2 customer service examples: the wrong way and the right way

Whether you’re a voiceover talent or some other type of independent, small business owner, you likely face the challenge of being a one-person band, spinning multiple plates all at one time. The result is that sometimes some spinning plates drop and break: those plates can represent profits, customers, payables and a whole bunch of other issues that keep you up late at night (no, you’re not the only one who loses sleep over their business sometimes).

After 35+ years as a moderately successful small business owner (and sometimes less than moderately) I’ve realized that most (not all) business problems have to do with day-to-day communication between customer and vendor. It’s hard to keep those lines of communication open for a myriad of reasons, but it’s worse to not keep them open at all.

I’m not talking about marketing – but rather the operational communication business owners have with prospective clients and current clients.

I’m going to share two stories of customer service that I personally experienced this past week that exemplify how to get customer service very wrong and very right. I believe these two examples can help small business owners and especially one-person shops reflect on their current customer service practices and ultimately take better care of their customers.

We, as small business owners, have all been responsible for good and bad customer service – we all have room for improvement.

THE BAD

I had decided last week, after trying some different business card styles and types, that I was going to go back to my previous business card vendor to have new business cards printed with a new design. The company is Designline Graphics, Inc. in Henderson, NV and is also known as 4 Color Print and SilkCards.

The company spent some time and effort to stay in touch with me so I decided to do some new business with them. After this experience, though, I will NOT do business with them again.

I had been in touch with Designline Graphics, Inc./Silkcards about this new card project, got the design squared away, agreed to their price and one morning last week, gave them the go ahead as soon as they would send me a proof to approve. The day I received the proof but before I had approved it, I received an email from Designline Graphics, Inc., (under their Silkcards brand) that offered me a 15% discount on my next order because according to their email, I hadn’t ordered from them in such a long time. They wanted my business!

The timing of the discount seemed good to me so I sent 4colorprint.com the 15% discount email they had sent me and asked them to apply the 15% discount to the order. That’s where the wheels came off of my deal as far as they were concerned.

  • MISTAKE #1 First, they said no to my request to accept their offered discount, as I had already “check-out” in their system (yes, they required me and everyone else <I assume> to pay in advance). Once I ‘checked out’ they couldn’t (or more likely wouldn’t) change the order. They ended their “no” email asking if there was anything else they could do for me. I responded in the email simply: “Sure, cancel the order.”
  •  WHY IT WAS A MISTAKE: Respecting that every business has its rules, it should be noted that I didn’t ask for the email discount to be mailed to me…. Silkcards did that on its own. If it was a mistake for me to receive it (marketing not knowing what’s going in in the sales department), Silkcards needed to own the mistake, show integrity and professionalism by honoring the discount for a past customer. At this point, I had just planned to move on but then I got an email back from Silkcards.
  • MISTAKE #2 After my response to cancel the order, the “Brand Ambassador” for the printing company (with only the name “LC” in the email sig) wrote this very assumptive response: “I understand you are trying cancel the order so that you can place the order again and take advantage of the discount, since your order has been processed and the proof produced and sent out to you this morning, you would only be given an 80% credit on your account which is stated in the Terms and Condition.”
  • WHY IT WAS A MISTAKE: So many mistakes here, where do I start?
    • I was not planning on trying to reorder with the new discount after I cancelled the current order and did not say that was what I was going to do that. But this “Brand Ambassador” immediately assumed I was trying to pull a fast one. The implication that this paid, returning customer (me) was trying to be tricky was at the very LEAST insulting (when did canceling an order indicate a good time to switch on the corporate ‘assumptive insult machine’?)
    • My next thought was ‘why would he/she assume I wanted to cheat them out of something unless that person or the company itself did that out of habit?’ That kind of thinking is not a good reflection on the company
    • Then I realized it wasn’t that they CAN’T honor the discount because of Terms and Conditions, but rather Designline Graphics, Inc. just hid behind that phrase. I believe the true reason they didn’t honor the discount was because they DID NOT WANT TO honor THEIR offered discount…”can’t” and “won’t” reflect two very different business styles
  • MISTAKE #3 I told them quite directly that I had no interest in ordering from them again…but the response email, after I told them that, was to let me know a manager had authorized that they could give me 15% off my next order (?)
    • WHY IT WAS A MISTAKE: The “Brand Ambassador” wasn’t listening to the customer…if this was a brick and mortar business, the customer (me) would be physically leaving the building with my money not spent and they (Designline Graphics, Inc.) would be behind the counter shouting after me, saying ‘we’ll give you 15% off next time’. Oh, but LC, there will not BE a next time.
    • Oh and wait, now there was a MANAGER involved and even the manager didn’t know how to fix this correctly either?! Time for me to run not walk away from Designline Graphics, Inc.

