I’m not buying it. Not even for a second.
Customers will do anything to get a discount, a freebie or something extra. At the end of the season they’ll return clothes that clearly have been worn, and ask for their money back. They’ll order a steak medium rare and want a comp because they say it was undercooked.
They don’t follow instructions, break the appliance and blame it on the manufacturer. What’s more, they’ll tell everybody on Facebook and Twitter about it.
Are those customers right?
I don’t think so.
Customers are calculating, conniving and self-centered.
Years ago, I worked as a customer service trainer in a call center of a major U.S. bank. I basically had to teach my students how to deal with constant verbal abuse and terroristic threats.
Angry drunks would call to find out why their account had been blocked. Enraged customers wanted to know why they should pay an overdraft fee after spending money they didn’t have. These people were beyond rude, and often drove the reps on the other end of the line to tears.
I don’t believe these abusive callers were a special breed. They were regular folks like you and me. Perhaps a bit more frustrated. But if you don’t think ordinary people are capable of rude behavior, be one of the last people to leave a movie theater and see what a mess they leave behind. After thousands of years of evolution, our civilization has come a long way, hasn’t it?
MONEY AND MOUTH
Customers are often wrong because they say one thing and do another. In the late seventies, consumers told market researchers that they didn’t need a small cassette player to listen to while walking around. Sony ignored them and the Walkman became a big success. These days, consumers will tell you they’re willing to pay extra for environmentally friendly products, but in economic terms it’s still a niche market.
Consumers can be wrong because they lack knowledge, imagination or vision. Steve Jobs told Business Week: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
But there are other reasons why customers aren’t always right. Simply put, not all of them can be trusted. It’s not because they’re evil people. Sometimes they can’t foresee what’s going to happen.
A while back I negotiated a deal with a corporate e-Learning provider. In exchange for a regular flow of projects, I lowered my rate. The client was extremely satisfied with my work, yet, after a while he dropped off the radar. Mind you, my contact at that corporation was a very nice, communicative and polite man.
Many months and a few emails later, he told me he was no longer responsible for these projects. They guy who had taken his place had his own list of preferred voices, and apparently, I wasn’t on it.
From then on, I decided to only offer discounts once a longer-term business relationship had been firmly established. Trust must be earned.
WHO’S IN CHARGE?
Sometimes whom you believe to be the client, turns out not to be the decision maker. A studio once hired me to voice a video to promote a U.S. resort town. If you’re familiar with my voice, you know I don’t exactly sound like your typical American. The producer told me that my more European accent would give the campaign a “touch of class”.
When the Tourism Board watched the finished product, they were not happy. They wanted a narrator with a more local sound. Because the producer couldn’t use my voice, he proposed to pay me half of what we had agreed on.
Should I have walked away with fifty percent, or do you think the producer owed me the full amount?
Customers are also wrong when they’re unreasonable. I remember winning an audition to narrate a German script, taken from an English production. The idea was to match the UK narrator precisely, but there was one thing they forgot to mention.
The German translation had about 35% more text. I was stuck with a two-minute script that had to fit into a ninety second video. I warned the producer about the problem, but he insisted that as a professional, I should be able to pull it off.
After a couple of attempts, I went for it and managed to fit every word in by editing every breath out. The result sounded unnatural and way too fast. In the producer’s mind, the script was not the problem. It was me.
I spent an afternoon recording three more versions of the same text, and I just wasn’t able to comfortably fit every word in. In the evening I received an email from the client: “I don’t think this is working out. Thank you for your time.”
No cure. No pay.
That day I learned another valuable lesson: Never take on a job if you can’t meet the needs and expectations of the client.
IS THE CLIENT KING?
If you’ve been in business for a while, I’m sure you’ve run into customers with unrealistic expectations. They call you at the last moment and expect the job to be done yesterday at a rock bottom rate which they won’t pay until you send them five reminders and threaten them with Small Claims Court.
Some will send a revised script after you’ve recorded the first and approved version, and expect you to record the new text for free. Of course they want you to take care of the editing and not pay a penny extra. After all, it’s great for your portfolio and you’re lucky they’ve selected you. In my book, recording a revised script is a new job and I charge my clients accordingly.
No matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to make every customer happy. That’s not always the customer’s fault. Sometimes you have a great day and sometimes you’re unable to give 100%. Feedback will come your way, and it’s not all going to be positive. But getting less than stellar feedback doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It’s an opportunity to better yourself.
After dealing with customers for decades, this is what I discovered:
You cannot change your clients, but you can manage their expectations.
What do I mean by that?
Only a few years ago, I could go into a studio and be greeted by a producer, someone from the ad agency, the client, the audio engineer and a director. The recording sessions that followed were often a team effort. These days, I’m a one-man, home studio band. This saves my clients a ton of money, but I let them know in advance that I don’t have all the technical bells and whistles of a million dollar recording facility.
I also let them know that it’s up to them to give me clear instructions, because there’s no director to guide me. I encourage them to listen in on a phone patch and make sure they get the read they need, but nine out of ten times they leave it up to me.
Some of my clients will get back to me and ask for a faster or slower read. I’m willing to do a retake or two if that’s necessary, but that’s it. If I give in and keep on fine-tuning indefinitely, I’ve just trained the client to expect that of me. Yes, I’m willing to go the extra mile, but I’m not running a marathon.
They should also know that I’m not always available. I have other clients. That means I can’t just stop whatever I’m doing just because their planning is all messed up and they need me NOW. I take breaks. I need vacation. I have a life.
BE CLEAR TO YOUR CLIENT
I’ve also learned my lesson when it comes to pronunciation. I refuse to read the client’s mind as to how I should pronounce a certain foreign word, company or family name. Last week I had a Dutch script with the name of two global companies that could be pronounced in a Dutch or in an English way. A client can’t expect me to decide how these companies would like to be known publicly. They have to clue me in.
The biggest bone of contention used to be my fee. In the past, I spent too much time dealing with customers who claimed “they couldn’t afford me”. By the way, that’s a statement that can never be verified.
These days, I manage my clients’ expectations by publishing my rates on my website. It’s a way to prequalify my customers, and I rarely get an offer to work for a ridiculously low rate anymore. (I’ve written about that in “Are you still hiding your rates?“)
One last thing.
The customer isn’t always right, but you might not always be right for the customer. You can do your very best to educate your clients, but some people don’t read emails, don’t know the business, can’t follow instructions or continue to have unreasonable expectations (this goes both ways).
Take my advice: Let them go before they let you go.
Believe me: both parties will be much better off in the end.
Am I right?
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
Be sweet. Please retweet!
PS How do you manage your clients’ expectations? Have you ever had to fire a client?