages piled on my chair. Why? Because nearly everyone I work with on a regular basis was in the same place as I was, many of them at the same hotel. So it was like I was at a high school reunion, assuming that I was part of a class that took 20 years to graduate.
So here I am back in the saddle (squeaky office chair) with a full plate of communication tasks, aka, new business development.
1. Followup with people I saw last week. Last week, for those keeping score at home, was a medical convention. There are occasional threads in the business and marketing forum about the benefit of attending trade shows.
It depends upon the trade and the show.
2. Followup with people I did not see, but hoped to.
This is an important part of acquiring new business. That is, developing relationships with people, even and especially those people with whom you have not yet done business. Remind people you are there, out here in the ether. When they need you they'll remember you if you remember yourself to them periodically.
3. Contact people I neither saw nor planned to see but with whom I'd like to meet at some future date.
4. Followup on outstanding proposals.
Writing clear proposals, SOW's or contracts is a vital part of work for hire. If you are a vendor, get good at describing what you do, what you charge, and what they get for what you charge for what you do.
5. Send out new proposals.
6. Chat with co-workers about ongoing projects, shoots that happened while I was away and future projects and goals.
MBWA - Managing by walking around.
6a. Followup regarding ongoing milestone chasing (another future blog post right there).
7. Create some plans for new products, the ideas for which we gathered from customer requests during our big event. Free market research is a beautiful thing. Well maybe not free, given travel and exhibit costs, but gravy over an already generous helping of mashed potatoes.
Always be thinking of the next sliced loaf of bread.
8. Organize notes - that is - post-its and scrap paper - in a book labeled, cleverly, "The Book." More on this in a future post on getting shtuff done.
So while I say back in the saddle" one should always be IN the saddle, riding on the range, tending the flock helping other ranchers get their cattle to market. Rather than a six-shooter on my belt, a blackberry will have to do.
Thanks for riding.
In other words, don't try to be something you're not.
We all want to grow, and we creative professionals should always be learning new things: skills and practices. It is the practices that I will focus on in this entry.
First skills. There is an abundance on the web and in the real world of opportunities to get new skills. Training classes for Final Cut, graphic design, using the RED camera or whatever. I get the Maine Workshops catalog every year listing everything from an intro to lighting week course to a 6 month live in sabbatical where you write produce and shoot a film for the low low price of $35,000. At the local or internet level there are hundreds of tutorials, DVD products and books. Pick your software and get moving.
In other words, there is no shortage of ways to learn new skills. And we should all be honing one skill or another at a given time.
Practices can mean different things depending upon your point of view. If you are a motion graphic artist, your practice is how you interact with a client to see their vision and turn out a great end product. If you are a DP, your practice is how you approach a scene, your preferences for lighting and how you achieve the desired look. Sounds like a skill, but a practice is a personal methodology for taking the skills you have perfected and doing great things with them.
For example, a resume may be packed with software titles and equipment, but the important question to ask is not "can you make a 3D animation with XYZ software," rather it is "what can you do for me?"
In business, your practice is how you meet and interact with potential customers. Your spiel.
You need to talk to potential customers in a way that makes them want to work with you. Don't immediately get in someone's face about all the wonderful things you can do for them. Learn about their business, even if you think you already know, you may be surprised. And when you do get the opportunity to bid or make a proposal, do what you do best. Don't try to be all things to all people just because you're afraid you might lose out on a bigger contract. Focus on what you know how to do.
If you are learning how to do new things, these new skills don't become part of your practice until you know how to do them. So your practice should expand over time, but focus on what you know until what you don't know becomes what you DO know!
This week I talked with several vendors of HD surgical cameras. I was interested in how they are recording HD in the OR. Up until about a year ago, you needed an XDCAM deck to record the SDI signal out of the camera control unit. But now manufacturers have realized that's not gonna happen in most places. So did Sony and Olympus come up with their own digital recording systems? Nope. At least two competing manufacturers have teamed up with the same 3rd party outfit to use the same h.264 recording. This may sound like it diminishes market advantage, but actually it levels the playing field. Since Olympus is not a software company with no expertise in digital video recording, they focused on what they know - imaging - and let someone else do the recording. Sony knows digital recording, but not necessarily proprietary software. So in reality, the two similar recording systems cancel each other out, and the consumer can focus on comparing the image quality among brands - and when you are trying to tell the difference between the cystic duct and the common bile duct, two structures the size of your fingernail on your little finger, image quality is king, recording is a bonus feature.