THE GOOD

clocksThis same week, my wife and I were invited to a wedding. Unfortunately because of time commitments, we would not be able to attend the nuptials.

None-the-less, we wanted to give the Canadian couple a wedding gift. I saw that they were registered at Bed, Bath and Beyond in Canada –  while it is the same company as in the US, the order would be processed through their Canadian distribution center. That becomes important to the story, as you will see.

As I went to check out on line, after finding the couple’s wedding registry and picking a gift, I completed the on line billing form on the Bed, Bath & Beyond Canada web site.

However, I ran in to a problem. I plugged in my US billing information and tried to plug in my state as part of that information. But instead of US states coming up, the web form only listed Canadian provinces. And if I didn’t complete this part of the form, I could not check out.

So I cleared the cache on my browser and tried filling out the form again, no luck. So I called the Bed, Bath & Beyond customer service desk and found the wait to speak with a live person was 68 minutes…uh, no.

I then went to their customer complaint form on the web site, outlined my ordering problem, submitted it and got a generic response email that someone would get back to me in something like 48 hours. OK, fine.

The next day, I got a form email from Bed, Bath & Beyond customer service but it was signed by someone name Haley. She said I could try calling customer service and they could help me. I emailed her back, told her I would not be doing that again (68 minutes and all) but if someone from CS wanted to call me, here’s my number and I’d likely be available between the hours I listed in the email.

THE START OF SOMETHING GREAT: Well don’t you know that just at the times I listed in my email, Haley from Bed, Bath & Beyond Customer Service in Canada rings me up! She’s so polite and asks if now is a good time? I said I’ll make time for anybody from customer service who actually calls me back! I wasn’t right at my computer when she called so we spent some time to find the couple’s registry again and the item I wanted to buy, she took my billing information and processed the order.

I made it abundantly clear to Haley how she saved this sale. I was perfectly content to go another route for the wedding gift but because of HER follow up, she saved the order for Bed, Bath & Beyond Canada. I was profuse in my praise of her to her and after we hung up, I got on Twitter and further fussed, making sure the company knew exactly how this one customer service person saved the sale. The company responded to my tweet and we direct messaged each other to make sure that Haley WILL be recognized by the Bed, Bath & Beyond for going above and beyond (in my opinion) with exemplary customer service.

SUMMARY

These are two very different companies and not just regarding my customer service experiences with them.

The helpful company, Bed, Bath and Beyond, is an international organization with over 1500 locations, tens of thousands of employees and billions of dollars in revenue.

Designline Graphics, Inc. has likely 50 employees at most with one office in Nevada, as far as I could tell.

Also, I’m sure that there are customers who have had good customer service experiences with Designline Graphics, Inc. and bad customer experiences with Bed, Bath and Beyond. My experiences, like my opinions, are just that: mine.

I would have expected that the multi-billion dollar company might have had the lesser follow up than the smaller company. But in truth, the smaller company – which I would have expected to be more nimble and responsive – was the company that chose to hid behind policies rather than simply serve the customer.

I got more personalized, responsive customer service from Bed, Bath and Beyond, the big guys. I was amazed because in my experience that is not usually the case with bigger companies.

Reality check: profits and operations are tougher to manage for smaller companies. It’s tougher to get, keep and train good employees because often one or two owners at a small company are pulled in too many directions to always properly focus on training new or current employees. I truly respect that challenge.

