Advice regarding an Unbearable Client I don't want to lose
Hello, I have been a lurker on CC for years now just reading and learning. I finally created this account to ask this question. How do you deal with a unbearable non understanding client that pays well? Just to let you know, I am not complaining here, I love my job, I try to do the most I can for each client, I have no problems going the extra mile. I also fully admit that maybe I just dont know enough to help..I have always had a student mindset (been working 10 years so still early in my career) and I am never above admitting that something might be simply over my head.
Let get right to the point. This client has a master control system that contains streaming, dvd recording and of course cameras. As a freelancer my original job was to come in and op the remote Sony BCR-300 Pan/Tilt cameras and record the events to dvd. Just note that this is a place that is big enough that it should have its only in house video and audio guy.
The problem with this system is that its a mix of 10 year old equipment, 5 year old equipment and brand HD equipment. Its basically an adapter nightmare. The list of things that are wrong with this system would take me a hours to type but here are the main things.
1. About 5 different companies have worked on this thing in the years and you can tell that everyone had a "Eff it just make it work," thought process (which I dont blame them) hence the dozens of adapters about 5 Radioshack DA's and composite cable galore.
2. There is no way to monitor or control audio in or out from the room. Seriously. VU meters? Whats that? Monitor speakers? Huh? If a mic drops out I seriously have to get up, walk out of the Master control room, sprint down the hallway, enter the room where the show is going on, run downstairs to the Wireless audio rack then just try to guess at what is going wrong. (By the way, I am just a video guy who paid attention in audio class not a real audio guy...which I told them many times) Meanwhile I just have to hope that people are staying in frame 300ft away in the master control room.
3. They just slap a label on the dvd recording and hand it to their clients...no post production at all. No intro, no outro, no checking that the video is even there, I check of course but on their end it goes right from the dvd player to their customers hands.
Things go wrong constantly.
I am the 12th video guy they have had...surprise surprise. Now, I have only been there 2 months and already it seems like they think I have been there in house guy for 20 years. My contract has me show up one hour before a 2 hour show and op cameras, twice a week...thats it but they seem to think I am some type of "simply everything guy," they call me 10 or so times a week and want me to troubleshoot the system. Which is fine but I am a camera guy not an engineer, not an audio guy, and I am not really an employee of the company.
The bottom line is its the job of a Audio Guy, Video Engineer, Camera Op and Editor who should be there 20-40 hours a week all rolled into just me who is there 5 hours a week, an hour before each show.
I dont want to lose them (although I probably will) because they pay well and on time. Plus my wife is going back to school and we need the money. I just dont know how to please these people. They want me to rip apart their rack and fix all their problems but its beyond my control. I am not a video company I am a indie contractor.
Any thoughts from the community here?
[Donell Hall] "Things go wrong constantly."
[Donell Hall] "The list of things that are wrong with this system would take me hours to list"
I think you have three options here
1- Bust. Your. Ass.
This option might depend on your clients budget. Start showing up 2 hours early, spend this extra hour (off the clock) checking equipment etc.. Take notes on old equipment that NEEDS replacing to alleviate the "adapter nightmare" and to bring the setup up to speed. Do some heavy research on the equipment needed, how it will integrate and costs. Learn new things. After spending a ton of your own time gathering lots of info, present a "solution" to the owner. As you said, all the previous people have had a "f- it, just make it work" attitude. Attempt to get the whole workflow in the facility stable and reliable, make it known that your intention is to get this place running smooth and trouble-free (then they wont have to call and bug you 10 times a week with menial and/or dire trouble-shooting) not to mention outputting a higher quality product. If you go way above and beyond the call of duty they might make you into their full time in-house guy for the NEXT 20 years. But could you do that? Can you stand to be there for that many hours of your life? Is that even something you want to aim for? If they don't have a budget to buy new gear and get this place in shape, AND a budget to (potentially) hire you on as their full time in house guy, it's probably not worth the trouble (except for the experience you'll get).
2- Scrape by.
