Your crew checked and double-checked and triple-checked the order and the truck left for the jobsite right on time. But the client's call comes anyway: The order was late, the order was short, and what are you going to do about it?
"Being honest and upfront with the client is always No. 1 for us," says Michael McCafferty, senior vice president for special events at San Diego-based Raphael's Party Rentals. "The customer is smart enough to realize that we all mess up sometimes. So we accept it and move on."
McCafferty takes the same approach even when the client assigns blame too quickly. "The client is always right-even when he's wrong," he says. "We have to agree and move forward. The key is patience-with your customers and with your staff. There is no point to getting upset."
For Minneapolis-based Aarcee Party and Tent Rental, the secret to soothing an upset client is a quick response. "We found what works best is to handle a problem immediately," says general manager Craig Oliver. "That's easy to say, and sometimes you don't want to do it. But if a client calls and says she is short 10 forks, we get them out there. Anybody who has a car can do it."
Aarcee keeps its answering service open 24 hours a day; staff is paged to solve problems. "Often if you take care of the problem immediately, that's the end of it," Oliver says. "If you do it after the fact, it's a different story."
He believes that staying in contact with dissatisfied customers can win them back eventually. "We belong to ISES, NACE, MPI, the chamber of commerce," he says. "We go to the meetings and see everyone. It's too small a world to tick somebody off."
David Delk, vice president and general manager of Gulfport, Miss.-based ABC Rental, agrees that a quick response is vital-to set the standard for employees as well as the client. "Your client will remember what you promise to do," he says. On top of that, "My crew is right behind me, so they see if I follow through on my promise or not."
Delk heads off potential problems by keeping inventory in top shape. "I make it a point to get rid of the china with a crack in it, the linen with a burn hole in it," he says. The issue goes beyond aesthetics. "Safety is a big issue, too," Delk explains. "If tent stakes are missing and the wind moves the tent 10 feet, that's no fun for the caterer!"
Philadelphia-based Continental-Lockwood Party Rental has established a four-step process to deal with client complaints: initiate, assess, dispatch and follow up.
"After receiving a phone call regarding a possible misorder or misconduct, we initiate immediate communication with the client," explains director of special events Joanne Hulme, CSEP. "We then assess the problem and judge if it can be rectified without a secondary delivery. If no dessert spoons were delivered, can they use teaspoons?
"If the problem cannot be rectified, an operations delivery is dispatched," she adds. "The next business day, the salesperson for the account follows up on the client's satisfaction level and any billing modifications, if required. Although we endeavor to make each delivery perfect from the start, we will do everything in our power to rectify emergencies-no questions asked-and explore reasons the next day."
Charlie Feldbaum, president and CEO of Minneapolis-based Apres Party and Tent Rental, puts the customer in the driver's seat to solve problems. "We ask the customer, 'What will make you happy?' and 'What remedy would you need from Apres to ensure that you will use us again?'" he says. "When the customer is told it is up to him to determine what we should do, he is much more understanding. Many times what the customer asks for and what I finally agree upon are different, but it is a good starting point and in the long run the best for Apres and the client."
Apres always includes a customer-satisfaction questionnaire and postage-paid return envelope with client billings. The survey measures satisfaction with everything from the clarity of the proposal to the quality of the final tear-down andpickup. "It not only gets the client to tell us how we did, but we seem to get payments back quicker."
Study after study shows that it is less expensive to keep a current customer than to recruit a new one. Feldbaum's techniques for satisfying his current customers bear this out: "I spend less and less money each year advertising to seek new business and more and more time perfecting what we do and with whom we do it."
Note: Charlie Feldbaum will speak on "Maximizing Profit in Rentals" at The Special Event 2000, sponsored by Special Events Magazine, Jan. 12-15 in San Diego. For more information, call 800/288-8686 or 303/741-2901; or visit: www.specialevents.com/tse2000
Resources: Aarcee Party and Tent Rental, 612/922-7233, www.aarcee. com; ABC Rental (Gulfport, Miss.), 228/864-5361, www.abcrental.com; Apres Party and Tent Rental, 612/942-3399, www.apre.com; Continental-Lockwood Party Rental, 215/849-2400, www.mainlineevents.com/party; Raphael's Party Rentals, 858/689-7368, www.raphaels.com