And policies are in place because one has to protect their business. I get that too.

But if there was a universal small business handbook, right after it talked about making a quality product or service that people need or want to buy and then marketing it well, the next critical point in that book should be about how to handle any and all customer service situations.

And while the lawyers would want a business owner to stand behind policies and procedures (and indeed in a few cases you must), I think it can become a lazy crutch. A true business owner knows that common sense is often the best rule in dealing with a customer problem. A sincere business owner makes sure that message is drilled into the employees.

With these two examples shared, I hope you use better common sense next time an issue comes up for your business.

faffcon 9 – number 9, number 9, number 9

FaffCon 9 Logo_300FaffCon 9 is upon us.

The dates are set for September 22-24 and it will be held in Charlotte, NC.

Mike Coon and I will again be your FaffCon sponsorship team and we are pleased to be joining Amy and Lauren as part of FaffCon 9.

FAFFCON 9 SPONSORSHIP SALES WILL BEGIN ON MONDAY, MAY 1, 2017.

If you need a presentation right now, it is on the FaffCon Sponsorship page: http://faffcon.com/sponsorship-info

This is a note to explain the CHANGES IN SPONSORSHIP AND REGISTRATION for FaffCon 9.

These changes are discussed in greater detail in the sponsorship kit. To receive a sponsorship kit, simply email sponsorship@faffcon.com

FaffCon 8 2016 Minneapolis, Minnesota

FaffCon 8: The Happiest Voiceover Place On Earth

If you were at FaffCon 8, some of what I am about to share with you will not be a complete surprise as some of it was discussed then.

But please read the whole thing anyway. Thanks!

REGISTRATION FOR FAFFCON 9

• A big focus of FaffCon 9 is to welcome as many 1st or 2nd time Faffers to this conference as possible – this is a major FaffCon 9 priority because attendance at FaffCon 10 will be exclusive to working voiceover pros who have attended at least one of the previous nine FaffCons

• We are expanding the attendance cap for FaffCon 9 to 150 attendees; we want as many new, qualified, vetted voiceover talents to attend as possible and still not lose the completely unique unconference relationship offered via the FaffCon experience; again, FaffCon 9 will be a new Faffer’s last chance to attend a FaffCon

• To ensure we get as many 1st and 2nd time Faffers in to FaffCon 9 as possible, 1st and 2nd time Faffers will be allowed to register A DAY BEFORE general registration

• FaffCon 9 Registration will be held as follows:
Tuesday, June 6: Presenting, Key, Supporting, & Voice Pro Sponsors
Wednesday, June 7: First & Second Time FaffCon Participants
Thursday, June 8: Contributing Sponsors & General Registration

SPONSORSHIP FOR FAFFCON 9

• After some grueling pencil sharpening, we were able to keep the Key and Supporting sponsorship pricing and benefits the same as last year

• New this year: Key and Supporting sponsorship levels will be sold exclusively to voiceover vendors

• There is a NEW SPONSORSHIP LEVEL JUST FOR VOICE TALENTS who want to support FaffCon as well as help secure their spot at FaffCon 9
* It’s called the Voice Pro Sponsor, it costs $1,000 and there are 25 Voice Pro Sponsorships available for FaffCon 9
* The purpose of this category is to leave more spots open for 1st and 2nd time Faffers; spots that might otherwise have been secured by voice talents who purchased a Key Supporting or Supporting sponsorship level (support we appreciated then and still appreciate today, thank you!)
* The Voice Pro Sponsor sponsorship category may prove popular so…IF there are more than 25 people who want this sponsorship, we will create a list of all those folks and subsequently broadcast a live, on-line random drawing where 25 names will be selected as Voice Pro Sponsor sponsors at FaffCon 9
*  This does NOT mean that those who might not be selected in the Voice Pro Sponsor random drawing cannot go to FaffCon 9, they will just have to register during the General Registration based on remaining spots available after – further, they can be a Contributing Sponsor if they like as well
* Those interested in being a Voice Pro Sponsor MUST send their email request to sponsorship@faffcon.com before Wednesday, May 31st at midnight PT

No doubt there will be other questions but we will answer those as they arise.

