Solving Problems is How You Service Clients

Kelly wrote a fantastic post on owning up to mistakes yesterday. (Go read it now if you haven’t yet.) She talked about how passing the buck makes every wedding vendor (your colleagues) have to pick up the slack. Not only is this a hassle to your colleagues, but also costly to them.

You know what else?

It’s really bad client service. Every wedding pro I know touts their client service. (“I have the best client service!”) Here’s the first rule of client service:

Solving problems is how you service the client.

That’s what we do… we solve needs. We solve problems. If your company is priding that as a core value, then you need to walk the walk and talk the talk. The clients’ needs come first and showing that you can solve a problem (regardless of who “owns” it) is a fundamental part of customer service.

Here’s a recent example in my own life… American Airlines delayed my luggage for 3.5 days on my trip to Singapore last month. (I was only there for 7 days so it was quite crushing not to have my things for half the trip.) I bought incidentals totaling $350. (You can imagine that $350 doesn’t total up to a lot of fancy splurges… basics so that I didn’t stink up the joint.) The company policy is to have the airline that was on my last leg be responsible for the charges (which was Japan Airlines). Japan Airlines reimbursed me for only $80. I am still owed $270 for this mistake.

Here’s the thing – I’m an American Airlines customer. I booked all my flights through the company. Our family flies a combined 100-150k miles each year with them. They were also the ones responsible for my 3 flight delays on the way to Singapore. And, they were the airline that had my bag sit in JFK for 3 days. Regardless of any policy that they feel entitled to pass this along to Japan Airlines, I would hope that they would help out a customer in need. TALK ABOUT PASSING THE BUCK! Both airlines are washing their hands clean of me and my measly reimbursement. And, ultimately, as a customer of American Airlines, I am not being serviced. This is a company priding itself on service and the “New American” (an image that, in my opinion, will take years to improve.) I don’t care who’s at fault. I don’t care what the policy is. All I want is to have my problem resolved. And, no one is doing that.

Who loses out? The client.

That’s going to sit on my mind for a long time… not the nice representative who gave me a $12 concession voucher on one of my last delayed flights. I have a problem and no one is fixing it.

Think about this next time you pass the buck…

The client may remember the beautiful chuppah you designed for their ceremony. BUT – they are REALLY going to remember how you saved the day when the centerpiece tipped over just before the ceremony began. This is what service is about. Be a hero. SOLVE PROBLEMS.

Owning Up to Mistakes

Last month Michelle did an awesome post on “How Do You Say I’m Sorry” to a client when you make a mistake, and provided some great guidance as to how to manage that relationship when you goof up (or even when it’s not your mistake but your client is unhappy).  As I am also a Wedding Planner, I have definitely made my fair share of mistakes with clients – and also – with wedding pros.  I see my relationships with my colleagues just as important as my rapport with clients.  So, today I want to focus on “How Do You Say I’m Sorry” to your colleagues, but most importantly how do you “Own Up” to your mistakes and how do you make up for them.

What is an Example of Passing the Buck?

I am seeing alot of the “passing the buck” going on with wedding pros.  Example – say a Caterer ordered linens for your client and on the day of the wedding they are 2 short.  They say “you told us 15 total linens for the guest tables, not 20″ but you are positive that you gave them a quantity of 20.  Instead of the Caterer saying “no problem at all, we’ll do whatever it takes to make sure we find 5 extra linens for you” they say “well, you’ll have to find 5 extra linens because this is all we have”.  They pass the buck.  Instead of being a team player, helping the Wedding Planner out…they instead wash their hands of the situation and basiclly are saying that it’s the Planner’s problem.  I’m sorry, but I am immediately thinking “wow, I’m not going to be referring this Caterer ever again because they aren’t a team player and are only concerned about themselves.”