Focus on what you know, and your business will grow.
Thanks for reading.
In other words, this is a blog where I talk about nothing to do with Media Production or Project Management. But maybe there are still some business and/or creative lessons to be inferred from what I do to unwind...
You see, a few weeks ago, my wife reminded me that I had not taken a vacation yet in 2009. So I did what all husbands should do..I listened to my wife and took the week off.
Business lesson 1: Listen to those you care about, as they likely care about you too.
I set out an ambitious agenda for myself. I need some structure and I bore easily. On most vacations I get what my Dad calls "schpulkes." My wife knows this too, so on day one of my vacation when I declared "I've sat around the house for 3 hours. Not that I don't like hanging out with you, but I'm going to the movies. Is that ok?" Of course.
Business lesson 2: Ask permission even when you know the answer. In other words, show common courtesy and don't get complacent.
I went to my local multiplex, approx. 2 miles from home, to see District 9. Holy COW, what an amazing accomplishment. So many sci-fi movies have tried to have action and a good story and failed. This one succeeded on all levels and was made on a shoestring. I wouldn't mind shooting a sci-fi movie on the same shoestring budget, by the way. Peter Jackson, I am waiting for your call.
Business lesson 3: Appreciate the work of others and find inspiration.
Speaking of shooting my own sci-fi film, I am on about page 20 of the first draft of a short film I hope to shoot next Summer. That ought to be good for a dozen or so blog posts!
Business lesson 4: Always be thinking of the next big thing.
So that was Saturday.
Sunday was garage cleanup day. Living in a 2 bedroom townhouse style condo, my basement is especially small, so the one-car garage holds the overflow. Generally I only garage my car between Nov and April. In the intervening months it goes to seed. I should have taken before and after pictures, but after about 4 hours I had dismantled a few shelving units, disposed of numerous dead rodents and organized my collection of digging, cutting and chopping implements. Still to sort our is the back half of the garage. Something tells me those cherished notebooks from 9th grade geometry are not as interesting to look at as I remember.
The result, so far, is not too bad.
Business lesson 5: Stay organized. Cut the clutter.
Monday, Labor Day.
Went for a brief bike ride, just around my condo complex. One thing I did not do well this Summer was stay in physical shape. Well, no time like the present to get back on the horse. My wife and I devised a new diet for ourselves, better managing our calorie, carb, fat and protein intake per day based upon recommendations for our target weights and activity levels. Like any project, I setup an Excel spreadsheet to automatically tally the numbers. Day 1, fish. Day 2, chicken. Day 3, beef. Rinse and repeat.
Business lesson 6: Manage your data and use this data to help you meet your goals. Also, take care of your self physically.
Tuesday, Budget Day.
Over the past 8 months, my wife and I have seriously revised how we keep our books. For a while, in order to track our expenses, we entered into Excel not just every receipt from every purchase, but each item purchased. I can tell you exactly how much we spent on fresh raspberries, red wine or DVD rentals. From this data we determined where the waste lives and managed to revise our monthly budget accordingly.
With the budget under control, we then created a spreadsheet listing all monthly expenses for a three month period, and then copied and pasted an average month out three years to project our cashflow for the near future. Such a document allows us to anticipate home improvements, vacations, debt to income ratio, major purchases and reserves.
Business lesson 7: Know where you stand and where you are going, and keep good records.
, with many of the goals for the week wrapped up, I truly took the day off. I watched another 5 episodes of Lost Season 2. Just when I had given up on the crazy storyline it got interesting again. I will admit to fast forwarding through some of the flashbacks. We also watched a couple of movie DVDs. Crank 2...forgettable unfortunately. A few gratuitous fight scenes but not one of Statham's better action movies. Most interesting is the fact that this film was shot on HDV. And the film made clever use of text supers and music, almost like a comic book.
