Blog: Doing What's Right for Clients - A Business Lesson
If you have followed my career at all and especially my business articles and postings on the Creative Cow Business and Marketing Forum you know that I preach that you always have to do what's right for the client. In today's economy, this is more important than ever, even if it hurts the bottom line for a job or two.
A few days ago I posted how I had to scramble to order a new DVD Burner for a quick turnaround of 400 DVDs to be delivered in just 7 days across the country in Arizona. This all happened because of a misunderstanding between me and my client. See we're working on one project that now has three deliverables. A Feature, Cut-Down and Short version of the same video with running times of about 65 minutes, 51 minutes and 19 minutes. The three versions are to be used in different settings from a company meeting to a public screening type of situation. When we started this project back in April, there was just one deliverable, the feature which had to be completed by a the start of a worldwide AIDS Conference in Vienna. We hit that deadline and the end client was very happy with the results. (in fact it was standing room only at the screening!) But as happens with many projects, the end client realized they could use a shorter version of the same presentation for meetings, conferences, etc...
So I know there's a screening in Washington DC on September 15 and in my head, I'm targeting that date for the delivery of the 400 copies. Got the timetable set, just going to call a nationally known DVD replication house, going to deliver on a certain date and the 400 DVDs will get to DC in plenty of time. There's just one problem with this plan. The DVDs actually need to be in Arizona on Sept. 8 for a different event. That's 7 days earlier than Sept. 15 for those of you keeping score at home. My timetable doesn't work for that. In fact, the DVD Master wasn't even finished until yesterday morning, September 1st.
So the first thing I did was make a cup of espresso. I think better with a cup of espresso. Two cups sometimes even better, but never three cups. Three cups in a row definitely sends me over the jittery edge and that pretty much makes me useless. Then I washed the cup, always clean up after yourself my mamma always said. No, I don't call her mamma, she'll probably hit me when she reads this.....
At that point there was nothing else we could do except do what needed to be done to meet the client's deadline. The misunderstanding was mine. The client had clearly told me on several occasions actually that Sept. 8 was the deadline for the 400, not Sept. 15. I just got the dates mixed up.
As I wrote on this blog a few days ago, I put in a big order with TapeOnline.com to get everything we needed to make this happen and had it all shipped overnight. 450 blank DVDs, 450 full sleeve DVD cases and a brand new Microboards 7 DVD Burner. Why 450? Well bad copies, damage, etc.... Always order more than you need to be safe. We only had a dual DVD burner here in the shop that was in no way going to be able to burn 400 DVDs in time. Everything arrived yesterday and we already got 300 DVDs burned by the end of the day, only another 100 to go today.
We got to the DVD Cover and DVD Disc artwork approved by the end client, ran out to Staples to pick up another 2 reams of Legal paper for the laser printer and cranked out 200 DVD covers in the afternoon and we'll run the last 200 today. Everything was cooking right along yesterday until....... our DVD Printer went belly up.
It's an Amtren FlexWriter IV that is supposed to be a Quad DVD burner (four burners) and DVD Printer. I have had a love / hate relationship with it since we got it. The DVD burner side of things really never worked properly and the company was a pain to deal with. The Printer we love when it works properly. When it doesn't work, it just doesn't work and then a few days later it magically starts working again. Yesterday it decided to just stop working correctly at all. It takes two ink cartridges and it seems it has stopped sending any information to one of the cartridges. We've replaced everything and it just doesn't want to print correctly. Now it's 5:30 in the afternoon on Sept. 1.
First thing I did, another cup of espresso. Then I picked up the phone and called my friend Lauren at TapeOnline again. We missed the overnight cutoff but tomorrow we will have a brand new DVD Printer that will easily crank out the 400 DVDs this weekend and the client will get their 400 DVDs on time, in Arizona, complete with full color printed sleeves, in cases, with beautifully printed DVDs.
I'm going to lose money on the DVD duplications. Quite a bit of money since I was not prepared to purchase either the DVD Burner or the DVD Printer. Actually if all we needed was the DVD Burner I would have just about broken even, but the printer is significantly more money. Who's going to pay for this? I am of course. I am not going to ask my client for any more money to cover the costs of the additional equipment. That's not his problem. It was my mis-understanding that led to the scramble here at the end to get the job done so it's my responsibility to do what's necessary to meet his deadline.
This is what I mean when I keep saying you have to do what's right by the client. I will not earn any money for this DVD job and in fact we will lose a significant amount of money on this one job. But we are meeting the needs of this client and ultimately his client. We are making sure that we keep our client looking good to ensure that they have confidence in us to get the job done and if my client looks good, we all win. After all if the DVDs were not delivered we should not expect any further work from the client. In today's economy we can't afford to lose any of our clients. I know it's hard when you have to come out of your own pocket to cover costs, but sometimes you just have to do it to meet the client's needs. Particularly if it's something that happened as a result of a misunderstanding or a situation created on your end. But I sometimes eat costs even if it's a client created situation, anything to keep the client happy and coming back for more work.
