If your business develops a good reputation, spread it around. You can use it to help your business grow.

You need many things to run a successful video business. Knowledge is important, and you also need good equipment. However, there is one essential ingredient without which your business is doomed to failure. This ingredient is happy customers.

No doubt there are businesses that can disappoint or even create hostility in clients and still make a profit (restaurants near interstate highways come to mind). But to keep a video business running smoothly, you should endeavor to keep your customers happy. In fact, if you can move the customer past happy to delighted–or even ecstatic–so much the better.

Why should you care about how these folks feel? Because your customer is potentially your most effective promotional vehicle. You suspected there was more to this than mere altruism, didn’t you?

Is Everybody Happy?

Think about the last time you were really unhappy with a purchase and the company refused to give you a refund or exchange the item (this doesn’t happen often–and for good reason). If you reacted like most people, you probably told nine people just what you thought of this gol-darned, fly-by-night operation. Not only would you never buy anything from them again, you would make sure nobody else would either. Sound familiar? Of course it does. The hunger for revenge is a basic human trait.

What about a store where you are happy with the service and merchandise? Well, you might mention it in passing to one person. But, when making small talk with friends, satisfaction doesn’t pack the entertainment value that revenge does.

So as tiring as the idea seems ("You mean we have to be nice to everybody? All the time?"), it really is good business to make your customers happy. Word of mouth is your best advertising. Why? Because people don’t trust traditional advertising as much as they trust the recommendation of a friend.

The owner of a large department store once said, "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. Unfortunately, I don’t know which half." Good word of mouth is never wasted.

So you make all your customers wildly happy and then turn them loose on an unsuspecting population to sing your praises. Should this be the end of your efforts in terms of using word-of-mouth promotion? As you can see, this column goes on for another 1,000 words, so obviously, this is not the case.

Refer Madness

There are a couple of ways to harvest word of mouth in order to use it to promote yourself. These methods are referrals and testimonials.

What would motivate a customer to refer friends to use your video business? If we assume that you do great work and the customer feels confident that you will continue to do so, then the customer would look good by recommending you. ("Man, you owe me big time. I told you about that great video company.") Another reason the customer might recommend you is to keep you in business. That way, you’ll be around the next time he needs quality video work done.

The tricky thing about referrals is that you have to deserve them. You can’t buy them like advertising or sweet-talk them out of someone who hasn’t used your services. (Well, you could, but referrals lose value when they are unfounded.) So you have to get referrals the old-fashioned way, you have to earn them.

Fast, Friendly Service

One way to make a customer happy is by delivering the finished video earlier than expected. You can’t always do this, of course, because you get busy or your editing decks malfunction, or whatever, so you should continue to tell people that it will take you X days to shoot and edit the project. But if you can deliver early, the client will love it, maybe even enough to tell one friend.

Be nice. Customers don’t usually know much about video and might come up with some (how do we put this nicely) unworkable suggestions on how the video should go together. Calmly explain to them how such a concept could cost more than they would like to pay and suggest a better idea. Don’t snort derisively and fix them with a cold stare. That does nothing for your relationship.

And if there is a problem with the video–fix it. Whether it’s your fault, the client’s fault or nobody’s fault really doesn’t matter. The video’s no good until it’s fixed. Even if there is really nothing wrong with the video, if the client doesn’t like it, you still have to fix it.

If The Customer Is Wrong, Refer to Rule #1

The customer is always right. If you argue this point, you may wind up with one less client. On the other very slippery hand, you have an obligation to steer a client away from attempting to create poor video. How do you balance these client interactions? Carefully.

Your goal should be to create repeat customers out of your clients. It costs more (in time and advertising money) to land a new client than it does to keep a current one–a lot more.

A method that some production companies use is to keep a card file. Each client (or potential client) has a card with name, phone number, etc. Every couple of months you contact each client and ask if any video production is on the horizon. The answer might be, "No, nothing right now, but we plan to do something in December." You collect any sketchy details available and promise to call back. You make a note on the card and contact the prospect a couple of months before the possible shoot.

When you make these kinds of calls, remember to ask the satisfied client if he knows of anyone else who needs video production done. Then, when you contact the potential client, mention the existing client’s name. This will give you added credibility.

Just Say No

Here’s a foreign idea. When a client asks you to do a project on video that obviously should be a print brochure–talk them out of using your services. Don’t do this every time, because you’ll go out of business. But if the client wants to create a video menu for a restaurant, explain how menus are more effective when a patron can browse through them at leisure–a difficult maneuver when holding a video monitor. The client will appreciate your help and, more importantly, you will gain the client’s trust. This is unusual enough in our cynical world that the client might tell a friend about it.

Make it easy for your clients to sing your praises. Put your name and phone number on video dubs, invoices, and (duh!) letterhead. Attach two business cards to every piece of correspondence. One goes into the client’s rolodex, the other (hopefully) is passed on to a potential customer.

Give rewards for referrals. If you get a video job on the recommendation of an existing client, give that existing client a break on his next job, or a batch of free dubs, or some other goodie that will show him you appreciate the plug.

Commendations That Count

Testimonials are referrals that you use in your marketing. Let’s say that a client is so pleased with a video that you have created for them that the client writes a glowing letter. This letter says you are one heck of a video dude (or dudette). You show this letter to a potential client who is impressed that a previous client was impressed enough to write such an impressive letter. Quicker than you can say "impressionistic," you have a new client.

You can also glean testimonials from conversations you have with clients. "Heck of a job. Best I’ve ever seen," the client says as he hugs his video dubs to his chest. After the client leaves you make a note of his kind words. Before you put the quote into your sales literature, let the client know. Perhaps you didn’t hear him correctly. What he really said was, “What a slob. Smells like evergreen." You can see where this might lead to confusion.

Another way to get testimonials (or valuable feedback) is through customer surveys. This could be a questionnaire with all the usual questions. For example, “On a scale of 1 to 10–10 being best–how would you rate our service?” At the end of the survey, you could say something like: “We will keep the results of this survey confidential. But if our service has been excellent, would you mind writing a letter of recommendation that we can use in our marketing materials? We would consider it a personal favor.”

If you have the chance to land a new client, and this new client means a lot to you, either in terms of money or prestige or personal satisfaction, then you might consider a personal testimonial from an existing client. In other words, give the potential client the phone number of the existing client and let the two of them talk to each other.

You don’t want to overdo this gambit, because it could get on the nerves of your existing clients. But if you can land a client like NBC News or Paramount Pictures on the strength of a testimonial, then it might be worth it. Just get your existing client’s permission first.

Because the world is a cynical place, a referral or testimonial is more believable than an advertisement that you write yourself. The only down side is that you have to earn such praise. Hey, all you have to do is create excellent videos all day, every day, for as long as you’re in business. And that’s what you want to do, anyway.

Videomaker contributing editor William Ronat owns a video production company.

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