We also finished season 2 of the BBC series Skins - a show about the outrageous social lives of a group of college kids in Bristol, UK. Lots of partial nudity and drug use, perfect for teen audiences! Seriously, all of the characters have some family or personal breakdown and the young actors all do a great job. Season 3 has a new cast and is, alas, not as interesting, and highly edited for American tv - not good BBC.
Business lesson 8: Have fun. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Thursday - A Fine Day Out!
Today we took a ride along Connecticut's shoreline, from New Haven to Old Saybrook. We stopped at a bead shop so my wife could stock up on some supplies for a few projects. Next we found a gourmet grocery store/farm stand and had a browse around. Many tempting treats but, oh, our diet...bah. Finally, after a quick picnic in the car we hit Hammonasett State Beach, walked along the boardwalk briefly and took in some salty air. When we first started dating we did some camping next to this beach, ate lobsters and generally fell in love. Nice.
Business lesson 9: Get outside and enjoy the nice weather. The same goes for the work day. If you are sitting at your computer for hours at a time, take five minutes and walk outside. It does you good.
- more relaxing.
Shopping for the week, Costco, BJ's Target - all my favorite stores.
Business lesson 10: Know how much things cost and go for the best value. After all your most important customer is yourself. Remember your bottom line. And if you are on a diet, remember your waist line.
Planted some Spring bulbs in the garden and trimmed some overgrown trees and shrubs. Did some laundry and made a to do list for the very busy week ahead.
Business lesson 11: Put your best foot forward. Appearance is important. Plan ahead and anticipate what is to come.
I know what you're thinking...geez man, take a vacation. This was a nice vacation and I only now post-operatively have come up with these business lessons.
Thanks for reading.
As soon as I get a GANTT chart as an e-mail attachment, that is a sure sign there is an MBA degree holder on the other end. Now don't get me wrong, an MBA is a great accomplishment, and those who use their knowledge to start successful businesses are to be commended.
But for those of us in business, who got here in a roundabout way, such as by starting in a creative job...well we learn as we go. What are some examples of learning business knowledge from creative efforts?
Example 1 - Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth
(ok, that's a cooking example too)
You are working on a script for a video. The writer met her deadline and you like what she's done. So you send it off to your client for review. The next day you get it back with some Track Changes revisions. Nothing too bad. So before getting the green light for the shoot, it has to be run up the chain of command - your client's bosses. Suddenly, you find yourself sitting at a long conference table, accompanied by 6 people you have never met, your client and the worst pot of coffee you've ever tasted. You spend the next 4 hours copiously taking notes as the committee analyzes every word, apostrophe and colon. And speaking of colons, this coffee is racing through your system a bit too quickly. When the script review is finished, instead of being told to make the changes, you have to sit through 30 more minutes being scolded for not following your original orders. In other words, the client decided, via a laborious process, that what they asked for is not what they wanted. But it's your fault of course.
What's this got to do with business? Everything. Managing expectations is one of your key roles in business. You are happy to take the client's money, but are you prepared to help the client know what they want and expect what they are getting? Sometimes the only way to learn this is to drink that bad coffee.
Example 2 - Follow the Yellow Brick Road
In other words, follow the prescribed path to success with a client. In design, you often need to follow the client's corporate branding guidelines...to the letter. The client uses a font you don't have? Buy it. The client does their brochures in InDesign and you are a Quark house? Either learn it or hire someone who knows it. Think the corporate brochure templates are bland and all look the same? Don't forget that the work you are doing is a small piece of their million dollar campaign. Consistency is everything when marketing anything.
From a business point of view, little interpretation is needed. You may be a creative type who is now running or helping to run a business, but once you have provided the creative jolt your client needs, follow their rules for compliance with the corporate strategy.
Example 3 - Dance like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee
In other words, think on your feet and nail your client's need accurately and decisively when they need you to. A client calls and says "I like the DVD. Can I use this at my exhibit next week?"
Well you know, from a creative point of view, that you hit the PLAY button and the video plays once then goes back to the main menu. Not good for a trade show display. Your answer has to be "You could, but it would be better if it loops."
The client asks how soon they can get that version.
A good client asks how much it will cost. A good creative/business person will get them the goods and if they are a good client or a new client you do it gratis, because you are providing excellent customer service and that keeps 'em coming back for more. New clients and good clients (repeat clients) are the only clients you should have. New clients are not always good, but sometimes you don't know that until the job is finished. Until that time, treat every client the same - they are a good client, because they are a client, and you want to make them a good repeat client. So you do your job the only way you know how - well. Think on your feet to come up with solutions when they need you to.
