An unsatisfied or unhappy client is an awful self-imposed curse to cast upon your video business.
Keeping clients means keeping clients happy. And these days, this takes more than quality work alone. Everything counts, from the message on your answering machine to the condition of your camera cases to your invoicing techniques.
Even though you may perform the best video production work in your town, one gaffe in another area may taint a customer’s positive experience and ruin your reputation. You’ve probably tangled with a superior manufacturer that so completely lacked in customer service, you vowed never to return. Even though this business offered a better product than anyone else in the field, you never spent a dime with this company again.
There’s no reason a single customer should ever leave your company with such an impression.
Ask and You Shall Receive
Client follow-up is the most common method of monitoring customers. By asking the right questions and handling the answers properly, you can discover how your company is performing. You may also find new ideas for improvement. And sometimes, customer follow-up is a good way to ease the anger of a client who may harbor a less-than-exceptional opinion of your business. If your business has failed to meet with customer expectations, follow-up can often lead to a remedy, and at the same time diffuse a potentially hazardous situation.
And the use of the word hazardous is by no means an exaggeration. One unsatisfied customer can do monumental–and irreversible–damage. A study conducted by the White House Office of Consumer affairs found:
- 90 percent of all unhappy customers do not voice their complaints. If someone thinks your service stinks, you might not even know you’re doing something wrong.
- 95 percent of the customers who leave unsatisfied never return. Combine this with the first statistic and you’ll have customers disappearing for reasons unknown.
- Every single one of those unhappy clients will repeat the unpleasant experience to at least nine other people. And, scariest of all,
- 13 percent of displeased clients will tell their story to at least 20 other people.
What’s all of this mean? It means that a negative opinion held by just one person can pretty quickly do tenfold damage to your business’ reputation. And that number becomes alarmingly significant if you are a small operation that relies on “word-of-mouth” advertising.
Investing time, and sometimes money, to ensure that your clients are happy is cash well spent. A different government study found that it is six times more expensive to secure a new customer than it is to hold onto a present one. So if you keep your customers coming back through quality service, you are actually saving money.
For years, experts have bragged about “customer service” as a selective weapon against competition. In a highly competitive market, which definitely describes the video production world, your clients are apt to base more of their buying decisions not on the end product alone, but on the package of values that’s associated with it. Client follow-up is an essential part of that value, and an important way to ensure that all aspects of your video venture are chugging along smoothly.
Take every opportunity to get feedback from your customers. If you practice your gratitude through the mails, maybe enclose a postage paid customer service “report card” for the client to fill out (see sidebar for question ideas). And don’t use the “I don’t have time for these details” excuse. Remember, any time or money spent in these efforts is a lot cheaper and quicker than prospecting for new clients.
If you have absolutely no time for follow-up phone calls, alternatives exist. The most obvious is hiring someone else to do the job. If you take this route, be sure the individual is a proper representative of your business. You don’t want to lose customers or create ill will at the point when the opposite reaction is what you’re trying to gain. Whatever the method, surveying customers is a trustworthy manner to gain solid information–information that may be useful in the future to avoid further problems.
Turning Frowns Into Smiles
Say your first follow-up survey has just arrived in the mail. Oops–seems your video enterprise is a little lacking in the “politeness to customer” department. One particular client surveyed felt that “rude” was a good description of your behavior.
What do you do? Immediately call the customer. As unattractive as this proposition sounds, this is exactly what you should do. No news is bad news, and if the person did experience a problem with the handling of his or her job, now is the best time to address the situation and nip it in the bud. Customers appreciate an apology when one is due, especially if they took the time to point out your mistakes. And they want action. They want something to rectify the situation, something to “make it right.”
Here’s how such a call may sound. “Hello Mrs. Conway. This is Joe Jones, owner of Video Realities. I understand you had a problem with the services you received at my studio. Could you explain what went wrong? I’m very sorry your job was handled in such a manner. First of all, I wanted to let you know that I’m personally taking steps to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. I truly appreciate your business, and just as importantly, your honesty in this matter. Again, I’m terribly sorry and hope we won’t lose your future business over this misunderstanding…”
This type of treatment is the best advertising your business can “buy.” Before your call, Mrs. Conway was ready to start informing those nine or more people about your company’s shoddy service. Now, with a little luck, she’ll keep her opinions to herself. Or, in the best-case scenario, she’ll brag around the personal attention you gave her and your willingness to remedy the situation. With just one phone call, you successfully defused a veritable “powder keg” of business badmouthing.
Sometimes, mistakes can be of a more serious nature–say accidentally editing out an important moment from a wedding video, or misspelling a key name in a graphic. Obviously, you’ll want to change the mistake if possible. This may or may not be the end of the problem.
There will always be those customers, whom once displeased, will never change their attitude. But trying to appease them will never hurt. You may want to make it up to the customer with a token of appreciation. A gift certificate to a local restaurant or an offer to do the next job at a hugely discounted cost may help rectify the situation.