Just do as much as it takes to get the job done, stick to your job description but be as helpful in other areas as you see fit. When something goes wrong address it on the fly to the best of your ability. Hopefully it still works on the next shoot. The quality of the final DVD's will continue to suffer because of the terrible mess of mismatched equipment unworthy of being called a "system". Learn from the experience as much as possible but be prepared to lose the client, as I figure these guy's are always looking for someone who will do the work of 5 people for the pay of one and in half the time (only new guy's are willing to do that, and probably why your the 12th one).
Be sure to tell them that the whole facility is garbage and "only trash comes out of the garbage". Sound all snooty and like " I'm above this". [/sarcasm]
I think I was the 4th video guy working this system. Are you working at xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx in sunny xxxxxxxxxx?
No? Well, your situation is a common one. You inherit someone else's mistakes. Sure the shows happen and your McGyver skills help, and the client can sell their poorly made DVD copies to their customers who don't seem to care about whatever level of quality you care about.
I hate to say this phrase, but think about doing a SWOT analysis and presenting this to your bosses. SWOT is popular in the corporate world and it shows a fairly objective view of a situation. If you can show that some modest investments can improve workflow, thus improving the customer experience and perceived value, you might get some agreement.
What you can't do is go to the boss and say "your system is a piece of rubbish. I wouldn't be caught dead working here if my wife wasn't going to law school." Well guess what, you work there, they have clearly replaced many who came before you and can replace you in an economy in which people should be happy with whatever jobs are available.
So tough it out, be diplomatic (ie "Mr Jones, I have assessed the reliability of the system, and making a few minor improvements could increase the overall quality of the programming and streamline the operation" vs "Mr Jones, there isn't enough duct tape and zip ties in central Missouri to hold this system together. I'd rather flip burgers than operate your video system. Why, if this video system were a US President it would be Woodrow Wilson.." etc)
So moral of the story - be diplomatic and be thankful for the work - it is hard to come by these days. Built in a day, Dagobah was not.
Thank you for the advise guys.I agree with both of you but I failed to mention that I have other clients which does change the mindset a little.
Just a couple comments, first to you Mr. Cohen (and this is just for the benefit that maybe a new to the business person is reading this thread). It the same sense that someone should be humble and happy that they have employment in a down economy, in my personal opinion this is also the time where a person should be extremely careful of their contracts, clients, etc. This is also the time where the most werewolves in sheep clothing appear. There are many out there who use this as an opportunity to advance while breaking the backs of others, all the while danging that carrot of loosing a gig. Whether intentional or not there are people out there that are so high maintenance that you wind up loosing money at the end of the day. We have all seen those Craigs List post, "Needs to latest HD camera packages, Audio Gear and 10 years of experience. Payment? 100 dollars, Copy and Credit."
All freelancers have their own set of rules that they follow and mine simply will not allow me to work a ratio of 2 to 1 hours of unpaid vs paid work. I am only there a total of 10 hours a week over 2 days. I have no problem doing off the clock work when its a ratio like 30 hours paid 10 or 15 hours off just to help out. Its just got to be a little bit more beneficial before I toss in free work.
ARGH. I am not a lazy freelancer I really am not, I am very willing to help them out, I only rule is never loose money and with only 10 paid hours there is no margin for profit there. I have a list of things that need, things that can be improved, things that will make it all run smoother it seems to fall on deaf hears when it comes to spending more money. Hell I even offered to edit the dvds myself for half the rate but they declined because they wanted to be able to give the dvds to the clients the next day.
I hate to admit it but I am leaning towards the scrap by option...at least to the end of the season which is a mere month away. Lets see if I get fired by then if not...over the off season I will really try to make a push to improve things for the next season.
[Donell Hall] "I have a list of things that need, things that can be improved, things that will make it all run smoother it seems to fall on deaf hears when it comes to spending more money."
Maybe the problem is the pitch. Put together a short proposal that a business person (bean counting penny pincher) would understand. Set it up as a separate meeting (maybe at the end of the season where there's less risk for you if need be). Explain the cost of the changes vs ROI. They need to see how it will either save them or make them more money (even if it just means less downtime/faster turnaround).
For your own growth it can move you from camera operator to systems integrator at least in this area. Don't approach it as part of free time to make changes to make your life easier for this gig. Approach it as a systems integration gig for the same client. If you can really show them a savings vs cost, you might win.
