Thursday, November 20, 2008

Customer Service

I have a meeting planner friend who is onsite right now at a gig.
The company I work with bid on the job, but the end client chose the company that got it, which will remain nameless, because somebody knew somebody's uncle... blah blah blah.

While there is something to be said for getting business because of relationships, it happens all the time, you have to perform once you get the business.

Since the first day onsite my meeting planner friend has been telling me horror stories of the service the AV company is providing.
The first one starts off with something simple.
They dropped a laser printer in the office and walked away, not setting it up, or helping at all.
In contrast:
The guy I work for general provides an AV technician who specializes in onsite IT for meetings. Most of the time that is me!
The standard minimum level of service that we provide is to be there when the meeting planner arrives, make sure that the hotel has provided a high speed connection that works. So, we test the line, and then install some kind of wireless router in place to ensure that the meeting planner gets connected to the internet and their VPN. Then we tackle the rest of the meeting planner's staff. Not our job really... but we take responsibility for the success of the meeting. After everyone is checking email, Skype, Facebook, and all the other simple pleasures in life, we go to work on printing. Most of the time this is a relatively easy task. Download a driver from the internet, run the tools and print a test page. Sometimes however because of the mother companies group policies or the degraded state of these computers, this process could take hours. The last time it involved two guys jumping in a cab in Shanghai and trying to find a printer cable in a place where no one spoke english. we worked on it for 3 straight hours trying to get the computer to print. We finally took a break so that the planner could get to her email and then one of us came back later and worked for another 3 hours till he finally got the computer to print.
If this is not a value added service... I have no idea what is.

Secondly, During the Setup day of the general session, the AV company set up the audio console behind the drape, backstage.
Now, when you an audio guy backstage, you can't see what is happening on stage. You don't know when the presenter is actually at the podium, or if they have a wireless mic on... when they are not at the podium. You can't see the main guy stand up from his table to make an off the cuff announcement. you won't see the guy on stage getting ready to sneeze or cough and be able to turn his microphone off so that people won't get blasted by a 130 db sneeze, and more importantly, you can't hear what is going on in the space where the attendees are sitting. You won't know if it is too loud, too soft, you won't be able to tell if the microphone is making the presenter sound natural. There are a million reasons why setting up behind the stage is just plain wrong.
About the only right time to do it, is this:
When the client specifically asks you to.
Sure you argue just a little, gently explaining why it is a bad idea, but some times they just don't want to see your gear in the room. I have had clients tell me that the attendees are the board of directors and they are so conscious of the money being spent, that they just wouldn't understand why they needed all that equipment, so they would rather it be hidden backstage.
I get it. You have to make a judgment call, and explain the potential risks, but at the end of the day, they are the client, they are paying the bills, and your job is to give them what they want. Of course there is a line to be drawn... if they wanted you to dump coffee into the all the equipment during the show, or light it on fire, you would say no, and head straight to the bar, walking away from everything, but the get a lot of space to make decisions that affect the quality of the show.

I tell this part of the story, because my meeting planner friend saw them setting up behind stage and asked them to put it out front. Their response was, "we always put it behind the stage we prefer it there" after she asked no less than 3 times they refused her and kept it backstage.

All I will say to this point, is that with in the best of your ability, keep your meeting planner happy and do what she asks. Most especially when it won't cost you or hurt you. We call this storing credit in the good will bank.

3rd thing.
One of the AV crew had to leave because of a family emergency. When the meeting planner asked who would be filling in for him, they instant response was "we can handle it"
Not a smart response because it begs the question.... if you can handle it with out him, then why was I paying an "extra" guy to be around.
After 3 minutes of her asking who are you bring in to replace the dude, you would think that the AV company guy would have realized this was of importance to her and at least said that he would work on finding someone. However, the hotel AV guy that was sitting off to the side, answered for him and said to my friend "we don't need anyone else"


My favorite one that is shocking, but in the context of this AV company not really so shocking, is when the meeting planner asked the Audio guy to make an announcement reminding everyone to turn off their cell phones, and then he was supposed to introduce the main client to the stage, he only made the cell phone announcement and didn't intro the head cheese.
After the meeting had started, She went and asked him why there was no intro made, and his response was, and I quote.... "I wasn't feeling it..."

Wow... talk about a misplaced sense of entitlement.

Then the client had a Breakout session in the General Session room. The AV company told the presenter that she needed to use her own laptop because they were taking a break.

I am sure the list could go on forever, but the rest of the highlights are:

The podium microphone was popping for the entire afternoon.

The AV company never fixed the curtains under the screen that they were using as a backstage entrance, so the show was
running with the curtains out of place.

There was some kind of video glitch.

They hadn't trained the presenter on how to advance the slides using the remote, so the presenter said "next slide please" and the main client had to go up to the podium to show him the remote.

And finally, after the main client contact had left last night, the AV company guy came out, AFTER the General session had started and told the meeting planner that he didn't have all the slides.

I have written this blog in hopes that it will enlighten AV professionals everywhere of what not to do on a show. I would even give the AV company that did all these things, the benefit of the doubt that they may have had good reasons why most of these things happened, however it is important to see it from the planner's perspective and realize that your reasons, even though they may be good ones, do not matter in the slightest, if you are not giving the client a product that they want.

The interesting thing is that the end client paid more for the AV company they chose than my guy bid for the job.
So, you can't even chalk it up to "you get what you pay for"


Michael S. said...

As always my friend, a brilliant and hilarious post!!!

Anonymous said...

You nailed it as always, Steve! The bottom line is, A/V is a service business, and anyone who doesn't get that, or doesn't want to provide the service, is in the wrong business. I'm glad you give them the benefit of the doubt, I however take their performance as an insult to all the guys over the years who have worked that little extra to do the right thing, not to mention an utter waste of the clients money, and a negative impression on the industry as a whole... Oh, don't get me started!

Anonymous said...

Another great post Steve.

What I can never understand is how businesses like this manage to stay in business. Or is it just that their clients just don't realize how much better the service can be.

Anonymous said...

A quote in next post in my feed reader after yours makes my point. People might not realize that there is a higher standard.

"My talk on MVCC was the first talk of the day, which of course means lots of technical difficulties."