If you “guarantee” satisfaction, be prepared to prove it. The 10 or 20 dollars you spend “making up” may go a long way in saving your reputation.
Gaining From Good News
Since you run a highly efficient and professional operation, most of your responses will be positive. You can use these words of praise in profitable means.
One quick way is to put the comments within your advertising. This is a common trick of advertisers, especially when the comments come from a high-profile client. “Joe Jones’ Video Realities has the most professional business around. I wouldn’t trust an occasion to anyone else!” A quote like that, coming from a known community member, is priceless when printed along with your ad. Just be sure to ask permission from the source before printing their names or their words.
A method I use is to frame glowing referral letters in my client waiting area. On the two walls near the entrance of the studio are about 20 framed testimonials from pleased clients, bragging about the professional services of my company. That way when new or prospective clients enter my business, they instantly get a “good” feeling about the company. And the impact is even greater when the letter is from someone whom they know or recognize.
Use of these letters in a marketing function is also productive. One simple use involves making copies of the letters and including them in any company correspondence directed at prospective clients. If possible, use letters specific to the job at hand. For example, if you’re bidding for a wedding video, send the client some letters from past satisfied wedding clients. You might also consider boiling the responses from any survey down into some form of “marketing statistics.” Maybe you mailed a questionnaire asking clients to judge your company in a variety of areas: customer service, quality of the job, friendliness of personnel, speed of turnaround, etc. You can turn the answers to these questions into quantitative data, like, “More than 95 percent of people surveyed rated Video Realities ‘five stars’ on customer service.” Quotes and hard data like the above are perfect for public relations projects such as press releases.
A final ancillary effect of customer recommendations may result in improved relations with creditors. Good word-of-mouth and increasing business may help in approvals for loans, extensions of credit and buying on terms.
As the follow-up calls are being made and surveys results get tallied, you may notice that your business is not the only thing being recognized. Employees, freelancers and assistants may become the recipients of praise, or quite possibly scolding. When good comments come back about those who help with your video productions, share the comments in a public manner. Make copies of the thankful thoughts and distribute to everyone within your organization. If you want to go that extra step, a framed version of the correspondence is nice.
Obviously, you should discuss any negative feedback singling out a specific workers’ actions in a very private manner. Before you “lay down the law” with anyone, be sure to get their side of the story as well. The possibility exists that they are unaware of making a mistake. Or, it actually may just be an impossible client.
I received a letter from a client chastising my cameraman for his rudeness. The client was insistent that my employee tried his best to sabotage the shoot and embarrass the client in front of his “carefully assembled cast” of actors. Before saying anything, I let the cameraman give me his side. Apparently, the clients’ “cast” consisted of juvenile family members who had never acted before, much less sat in front of a lens. Whenever a shot was lined up, the client decided he knew the proper angles, lighting, etc., successfully ruining each shot. This action became so distracting that the still photographer present packed his bags and left in disgust. Just to verify the story, I gave the still photographer a call. He verified my employee’s story. When I finally called the client, I had the “inside” knowledge I needed to deal with the problem. To make a long story short, he ended up apologizing to my cameraman at the reshoot.
If your people do make a legitimate mistake, and it’s the first time, give them the opportunity to learn from the error and offer advice on how you would like the situation handled in the future.
Make It Happen
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to get customers to return surveys, especially those written surveys that require the client to fill out a postcard and make the arduous trip to a mailbox. Sometimes it’s virtually impossible to get responsive action out of a past client.
The key is to offer an incentive. I used to offer a rebate immediately after the video was complete if a client filled out an extensive questionnaire. That rebate could be quite a chunk of cash on a big job, and most every client completed the form. Other incentives I used to persuade responses to surveys included free extra dubs of their production, discounted air time if it was a cable or broadcast client and extended credit terms and discount coupons for future services (i.e. 1/2 price on a film transfer). Whatever you can do to increase the response rate is a wise move. Again, the money it costs to properly service existing clients is minuscule compared to the cost of finding new business.
The initial sale happens just once; it’s the long-term client relationship that holds the key to your business’ success. Tracking the pulse of your customers through a comprehensive follow-up plan will ensure your survival in this ever-growing video marketplace.
Martin Devereaux is a videomaker and freelance writer.
What should you ask customers when trying to get some solid feedback?
Try the following:
- What was the date of the service?
- What type of video service was provided?
- Is this your first experience with our company?
- Did the final product meet your original expectations?
- Are you satisfied with the final product?
- Were you treated well by our staff?
- Was the time-frame of the project and the final delivery acceptable?
- Did the price of the project meet expectations?
- Are there any other video services you need that we do or do not provide?
- Would you recommend our services to others?
While most of the above are yes/no questions, it’s smart to leave room on a form for elaboration or comments.