Keep in mind they initially have no interest in changing anything because they see cost but no gain. You really need to put together a proper and formal pitch so it makes sense to a business person looking at the piggy bank.
First of all, is your contract hourly or is it a flat rate per show. That will make a big difference as to how I personally would proceed. I have two contracts very similar to this and would be happy to share my insight once I know how your contract is written.
Higher Ground Media
Its hourly, Call time 6pm, show starts at 7pm, end at 9pm.
Like I said I only work about 10 paid hours with them a week, that why it kinda hard for me to justify 5 to 10 hours of unpaid research.
Again, every freelancer has their own set of rules so please do no judge in the sense that I am lazy or just not going the extra mile. Mine state to only give a client about 25% unpaid extras.
But I agree with what has been stated here, I have 2 choices, bust my ass and go way over the top on my own time to help this client. Or scrap by like the many that have done before me and probably after me.
I just have to decide how important this is to my well being vs how quickly I can replace this client with other business.
You're missing the third choice I'd suggest. Pitch them a system rebuild - PAID.
Yes that takes research. You have to decide if it's area you want to get into. Sometimes it's easiest to add to your paid repertoire of offerings to pitch to an existing client. You have to be confident you can sell them on the business ($) advantage to them, not you though.
OK, hourly, great.
1. They don't care about quality so why should you. Do your job, keep quiet, get paid and say thank you very much
2. Obviously the clients don't care about quality either or they would be out of business. Do your job, keep quiet, get paid and say thank you very much
3. Stop answering the phone when they call for free tech support, they will get the hint. Do your job, keep quiet, get paid and say thank you very much
4. When they ask you to "rip apart the rack", politely inform them that tech work like that will be at a much higher hourly rate with no guarantees until you get in there and roll up your sleeves. Or, they can call an expert and you'll be happy to supervise for your current hourly rate. Do your job, keep quiet, get paid and say thank you very much
5. Be prepared to walk.
I've used this formula successfully on two current contracts that I've had for years. Neither one would kill me if I lost them so it's a bit easier to put my foot down. Bottom line is, they will grind you to death if you let them, or cause you to get on blood pressure meds. Clients like these don't care and it's not your job to "show them the light". It's like trying to teach a pig to sing, you'll waste your time and besides, it annoys the heck out of the pig
Higher Ground Media
First, hope your bosses don't google your name.
Second, you don't like the quality level, understood, but in the end it is only about what the client wants, and they seem happy with things as they are. Sometimes there's no explaining that.
But you may be worrying about a problem that the owners don't see as a problem. Promises of improving their quality may not be a "value proposition" for them; instead, selling points like reliability at the current quality level, ("I can keep this from exploding for one more week") or efficiency ("I can rig this so you can get twice as many people thru here in the same amount of time as before") may be what interests them.
While YOU and most COW members would be trying to improve quality, it may be that you're trying too hard to polish the chrome on a car the owner is about to send to the scrapyard anyway. Operations like the one you describe are more likely to be completely replaced by new technology, instead of nursed along with periodic upgrades. It is easier and simpler and maybe even cheaper to rip out an old standard-def analog plant and just replace everything with new, integrated HD infrastructure, than to "put new wine in old wineskins", as the Bible says.
As to your freelancing as an engineer, do it for free only as long as it helps you make your work easier. If you're doing it just for the company, you should be billing for it. Otherwise you'll be taken advantage of. If they can't afford to pay for it, explore other options like a trade-out.
Hello Mark, thanks for responding.
I highly doubt this client is Google'ing my name and if they did hopefully they would find the many other projects that I have done. But thats neither here or there.
I believe you misunderstood (or maybe I didnt explain it well enough) the original post. The problem is that They are not happy with it. They constantly complain about the many problems in quality the system produces. They are in a constant state of surprise when a show goes wrong, which it does often. They want more, they just dont want to pay for it. I am willing to give them a little bit more no charge to make my life easier but I cant fix every problem just because I am a nice guy. Thats how people go bankrupt.
