Strictly Business: What's Your Definition of Customer Service?
Posted Jul 14, 2008

This warm weather has me reminiscing about the great times I had on our company boat, back when I lived close to the Lake Michigan port of Grand Haven. During the summer, I’d spend every weekend I could out on the big lake.

Although this was in the era before preschoolers started carrying cell phones, I did have a phone on the boat in case of emergencies. It was about as fashionable as Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone (and three times as large as the shoe itself), but it worked.

One beautiful Sunday in July, a couple friends and I were taking in the view several miles off the Michigan shoreline when the phone rang. It was one of my clients. He needed my assistance in setting up the clock on his VCR. I took a few minutes to talk him through the process, and all was well and good.

Needless to say, my friends couldn’t believe I had made myself that accessible to a client, nor that a client would feel comfortable enough to interrupt my Sunday afternoon for a non-emergency. As far as I was concerned, though, I was providing my client with the customer service he deserved.

So how does customer service fit into a successful marketing plan?

Let me share a story from Case and Phyllis Marsh, owners of Marsh Video (www.marshvideo.com) in Easton, Md. Case handles corporate productions while Phyllis handles special events and weddings.

While many videographers might just book, shoot, deliver, and invoice, Case and Phyllis take a different approach. "There are a lot of customers out there who are low maintenance," says Case, "but probably more who want their videographer to be accessible and interested in them. You’ve got to be part of the team. Does a guest need four AA batteries? You’ve got them—free. The bride gets a spot on her dress? You’ve got the Miracle Cleaning Pen. Photographer missing? You make sure he/she doesn’t miss something important. Say the groom’s sister produces a PowerPoint montage and has no clue how it’s going to be shown. You help her set up the screen and projector, free. No doubt about it; teamwork can be incredibly challenging," Marsh comments, "but you must always be perceived as being on the high road."

Of course, there are all the other less obvious considerations too. These considerations include being professional, polite, clean and tidy, unobtrusive, and friendly—things we should all do automatically.

Good customer service doesn’t have to require a lot of time nor effort. A lot of it comes down to pretty basic stuff:

Case and Phyllis are excellent videographers who see customer service as an effective tool for building relationships and business.

"Locally, Phyllis with her wedding-event business has achieved a ‘you and only you’ reputation," Case says. "Around here, almost everybody who can afford her calls her, and even some who really can’t [afford her] call her too.

"We recently captured a wedding that featured eight bridesmaids, and just about all of them are young women who know us well as former brides or as close friends of former brides," Case continues. "Apparently, there was continual talk during the preparations Phyllis was covering about how wonderful her videos are. And then, there’s a father of a former bride. We both overheard him telling people that they’ll like the photos, but they’ll love the video!"

This, Case insists, is the kind of reputation that will make you and your business almost recession-proof. "You want a pipeline full of people—prospects and clients alike—who want you and only you, and are willing to pay your price."

I like Phyllis’ story, in part because it reflects my own philosophy about business and customer service. Regardless of where you work, there are probably at least a handful of excellent event videographers vying for the work you want. And that’s why the effort is so critical to success.

After all, if you aren’t willing to go the extra mile for your customers, then you can expect to be just another commodity rather than an indispensable resource.

Steve Yankee (syankee at opinmarketing.com) has more than 35 years of video production and marketing experience and is the founder of The Video Business Advisor (www.videobusinessadvisor.com) in East Lansing, Mich.