It's called "doing the right thing." My grandfather taught me this valuable lesson. Kind of wish more companies (my current bank especially) operated this way. Another way you can look at this is the old adage, "You need to spend money to make money."
And now we own the equipment and for all jobs moving forward, we have it in the shop. It will pay for itself in short order and in fact, we significantly increased our capacity to burn and print DVDs and BluRay discs. 400 or 500 DVDs in a single day will be no problem when we need that capacity. Sure the world is going digital downloads, but for the short term, DVDs and BluRay discs are still requested in large numbers at our facility.
Reminded me of a similar "scramble story". In my case, the client got complacent because my work product was always really good, and when they gave me a simple last-minute change order on a Thursday, I gave them a new approval master to look at by day's end Thursday, to be seen and approved on Friday. No problems anticipate, the product didn't have to be delivered for another 4 days. I told them they needed to confirm approval, because another big job was in the on-deck circle, and I had to wipe their project off the drives to make room for it. (ominous music stinger here)
Not hearing back from them, I assumed (oh yes, we know) that everything was good, and ran their 200 DVD run all of Friday and the first half of Monday, so it would be ready for handing out at the big meeting Tuesday. And while the dubs were running, I went about cleaning off the hard drives to save time and get ready for the next huge deal. (ominous music stinger #2 here)
Monday afternoon, client calls back, said they had blown off checking the new DVD Thursday and Friday, and hadn't checked the approval copy until that Monday morning, (so I missed 3 days of less-stressfully-paced make-up time over the weekend) and there was a newly-broken link in one of the seven sub-menus. I now have to re-author a working DVD with most of the assets and all of the menu structure already wiped, and make 200 dubs in about 22 hours. The original authoring job had taken me over a week.(ominous music stinger crescendo here here)
Did I mention this was my first interactive authoring experience ever? I was lucky that I had applied some fairly rigorous organization to the project, with a lot of elements simplified and pre-comped into stand-alone pieces, and very simple menu structures with logical and very clear alphanumeric naming conventions that matched all the clips. This was a fully interactive piece, with play-acted scenarios that jumped to decision menus, and each option of every menu connected to a distinct sub-chapter that explained how your choice was wrong or right, and then sending you back to try another answer, passing you along to the next segment only after you got the right answers to everything. So around 9 scenarios, 2 to 3 questions per scenario, four possible answers to each question... equals a HELL of a lot of links!
I could have told the guy that it was his fault for not checking the disk sooner, as had been agreed. I could have made him eat the 150 or so finished bad dubs, or hand out 200 disks that were only partly functional. I could have just run 200 dubs of the previous master, the one before the change orders.
I don't do coffee or espresso, but I had ramen cups and Jolt cola in storage for all-nighters. I worked 26 hours straight to re-build the master, re-build the interactive branching menus, test every link and loop, and make that dub run with a 10-slot Microboards duplicator tower and an robotic thermal printer with a multispindle capacity. I was cranking out ten dubs every nine minutes. Man, was I punchy; I was in a sort of fugue state at one point, around 3:30 AM watching myself from outside my body as I flew thru the graphic display mode of DVDSP, whipping connecting links back and forth like a mad seamstress.
The disks were still warm from the laser when the client came by to pick them up on the way to handing them out at the meeting, which was to start a mile from my shop an hour later. I did have to give him the spindles of completed disks and the open box of sleeves to stuff by himself, and he was slightly put out by that inconvenience. He really didn't know what he'd put me through to fulfill the deal. But fulfill it I did, and that's the Cowboy Way.
Went home and slept 24 straight. Dreamt of endless webs of connecting links. Next day back at work, started looking up removable drive modules for archiving off big project files. You can bet the ranch on it: the day, nay the HOUR after you trash any complicated, hard-to-restore asset, is the day the client, after eons of absence, and long after any reasonable expectation, calls back out of the blue with a request for it.
Great story Mark! Now Jolt Soda I just can't handle. Really makes my heart jumpy.... :)
Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Editor, Colorist, Director, Writer, Consultant, Author, Chef.
HD Post and Production
Biscardi Creative Media
"Foul Water, Fiery Serpent" featuring Sigourney Weaver coming soon.
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Well, they stopped making Jolt this past year, so I only have about 8 of them left, in the unique cans that look like giant AA batteries. Kinda taste like battery acid, come to think of it:-) Time was when cases of this would line computer programmer's and gamer's walls, back in the day. Corrosive and bad for you as all get out, but one 6-oz can used to keep me wide awake for 200-400 miles worth of night driving on a regular basis. I keep the remaining cans like a fire extinguisher under glass, just for the worst emergencies. Some day they'll probably eat thru my filing cabinet into the floor below, like the blood from Ridley Scott's "Alien". :-)
I've tried Red Bull; tasted like detergent, no wonder everyone mixes it with alcohol, as it needs something to take off the nasty edge.
