Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Importance of Customer Service

I’ve posted several times about customer service (CS)… for example, here and here.

I believe good CS and good products lead to happier customers, who then purchase more and/or return to shop another day, recommend the store/site to their friends who make purchases. This in turn helps the economy and can lead to more jobs. Not only can bad CS can put a huge damper on your day because of lost time and frustration, whether the issue gets resolved or not, if you tell your friends who tell their friends, that company may lose customers and revenue over time.

The explosion of social media makes it easier to share positive or negative experiences, and any impact could be felt right away. How many comments on Facebook these days are about how many people hate the changes?

This week’s CS experiences:

Walgreens: offers walk in flu shots via assorted modes of advertising. They don't mention that you might have to wait a long time. When I got there, they said it would be a few miunutes. After around 10 minutes, they gave me a form to fill out and I paid. They didn't update me or communicate how much longer it would be. Twenty minutes after arrival, I got my shot from a very pleasant and informative pharmacist. To me, that's not what the ads promised.

Banana Republic: Went to look for khaki pants. Pleasant salesperson didn’t know if they had my size or, apparently, care to look. Fortunately I found them myself (they didn’t fit, but that’s another story). People at the register didn’t seem welcoming, and in fact seemed distant until I broke the ice with conversation. Will I go back to the store? No. Will I shop online? Maybe, because their shirts/sweaters fit well.

Trader Joe’s: Employees will actually walk with you to show you exactly where a product is, not just wave in the direction of Aisle 4. They have quality products at reasonable prices, and continue to update their offerings, with tasty dishes like the new such as the new Brussels Sprouts Sauté. And the amazing Toscano Cinnamon Cheese is back!

Ann Taylor Loft: When they didn’t have khaki pants that fit, the similarly sized salesperson told me where she bought hers. While some may gasp at her promoting the competition, her doing so made me want to shop at ATL again, because the impression I left with is that they care about customers’ satisfaction.

Customer service/sales may not be the reps’ ultimate career goal. But if they took their jobs seriously and tried to offer the best service, I’d guess everyone would be happier and sales would increase. I wonder what would happen if companies implemented these policies for even a month:
--Make a connection with each customer.
--Know your products and where they are in your store. Then because you've made that connection and know what the customer needs/wants, you can recommend options.
--Be welcoming and friendly, not bored or distant. Or snooty, as in that Pretty Woman shopping scene where Julia Roberts's character gets snubbed until Richard Gere's hands over his credit card.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Who am I today?

Whether we plan to or not, most of us play different roles in our daily lives. You probably don’t act the same in front of your boss as you do your mother or close friends. You probably don’t wear the same clothes if you’re going to the gym, a business meeting or a wedding.

One of the fun things about being an actor is that you never know who you’ll be portraying on any given day. I had four VO auditions this morning for roles including several historical figures in a museum documentary, a well-known movie character for a casino game, two types of customer service reps and a personable announcer. Having the scripts gives me time to think about my approach, review the lines and do any research, such as checking out YouTube to better approximate the movie character’s voice and tone. And of course with VO auditions, I can record several takes and then decide which one(s) to submit.

However, when roles are similar, such as the customer service reps, the challenge is giving each a distinct sound without being too charactery. To be conversational while also conveying "playful" or "determined" or whatever else is asked for. If the only descriptor is “30s woman” or “40s woman,” successful adjustments for age are often even more in the ear of the beholder than nailing a specific quality. Will the client think a slightly lower, more mature tone is suffiicient, or do they want to hear something more? With VO, you don't get the added benefit of wardrobe/hair, posture, expressions and gestures to help develop your character.

Auditions providing snippets of info are a little less fun because I like to prepare and plan. Adapting on the fly to the unknown can add a layer of stress, as can trying to find an unfamiliar and far away location. I have an audition for what the listing says is a network TV pilot. But it’s not through an agent, so a bit of skepticism seeps in. What I think is the production company’s website looks legitimate. I know the basic stats about the two roles I’m auditioning for, but was told the rest is confidential. The audition is improv, so there aren’t any sides to help me learn more about the project and plot. I have to embrace the possibilities and believe my years of improv training and experience will serve me well.

Upcoming projects include a reading of a piece written by a rape survivor and multiple as yet unspecified parts on camera and VO in a large e-Learning project. And more straight narration. Who knows who I'll get to be next?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hopes and Dreams