The other huge problem with this scenario is that one person’s mistake, and inability to help problem solve as a team member, is that it doesn’t just impact the Wedding Planner.  It impacts the Florist because they cannot set the tables as planned and need to wait on the 5 linens.  It impacts the Venue Coordinator or Planner who is waiting on placing favors on those tables, menus, etc.  Sometimes mistakes like this can also cause a financial impact on your colleagues – that Florist or Planner my have hired staff to help set-up and now that they have to wait on the 5 linens, it’s going to cost them extra to keep their staff onsite until the linen situation is fixed.  All this to say, one mistake that isn’t “owned up to” can cause a huge trickle down effect and impact alot of people.  Not to mention, the business who doesn’t own up to their mistakes is putting their brand at risk – big time.

What Can You Do to Fix a Mistake?

If you are the one who caused a mistake as a wedding pro, you CAN fix the problem.  Here are a few tips that I recommend (and that I personally do when I make a mistake):

1.  Apologize:  Be genuine as you communicate your apology.  People can tell if you say “I’m sorry” but don’t really mean it (alot of it is your tone of voice).  So be sure to really try and communicate to that wedding pro that you are genuinely sorry you caused them a headache.

2.  Do Something to Make Up for It:  If you know you made a mistake or even if you can sense your colleague is the least bit unhappy, do something about it.  You have just lost their trust, and it’s important to show them you’re truly sorry and want to make up for it (especially if you cost them time or $).  Being timely about this is also critical – you don’t want to wait 6 months after your mistake to do something about it.  Show your colleague that you want to regain their trust and confidence in you immediately.  Here are some ideas for things you can do:

  • Send them a gift card with a hand-written note:  A $25 gift card to Starbucks and a hand-written note goes a long way.  Apologize for the miss on your part, that you value your relationship with that colleague, and want them to you know you are so sorry it cost them time and/or $.
  • Buy a nice bouquet from one of your Florist friends and have it delivered to the wedding pro you need to apologize to.  This will show them you care and really want to make up for your error.
  • Send them an Amex Gift Card that they can use anywhere equivalent to the estimated cost of the error (ie – if you know it caused their team 2 extra hours of work, send them $50)

The Moral of the Story?

I once got a call from a Photographer who was waiting for me at a restaurant we were supposed to be meeting at to discuss business (I had never met with him before).  I was going through a family emergency at the time, so I was really out of it and completely missed the meeting.  My heart sunk.  I’ve NEVER missed a meeting until then and I felt so bad that I wasted his time to drive to the restaurant, wait for me, and then have me not show.  What a terrible first impression!  I wanted to show him that this was NOT my character and that this was a huge mistake on my part.  I immediately mailed him a note profusely apologizing along with a Starbucks gift card.  To this day, this Photographer is one of our most trusted colleagues, we’ve worked together a bunch, and we have a great rapport.

So…PLEASE own up to your mistakes, don’t pass the buck, and think about how you can immediately make the situation right with your colleagues…you CAN regain their trust!

Do You Turn Down the WRONG Client?

Do you turn down the wrong client? I’m not talking about the crazy client… the one with “red flags”. (I hope you know to turn those down already.) I’m talking about the client that just isn’t a good fit. I’m talking about the client who is going to require that you do work out of your realm, out of your specialty, out of your style or aesthetic. This is the client that you don’t want any photos of their event associated with your business.

Do you turn down those people?  You should.

I know. You’ve got to feed your family. But, here’s the thing…

When you work with the wrong client your business suffers in these ways:

  • Doing work you don’t enjoy doing
  • Doing work that is likely substandard
  • Detracts attention from your right clients (which can lead to servicing your right clients poorly)
  • Your reputation suffers from doing substandard work
  • Your word-of-mouth can suffer from the poor reputation

    … and – simply – you will likely give off negative energy that comes with being annoyed from working on an event your not excited about.

When people start to turn away the wrong client, it can be scary. The first thought is that business is being lost. But, here’s the thing… when you turn away bad business, good business is attracted to you. If you focus ONLY on the clients that you want to work with and are able to service them to your max potential, you’ll begin to attract that client more often than the others. You will become better known for doing amazing work. And, you’ll love the work you do.

What are your thoughts on this? Have you turned away a client who wasn’t a good fit? Share in a comment below.

How Do You Say “I’m Sorry”?