These days for my health I drink a very inexpensive brand of no-calorie, no-sodium "Chill" brand sparkling water that is not too bad, comes in some offbeat flavors for variety. Not too bad, and under 50 cents a liter, cheaper than a lot of bottled regular water here. For special treats, I do Mexican Coke. No, NOT THAT KIND, rather, Coca-Cola, bottled in Mexico, where they still use natural cane sugar, instead of the High Fructose Corn Syrup. Mexican cokes, Old fashioned Chicago "Green River", "Cheerwine", and the seasonal "Passover Cokes" made with cane or beet sugar for those who keep strict Kosher, available in a few metro areas, taste way better than the swill you find in regular stores. I'm an unrepentent soda snob; I like Boylan, Jones, and the Mexican-made sodas for their more light cane sugar taste. I was stockpiling the Pepsi Throwback sodas until the distributor ran out. Throwback Mountain Dew is something you should try also, it will surprise you.
Walter - been there many times. Most recently, we had created a Flash app to run off of USB thumb drives to be handed out at a meeting. The USB drive duplicator vendor, one I had used before without incident, dropped the ball on this one. The sales rep I had always dealt with apparently had started underbidding jobs (so she got her commission, then she let the factory in China re-outsource the work to a cheaper local factory - she failed to tell anyone this and was actually fired the week my project was due). Long story short - the drives were delivered on time but 5 out of every 10 tested had data errors or simply no data at all. I found this out the night before the meeting, at around 7pm while walking around my local warehouse club.
First, call my client and apologize - not really my fault but you are only as good as your vendors and this one was bad. We came up with a two prong solution - 1) Duplicate as many DVD copies of the program as possible to carry on the plane the next day, and ship the balance for the day after that, and 2) Upload the Flash program for web-based access. The client would then send an email blast to meeting attendees with the link.
Next, call USB drive vendor and complain - they have no after hours support so I left a message with my account manager.
Next, call my office manager and find out how many blank DVD's we have.
Next, call my colleagues to tell them the story and ask them to get to work at 6am so I could hand off the crisis to them while I drove to the airport.
Next, have our Flash developer drive to the office (around 9:30pm) to start the upload.
Next, go home and pack for a week away.
Morning - leave house at 5am. Get to office, burn DVD master. Normally we print DVD labels first then burn, but not today. We have a Discmakers 15 bay DVD duplicator, so the duplication part was easy. Printing, even a basic black and white label, is pretty slow. We came up with the plan that we would duplicate like crazy and print as many labels as possible by the FedEx cutoff time and ship everything.
Afternoon - got to convention center, checked for myself that indeed the flash drives are intermittently faulty. As I got off the plane, I returned a voicemail from the USB drive vendor. The account manager told me the story about the corrupt sales lady and the bad quality control. I asked if they could duplicate some DVDs as a consolation prize. he told me yes, but later said no, the duplication facility in New Jersey cannot turn around a job that quickly, and they would not eat the cost anyway.
The client decided to hand out the Flash drives - some worked, some did not. But the drives were on a lanyard and people like wearing their name badge on a lanyard rather then clipped to their clothing.
Next day, FedEx is delivered from our office - they managed to dupe, label and ship almost 2000 discs in one day. Unfortunately we had to eat the costs of the media and labor.
The next week, back in the office, after a conversation with the president of the USB duplication vendor, I was offered either a refund for returned usb drives (I only got 20% of the units back - the rest were handed out) or replacements for returned units. I would have preferred a refund AND replacements, but that would not have happened without lawyers.
I was also promised a good rate on the next order. I don't think so.
So as Walter said, you do what is right for the client, whether you got to that situation by your own actions or not.
If it is a client you want to keep, that is. Most adults in business understand that stuff happens - even if that stuff makes a mess. Just don't let it happen too often, and certainly not the same stuff twice.
On another job, we had DVD slipart printed by a local print shop. Getting the in-house printed DVD labels to match stuff printed on a digital or regular press can be tricky. With a couple of rounds of proofs, we got it looking good, and gave the go ahead for 1000 or so copies. We got them back in a few days, but each box of 250 was a different shade of green. We called the print shop on this, and they said they would re-print. 2nd batch, worse than the first. This time they admitted that they were having quality control problems. The manager stepped in and the 3rd round was better. This is an example of hoping that your vendors do the right thing if they value YOUR business. We would have eaten the costs of the reprints if we had to - to deliver quality to OUR client - but the print shop did the right thing, and we still use them once in a while today.
Our clients don't care or need to know how we build the clock: they just want to know what time it is.