All of our FaffCon 9 team cannot properly express our thanks to all the voice talents who have supported us over the years.

We are so excited to welcome old AND new peers/friends to FaffCon 9.

We hope to see you…and lots of NEW faces in Charlotte!

what can voiceover talents learn from the kendall jenner pepsi commercial?

jenner_pepsiBack when I drank colas, Pepsi was my go to beverage. I drank Pepsi at least 3-4 times a day, from my high school days up to maybe 5-6 years ago. I loved the stuff, especially from a fountain. Mmmmmm!

Coke was not my beverage, always Pepsi.

Always.

One day I stopped drinking Pepsi, cold turkey, because I decided it wasn’t good for my stomach. No doctor’s orders, no major medical issue. Just a common sense decision for me.

If you still drink it, please enjoy one for me because it tastes great.

So this week when the controversy erupted over a new Pepsi ad featuring Kendall Jenner, I was immediately interested because it was Pepsi. Then I was interested because the world was losing its mind about Pepsi being insensitive and tone deaf to social issues.

I’m going to blow right past that last part about Pepsi being socially insensitive, thus having to avoid reminding people that almost every brand is only as interested in an issue or position (social or otherwise) if they think it will somehow help them make money or save money.

Rather, I’m going to go to the lessons in this debacle that can be learned by voiceover talents because, really, nothing else matters. 😉

  • Lesson #1 ALL VOICE TALENTS ARE KENDALL JENNER

No, we’re not really attractive and wearing Victoria Secret underwear on stages. Only some of the voice guys do that. Allegedly!

But we, like Kendall, are given a script to follow, we agree with the concept, are unsure of how it will all turn out but have faith in the producers and directors we work with that they will perform professionally and responsibly. With that faith in hand and our God-given talents, we perform the job to the best of our abilities.

Sometimes the finished production is a masterpiece that we are proud to have our voice (if not our face) associated with. Sometimes it is so terribly produced and embarrassing that we are ashamed to even cash the check.

There are risks in every job and for voice talents and on-screen performers, that’s one of ours. Rarely when the finished project goes badly is it our fault and in this particular case, it’s not Kendall Jenner’s fault either. Note to KJ: cash the check kid, the embarrassment will fade and you’ll be fine.

  • Lesson #2 VOICE TALENTS DO NOT CONTROL CONTENT

Copywriters, executives, directors and producers get input into scripts, visuals, music and even what voice to use on commercials and narrations. The talent just performs as directed. Many a voice talent can tell you horror stories of a script that had such amazing potential but must have been “committeed” to death after the talent heard or saw the finished project. But their voice was still in there and there was nothing left to do but quickly and quietly move on to the next project. Note to KJ: do that. Move on to the next job. But if SNL or Kimmel calls you to do a spoof ad…if it’s written well, consider doing it.

  • Lesson #3 COMMERCIALS AND NARRATIONS HAVE NOT  YET CURED CANCER OR ENDED FAMINES

Voice talents and actors perform our work to the best of our abilities and we take our jobs seriously because we like the responsibility established when clients and brands entrust us to perform.

But let’s not take ourselves TOO seriously.

We love and respect our voice acting and on-camera acting professions because they are noble ones, but our work has little (not none but little) significant impact on our world. We educate, we inform, we lobby, we sell, we entertain.

But our work is highly unlikely to prevent or cause the end of the world.

This Pepsi ad wasn’t so much insensitive as it was just…a crappy ad. That point has nothing to do with any talent shown in the spot.

The visual message of this Pepsi ad tried to commercialize the nation’s highly charged opinions (bad starting point) into a marketable, happy, non-political spot. The only nice thing I can envision for the brand on that point is that Pepsi may have meant well.

But the spot failed well beyond people’s hurt feelings. And those failings are the reasons the spot should have never aired, beyond the politically charged subtext.

The spot didn’t influence the audience, it didn’t build up the brand and most importantly —above everything else…it didn’t sell any soda. Had that spot run for a year, I doubt it would have move any cans off the shelf.