More examples than I can think of
Don't just take my advice, check out the latest threads from the Creative COW Business and Marketing Forum:
Read the forum. Better yet subscribe to the new posts. I guarantee you'll be smarter for reading. You'll get the benefit of many viewpoints from experts and novices alike from around the world. Who needs an MBA when you have a COW.
Thanks for reading.
This is a well-used phrase, but in my experience, an underused skill. Any business or website should have a level of customer service - that is, showing signs that the customer's needs are most important. A happy customer is a repeat customer.
In my daily life, I am a stickler for expecting good, or at least adequate customer service. I have learned not to expect much from the youth dominated retail industry. Aside from the odd store manager who is of legal drinking age, most of the retail clerks and sales people you encounter are very young and clearly not trained in customer service. Indeed, minimum wage barely puts food on the table, let alone encourages a smiling face.
Recently our 10 year old Proscan 37" TV exploded. Well, my wife claims there were sparks and smoke, but the unit was intact, aside from its inability to function. I was waiting for the day when I would have an excuse to get a new HDTV. I first looked online for reviews, then visited my top choices for a local purchase - the two warehouse clubs and both a local and a national electronics retailer. The warehouse clubs offer low prices and not a single human being within earshot. Thus one makes a first recce to write down model numbers and prices, then you do research online, then return for another look.
The local retailer perhaps had the best service - knowledgeable staff, albeit with a used car salesman attitude, and the highest prices. Finally the national electronics chain gave both sides of the coin. The first kid more or less told me that unless I wanted the latest features at the higher price, I was not welcome there. A few minutes later a young lady gave me a completely different story. She told me the benefits of both the latest and the less-new models, and let me decide. Clearly there is no uniform strategy for the sales force at this branch - it is a free for all full of good cops, bad cops and detectives. I happened to have some gift cards for this store, so I ultimately made my purchase there, thanks mainly to the young lady with a sense of customer service.
In my own business dealings, the moment I hit "reply" to an e-mail or pick up a call from anyone from my banker to my best client, my own adherence to principles of customer service apply.
Speak with a smile. This sounds like a cliche, but people can tell if you are having a bad day. Never be rude to anyone. I read somewhere "be as nice to your janitor as you are to your stockbroker." In other words, treat others as you wish to be treated. Although I guess it depends upon who your stockbroker is!
The customer is always right. Even when they are wrong, treat them like they are right. Let's say a client calls to say the DVD you sent does not play. You could find out or you may already know that their DVD player or computer is old. But you need to tell them the remedy with respect. "Hmm, it sounds like your computer is a piece of crap," is insulting, true or not. In other words, give people the benefit of the doubt.
Educate your customer. If you are asked for specific information, be forthcoming. Don't worry about giving away your trade secrets, unless you are being asked for the specific herbs and spices you use, or so to speak. Your customer is giving you their business and their trust, respect that fact and realize this trust is earned.
Manage expectations. A customer may ask for something ASAP. It is an emergency. It may well be, but be sure they know what to expect given a short time line, incomplete resources or inadequate attention to detail. I once had a client who was so meticulous in reviewing our project, it made me realize there was room for improvement in my own methods.
"Just be the ball, be the ball, be the ball. You're not being the ball Danny." This classic line from Caddyshack may be paraphrased as "Be the customer." Put yourself in your customer's shoes / walk in their moccasins. However you want to say it. Look at the end goal from your customer's perspective.
"Quality is Job One." This cheesy Ford tagline from the 80's rings true in any business. Only sell a product you yourself would buy. Would you send your grandmother a birthday card with typos? Would you send your kids to school wearing ripped jeans? Ok, maybe you would if they were supposed to be ripped. But you can be sure those rips are in the right place on every pair of jeans. Do the best job for your customer to meet the customer's needs.
In summary, do a good job. However a "good job" seems to vary among different business sectors. You need to define for yourself what constitutes a "good job", deliver this to your customers, and demand the same level of "goodness" from others.
Thanks for reading. How may I be of assistance?