As a business owner, how do you say “I’m Sorry”?

When a client comes to you with something you’ve made (or serviced them with) that they feel is inadequate, how do you respond?

Here’s the thing…

A TRUE apology needs to accept full responsibility. There should be NO justification for what happened. (This is when someone tries to justify the misunderstanding or error. “I’m sorry that you didn’t understand.”) And, to best service the customer, the next step is working towards a solution.

  • I am sooooo sorry.
  • I’m responsible.
  • I will take care of this.
  • This is really frustrating. Let’s solve the problem.

Here’s the other thing…

Most people don’t want conflict. (*most* – not all) So, when they buy something that is faulty or are serviced inadequately, they want solution. Saving the relationship is critical which is why you have to accept full responsibility.  Moving towards the solution is going to help both parties feel at peace.

This is NECESSARY even when you aren’t wrong. Even if you know you’re right… assuming you want to preserve the relationship and your sanity… and assuming you want to move forward, a true apology is a must.

When you’re not wrong…

You have a choice to make. It’s simple:

  • Is it worth the relationship to work this out?

With a client relationship, I find that it’s worth working out 99% of the time, even if they are wrong.

Even if you are NOT in the wrong, you make it need to take charge. You are in control of this situation. Man up!

About taking responsibility…

Here’s an example of something that happened to me a few years ago with a wedding invitation client…

The client placed her order, reviewed everything, signed off on the proof (which specified flat printing.) When she received the order, she was so disappointed because she thought it was going to have thermography printing.

Needless to say, when she phoned me I knew this was going to be a challenge and I got a lump in my throat. The client clearly approved something. She was so unhappy about it, I knew I needed to take responsibility and not with a weak apology.

“I am soooo sorry. I did review the contract and you signed for flat printing. HOWEVER, I accept full responsibility for this. I know this is not what you expected from us. I do remember you talking about thermography printing. I want to solve this for you. This is what we can do…”

I reprinted the order and charged her a little more than my cost. Sure – I didn’t make much money on this job. But, I salvaged the relationship. And, when reputation in this industry is based on relationships, this was worth the cost of reprinting the order.

Taking responsibility means that you are in charge. You have an opportunity to make a bad thing better. How are you going to do it?

And here’s another thing…

It opened my eyes. I realized that my proof/contract process was confusing to some people. I reworked it – and made sure that there was an initial next to each section ensuring that people would read every detail much closer. I could have been stubborn with this client and said “Whoops – this is your fault. The proof was clearly signed by you.” But, by softening my defenses, not only was I able to salvage this relationship, I was able to improve as a business owner. Change is good.

Has this happened to you?  When have you had to say “I’m Sorry” to a client? How did it go? Share with us in a comment below.

PS – I just want to make it clear… this isn’t about being walked on by your clients. If this sort of thing happens a lot, you should revisit our posts on client management

Damage Control

Outstanding customer service isn’t just about meeting client demands. Outstanding customer service is about solving problems, fixing mistakes, and good ol’ fashioned damage control. In an ideal world problems don’t happen. We know that isn’t the case in the real world. And, we know that no wedding is without its series of unforeseen events. What separates the best wedding pros from the rest?

Damage control.

Do you have the reflexes, quick thinking, and creativity to solve a problem in a flash. And can you do so with all over you sanity and peace-of-mind intact, in a calm cool manner?

These are the situations that will get your clients talking about you to their friends and family. “And – Oh my god! The cake arrived and one side of the frosting was all mashed! I couldn’t believe it. I was about to freak out crying when Sally, our amazing wedding planner, told me ‘no sweat’. She grabbed a few flowers from a centerpiece and was able to pop them into the cake. The cake looked gorgeous – as if it was supposed to have those flowers. I couldn’t believe she thought of that! I’m so glad I hired her. She saved the day!”

Weddings are high stress. (Yeah – I get it – it’s not brain surgery. Try telling that to the bride. It’s a once in a lifetime event and there’s a lot at stake.) How able are you to cope with the stress of this job? This job depends on it!