Pepsi’s job is not to bring about peace. The product satisfies a physical thirst. Sell THAT guys!

Capturing the modern zeitgeist may have been Pepsi’s objective, tying the brand in with the target audience’s desire/demand for justice and equality.

They just forgot to sell the soda.

And selling the soda, not selling world justice, is Pepsi’s only real job.

That’s our job too.

That’s it.

award season? again?

Voice Arts Awards 2017It’s award season again and that means the start of the great voiceover debate.

There is only one real all-encompassing awards program for all voice talents, produced by the Society Of Voice Arts And Sciences. In its 4th year, the Voice Arts Awards allow voice talents, producers, engineers et al to submit their works for judging and possible award recognition.

There was skepticism when this award program came out (including on these pages) because (not unlike other awards programs) the nominees submit their works and pay a submission fee and fees to buy their awards. The skepticism and debate surround whether hubris or public relations was better served by such an opportunity.

And there will again be debate; there will again be questions as to why anyone would do this. And there will again be lots of people submitting their work for awards. I noted a while back that if this Awards program can outlast the critics and last some years, the debate will be quelled because such a program will just become the new normal.

Unless there are indignant voice talents with ferocious opinions (and usually not enough voiceover work to keep them off social media), people move on with their lives. Programs like these just need to outlast the skeptics.

If people feel the need to pay and submit for an award, ok. If you don’t want to, ok.

As for myself, I’m not submitting. That’s not an indictment, I just don’t feel the need. To each his own.

However, I might consider buying a ticket to go to the show? Why?

Well, last year, they did the awards on the Warner Bros. Studio lot. Have you ever been to the WB lot? I have and it is amazing. Uh-mazing. So many famous backdrops from so many movies and TV shows. It’s such fun.

The Voice Arts Awards web site has not yet announced if they are going back there this year but if they do….I gotta give that trip some thought.

You guys enjoy the award show, I’ll be touring the back lot!

Some quick thoughts on a successful email blast

Voiceover talents love their email blasts.

It gets the message out to your “people” and putting a blast together is not terribly burdensome with all the online services available to help (they are not very costly either).

Depending on who you speak with, of course, email blasts are either the dumbest or the smartest marketing you can do. I’ll let you guess which side thinks they get better results from their blast.

There are two main drivers to a successful email blast: your list and your content. Which is more important? Both.

Let’s look at this two ways.

1. General Email Blast

Some voice talents write one email message or newsletter and send it to their entire list, without segmenting the list by categories (I’ll explain categories in a moment). This is the simplest way to do email blasts and can work if the message applies to everyone on your list.

2. Targeted Email Blast

This kind of blast involves creating an email message to just one portion of your list and sending the blast to them. For example, say you had a great idea for an email blast about your commercial production work. Let’s also say in your database, which you have previously broken up in to categories of people you work with and contact, you had a ton of commercial production contacts. BUT in your database you also had a ton of audiobook producer contacts too. In such a targeted email blast, you would omit the audiobook producer contacts from this specific blast because the message does not apply to them.

Which blast is more efficient? Depending on your message, both.

But I would suggest that voice talents send more general email blasts because it’s easy and are missing the marketing boat.

If you can target a specific message to a specific audience that would benefit from that message, spend the extra time to reach out to the RIGHT people, not just ALL the people.

Hope that helps.

the moral of the voiceover story

audioconnell ethics in voiceoverOne of the many panel discussions that took place at VO Atlanta talked about Ethics in Voiceover. Fortunately, the discussion was not entitled “In Search of Ethics in Voiceover”.

That would have been sad.

Overall, ethics-wise, I think the voiceover industry does pretty well. Maybe an 80-85 out of 100.

Ethics is defined, as you probably know, as being the moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity.

We all have ethics and morals but differing degrees of each.

I did not attend that session because I was doing something else so I cannot give a fair (or really any) representation of the discussion.  Those who did attend seemed to enjoy it.

One of the panelists during that particular session is a voice talent I have been friendly with for a number of years and who is also a fellow blogger, Paul Strikwerda. According to his published statistics, his blog is much more widely read than mine.