The bottom line as it seems for them is this. They want to walk in and just have things "fixed" and maybe if I was earlier in my career I would be more willing to do it. As a freelancer I dont think I can just show up one day and start fixing things just cause.
I seriously want to help them...I just dont know how without loosing money at the same time.
(re that they're not happy) In that case, I think you should point them towards this discussion, and let them make up their own minds, - do nothing and live with it, or let you (or someone else) deal with it.
You need to sit down and have a conversation with them. Adult to adult.
I'm detecting a certain amount of fear and reluctance from you to take the issue by the horns. This shouldn't be the case. You're not a recent graduate, you're a professional with 10 years experience. You also understand the system which gives you a certain amount of power as I suspect it's not that easy for them to find and slot in a replacement if they gave you the boot. Especially not with the workflow they've got.
So yeah, tell the boss you need to chat. Set out the situation and tell him it urgently needs addressing or else the integrity of his operation is seriously compromised.
Tell him that fixing it won't be free, or necessarily that cheap, but you can make it cost effective. And if he gives you the old 'eff it, just fix it', be prepared to walk.
Sometimes, no amount of money is worth the hassle.
Well said Dylan.
Higher Ground Media
You're encouraging bad behavior by giving away tech support. Why on earth would any sane employer change, when they get 20 hours of support for 10 hours of pay? They avoid paying for new equipment and integration, AND they aren't paying the price for their avoidance - you are.
I detect a lot of resentment in the way you've described the situation, and that's not healthy for you. And, you're ready to quit anyway, right? So change the dynamics.
"Thanks for the opportunity to work with you. I've enjoyed the experience. Having learned the system, I can see that there are some equipment issues that are more than I can solve by taking the occasional phone call. And I'm concerned about the reliability of the system for your clients, because I may not always be available when you need tech support. You could eliminate the need for tech support by upgrading the system. You might want to discuss this with X, Y, or Z (AV specialists). I'm still happy to do tech support over the phone, but in fairness to my other clients and to myself, I'll have to start charging by the hour."
Or you can just say "I quit!"
Do what I did... build your own HD rack, learning from their mistakes, take all of their clients, and BURY THEM!
It feels great!
How do you deal with a unbearable non understanding client that pays well?
I don't. I simply measure if the pay is worth any non-fun moments in the workflow. It it isn't, I'll just be booked the next time they call. If it is, we'll it's worth it and therefor quite bearable.
>>You're encouraging bad behavior by giving away tech support.<<
Bob nailed it.
It's a slippery slope, though, balancing good client relations with that. My philosophy is, if I get an occasional question from a paying client that takes less than 30 minutes to answer, I'm happy to give that away. When it becomes a constant stream of questions and is something they should be paying for, which it clearly has become in your case, I gently bring up our policy and ask if they mind if we bill them in 15 minute increments for our time. You must make a living, and you can't encourage bad behavior.
And who knows, maybe all those other video guys quit before asking the client for fair payment, just out of frustration. Sure, maybe not, but if you never ask, you never get.
Los Angeles Digital Agency and Video Production Company
Hello again everyone, just popped back in to let you know how I handled it.
Just to clarify my problem was not reluctance to speak to the client. When you go through 12 video guys and 8 audio guys..the problem of communication probably sits firmly at your feet. Unless they have just been incredibly unlucky. My issue was mostly how much effort should I put forth to a client who clearly doesnt understand or care how this relationship should work.
Many of you hit it firmly on the head and I have choosen the route of submitting a end of season report that had all the fixes that I think we should go through. I also told them I would be happy to sit down and discuss each one in detail if they scheduled one (they havent and probably will never)I have since told them I am only available through email on days I am not scheduled to be there.
I am now in full, put my head down, cash my check and say thank you option until I get let go, in which I will say thank you for the opportunity and be on my way. I patch everything together as best I can for the shows but the very second its over they become out of sight out of mind.
I firmly think you can not care MORE than what the client does or risk a mental breakdown.
I feel good that I gave them some options and the ball is in their court as for exercising them. If they want everything to stay the same..so be it..I will cash my checks, pay my bills and be happy.
Thanks for all the input.