I love America’s Got Talent. Watching talented singers, dancers and other acts achieve their dreams is wonderful, whether they’re performing in front of a huge, live audience for the first time, to their appreciation of the magnitude of appearing on national TV, to gaining fans to working with one of their idols, such as Stevie Wonder or Patti LaBelle, to winning a million dollars and the opportunity to headline or be in a Las Vegas show. It’s the American Dream personified: if you work hard to achieve your goals, if you put your mind to something, dreams really can come true. A good number of acts rise from relative obscurity to fame. Some improve and gain more confidence over the weeks, so even if they don’t win or make the Top 10 they’ll probably perform better in the future. Season 6 winner Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr. was working in a car wash. Now he’s won one of the biggest talent competitions in the world. But many don’t make it on the show. And the farther some acts go, the more time, energy and hope they invest, the bigger the fall when they don’t make it to the next round. When they fail to get the judges’ approval or enough of America’s votes. I recently encouraged a friend to audition and, since I’ve seen every episode, helped with preparation. Time will tell. I don’t have a talent suitable for AGT. But I do know what it’s like to achieve a dream , such as winning Romance Writers of America’s national Golden Heart® Award. I’ll never forget the excitement of getting the call that my manuscript was a finalist, how I’ve appreciated all the congratulations, or the thrill of hearing my name called in front of around 2,000 people, including many industry professionals and best-selling authors, and going up on the stage to give a brief speech. I also know what it’s like to get so close to a dream you can taste it and not achieve it…for example, when I receive a revision request for a manuscript I’ve already spent hundreds of hours crafting, then work diligently on the revisions, but the agent or editor doesn’t love it enough to take things to the next level. But like those who reach for the stars on shows American Idol or AGT, I continue to hope more dreams will come true.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Impressed vs. Jaded

These days it takes a lot to impress us. Manufacturers present thousands of new products every year to eat, make our lives easier/more productive, or just enjoy. We’re bombarded with a plethora of advertising messages telling us why this is better than that or why we need the other thing. Some products, such as the iPhone and iPad, wowed users, but how will Apple top them…and by enough margin and at a price enticing to customers beyond early adopters? The newest thing isn't always the best (Windows Vista, anyone?). Some products are targeted to a narrow market, while others are intended to appeal to the masses. Judges on the TV shows So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Got Talent say the competition is better than ever and make comments such as, “Last season, you would’ve gone through to the next round.” With the bar constantly being raised higher and higher, how do we continue to measure up? We often say so and so’s new book/movie wasn’t as good as the last. This or that restaurant is better than the other. It’s difficult to isolate each experience and not compare it to all we've seen and done before. And given the lackluster economy, motivating us to part with our hard-earned dollars is harder than ever, though instant gratification is often at our fingertips. For .99, we may download a book or iTune. But if the price is $4.99, will we be so quick to order? Will we shell out more than $20 for a hardcover novel? What makes something worth your time and money, makes it special enough and different enough that you need or want it? Reviews and what friends and family say may influence us. Perceived value, product features, utility, and what that product can do for us or how it can make us feel are some other factors. Soon I'll be self-publishing a non-fiction book. How will my co-author and I make readers want to buy? Make it stand out amidst the thousands of self-help books available from publishers large and small? Will we get good reviews and word of mouth to spur sales, or will we be hand selling each copy...putting in too many hours promoting vs. our return on investment?

Thursday, September 01, 2011


Freelancers can do a lot of waiting in general and for a given project in particular: while they’re being considered and/or bidding, for content to arrive, getting answers to questions, for revisions and final approval. I allocate time (leaving wiggle room in case it takes longer than I thought or other opportunities crop up) for expected assignments. While of course I don’t want to pass up more work, I’m reluctant to overbook. I sometimes get a bit unsettled when I look at my calendar and see a lot of pencil instead of ink (yes, I still use a Day-Timer. It takes too long IMO to use a calendar on a phone.). I do my best to take updates and changes in stride, but at times too much fluctuation can be frustrating. The script for a voiceover job was supposed to be ready mid-August. I penciled in two days. The date kept getting pushed back. I was offered another short project, so I accepted that. Then I learned the second project was 10 times longer than originally stated, and, though also delayed, was expected to arrive around the same time as the first. I said I couldn’t do it. The first project was now scheduled to arrive on Friday the 26th…could I do it over the weekend? I want to accommodate clients when possible, and said I could…so I didn’t make many other plans. But the script actually arrived Sunday night at 9:30PM. Monday was already booked from 9AM-8PM. I recorded late Sunday and early Monday. Then I was informed that there were problems with the script, and to wait for an updated one. Of course by then, I had other items on my agenda and had to fit in the re-recording. While I don’t, of course, literally stare at the phone or my inbox until I get information I need, it can be a challenge not to expend time and mental energy thinking about when I might hear or what the response will be… from auditions to book submissions to jobs in progress. I like to plan. Knowing when I’ll need to do something or be somewhere makes it easier to schedule other activities and not stress about having too much on my plate. Waiting can also involve looking forward to something. Two weeks ago, I was told I booked an ongoing job involving on camera, voiceover and print...a triple threat. But I still don’t know what I’ll be doing, when, or how long or how many days “ongoing” means. I’m eager to find out and get started. I can’t usually control when people will get back to me or when information I need or want will arrive. Solutions to letting waiting impact my day aremoving on, keeping busy and focusing on things I can control. Fortunately, I always have more projects to work on. What’s next on my to do list?