Here, I just have you and me, while Paul’s blog is read by thousands. Can’t say as I blame the readers because I’ve read my stuff. Just long winded pablum here 🙂 .

So Paul wrote about his experience at VO Atlanta on his blog and also about his answers during the Ethics Panel he was a part of. Having read his responses on the blog, I do not take exception to any of his answers because his answers about ethics come from his perspective and they are his way to approach his business. We all do this individually in every line of work – which is precisely what makes such a public discussion tricky, in MY opinion.

But the one question from the panel that Paul highlighted in his blog (I believe he was asked the question, he did not ask it himself) elicited from me a response different from Paul’s.

Two people, two perspectives, each right within their own views. Your milage may vary. Consult your doctor before taking any medications.

The question was:

Do voice talent have an obligation to consider the impact of their pricing on the greater voiceover industry?

Paul’s full answer to the panelist’s question can be found here, but in short, his answer is yes, talent do have an obligation to consider the impact of their pricing on the greater industry.

Peter’s full answer to the question can be found below, but in short, his answer is no, talent do not have an obligation to consider the impact of their pricing on the greater industry.

Full disclosure: if you asked ’15-20 years ago Peter’ the answer to this question, I would have said ‘yup, they do…no low balling ever, hurts all of us! End of story.’ I might have even stomped my foot or harrumphed! Possibly both.

‘Today Peter’ still believes that that lowballing is a lose-lose tactic. It’s a poor business tactic that to me shows desperation, a horrible lack of self worth and undermines the low bidder’s professionalism (both real and perceived). So I don’t do it and I don’t think others should either.

I’ve said so many times, in many forums. Again, sometimes with a harrumph!

But in this panel discussion, the question focused on whether there is an ethical obligation to consider your fellow voice professionals when crafting your own pricing.

From a competitive and business standpoint? Sure.

From a moral stand point, no.

All low-ballers are not unscrupulous opportunists. I know this because I’ve met some of them, spoken with them and heard their stories. One would be unfair, unkind and unprofessional to paint these folks that I’ve met with a broad brush stroke of being sleazy or something worse.

But I would generally categorize these low ballers as often (but not always) being desperate, somewhat ignorant regarding business and most surely lacking professional confidence. Those that I have met are guilty on all three counts. Do their actions hurt our industry? Yup.

But what are their reasons for their low rates? Let’s look at that for a moment.

Of the three categories above, I’d like to focus on desperate. Specifically, I mean financially desperate.

Whether it’s to make a mortgage payment, a car payment or just put food on the table, many of the low-ballers in voiceover that I have met don’t have much money and aren’t sure how to make it. They cannot listen to nor hear a discussion about fair pricing in VO because they have significant money issues as well as an unceasing fear throbbing in their head that drowns out the discussion.

For better or worse, that is their life situation. They are in survival mode, sometime barely survival mode.

Now, the harder edged me of some years ago would have told them ‘then maybe VO isn’t for you and get out of the business’ or at least get a second job! But watching and listening, I see how edicts and absolutes don’t fit each and everybody.

So am I to stand on a rock looking down on these low-baller folks with a pointed finger and a booming voice, questioning their moral responsibility to their fellow voice actors about pricing if they can’t feed their kids because they lost a job by charging $50 more, just so it fell in line with industry standards? Short answer: no.

Regarding the above statement, I will add here, lest you think I’m being accusatory, I do not believe Paul or many others would answer yes. In addition to the individual perspectives that I mentioned earlier, there are always individual situations. That’s why ethics and morality are necessary but they are soooo tricky. You gotta look case by case.

Yes there ARE really sleazy individuals and companies in voiceover who undermine our professional standards, including rates. Those folks need to be publicly and frequently called out for their unprofessional behavior. Bang the drum, hand me a drum stick!

But I cannot personally exclaim a universal moral decree that every voice talent must think of others (and fall in line) when crafting their pricing structure. If you need that, join a union, which is built on a national rate card! That’s a real benefit.

My point is not every low baller is “a bad guy”.  And beyond that, there are no simple or absolute answers.