Friday, 29 July 2011

The Lost Art of the Business Thank You

Why is it that hardly anybody writes thank you cards anymore? In fact, many times a gift will go completely unacknowledged by any form, be it e-mail, telephone, or mail. Yes, OK, now you can label me an old fuddy-duddy when I say that it was drummed into me and most other kids of my era that when you received a gift at Christmas or on birthdays, you sat right down and composed a thank you. My mother hounded me until it was done. Well, I think it's time for some motherly hounding in business.

Sure, a short e-mail thank you to a client after a big event is better than nothing. I still say, though, that there is something ultimately more classy about the written word. Maybe it's the anticipation of receiving a personal letter in the mail with your name on it and the expectation of what that letter holds. It's an expectation and an anticipation that lasts a bit longer than the time it takes to open an e-mail and that extra time is - for me anyway - psychologically positive. I guarantee you that any thank you to a client puts you one step closer to receiving repeat business. For me, the very best form of thank you is a hand-written card. Yes, hand-written.

Let me digress for a moment.

I was very disappointed to learn earlier this year that cursive (handwriting) had been taken out of some US school curricula. Apart from the well-known neurological analysis that can help to tell about someone's personaliy from their handwriting, there is something far less tangible but equally beneficial in cursive - the fact that handwriting delivers a measure of personal sincerity. A tiny bit of someone's real personality emerges from the handwritten page. It's a quality that cannot truly be delivered by a smiley emoticon in an e-mail or even by typewriting. And I don't believe that the quality of the writing is as important as some of the detractors of handwritten notes believe. Their argument goes like this. "I don't hand write letters because my writing is so bad it makes me look like a little kid." OK, but does that really matter? It is still a measure of who you really are, and that's not necessarily bad. Why are you afraid to give a bit of yourself? If you are really worried, then a typewritten letter or card would be the next best thing. By the way, there is still time to try to improve that handwriting.

So back to the matter at hand. What sort of card or letter should you use? In one word - personalized. If it's a letter, it should be on your company letterhead and of course, high quality paper. If it's a card - and I highly recommend a card - make it a customized card. My business partner used to be an artist and would hand design a unique card for every client or every occasion. I was not an artist so early on when I owned the business I went to a printer and had a couple of hundred custom cards created with my company logo (a bowing performer in a spotlight) and a note inside that said "Thank you. You've been a great audience!" There was room to write - or type - a short note on the inside cover of the card.

I sent one of these cards to all clients that gave me any substantial piece of business and even to my repeat clients, pretty well all of whom I kept for most of my nineteen-year career.

Oh, yes, always sign your card - and even your letter - using a pen. It's that final touch of connecting and giving of yourself.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Driven to Tears - Conflict War Story

Everyone has a client who likes to micro-manage. One such client of mine – a regular and fairly lucrative one – had been present during an entire day of décor setup for a large theme event for their national sales staff. I had delegated the authority for setup to one of my long-time designers who was accustomed to lengthy and complex setups, but who had not worked with this particular client before. By the time I arrived onsite to supervise the event itself, I was confronted by a very distressed designer who claimed that the client had driven her to tears with incessant requests for minor changes to the décor. This had put her behind schedule and there was a good chance that the setup would not be complete on time. She had neglected to call me prior to my arrival thinking that she could handle the situation but it had proven too much.

I needed to resolve this conflict fast. Fortunately, it was not an all-out personality clash, but rather a continuing annoyance. I approached both parties separately to try to resolve the problem. My first concern was to try to calm my designer who still had a considerable amount of work to accomplish. I basically told her that she should only communicate with me now that I was onsite and not directly with the client any longer. Likewise, I politely asked the client to try to minimize changes from now on as we were on a very tight schedule. I reassured her that once all the décor was in place the venue would look spectacular. Since we had a good relationship, she agreed to my request. The event turned out well and the client was very pleased.

What were the conflict resolution principles in play here? First, I purposely kept both parties separated in order not to trigger any arguments. Second, I tried to keep both parties calm and focused on completing the event setup rather than focusing on their disagreements, part of which the designer interpreted as an insult to her creative ability.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

A Little More About Conflict Resolution at Events

From a practical standpoint, as the person in the middle of a conflict situation and ultimately the person responsible for resolving the conflict, a producer can defuse the situation by using both body and spoken language. Here are some tips that may help defuse a situation.

Body language is a very large part of how we communicate. In a conflict, it is necessary to demonstrate that one is interested, concerned, and listening attentively. The following are suggestions offered by the Justice Institute of B.C.’s Centre for Conflict Resolution to do just that:
  • Square your shoulders with the person. Face them directly rather than pointing energy in another direction. If they are very upset, you will want to attend to them obliquely (i.e. from a 30 - 45° angle). 
  • Concentrate fully on the person you're trying to understand. Avoid interruptions and habits which imply boredom (e.g. playing with pencil, fingernail, looking elsewhere). Definitely do not answer a cell phone (author). 
  • Open your posture towards the person. Arms and legs should be uncrossed, hands open, and in sight. 
  • Lean forward a bit if that is comfortable, but avoid crowding the other’s "personal space." If they move back, lean back a bit until your distance feels comfortable. 
  • Eye contact is important, but tricky. Be aware that in many cultures and sub-cultures, direct eye contact is a sign of disrespect, defiance, or challenge. Offer eye contact, but don't demand it. 
  • Relax. Try to incorporate these body messages into your personal style. Don't use them mechanically, but use them as an expression of your concern and interest.
Something to keep in mind when the going gets tough during event setup.

  • Justice Institute of B.C. (1991). Conflict Resolution: Dealing with Interpersonal Conflict. Vancouver: Justice Institute of B.C., Centre for Conflict Resolution Training.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Conflict Resolution at Events

It is almost inevitable that conflicts will arise at some time during an event producer's career.

Although theory abounds on conflict resolution, it does not always work during a real-life event setup or execution due to the necessity for an urgent solution. Our discussion, therefore, must start with a recommendation to event producers to “pick their battles.” The conflicts that arise while the production team is onsite usually involve two or more team members (one could be the producer), a team member and a non-team member (e.g. typically venue staff), or a team member and the client. How these conflicts are resolved will depend to a large extent on the producer’s priorities. Let us see how this may happen by considering some of these priorities.
  • Maintaining company and personal reputation. Perhaps the producer and the producer’s company have a reputation for fair dealing, or for being hard-nosed, or for being ethical above all else. How the producer wants to be seen in the industry may very well affect the conflict resolution outcome and deliberations.
  • Preserving the integrity of the event. Perhaps the producer is so committed to the contract and to the vision of the event, that he/she will do anything to preserve it and to make it happen regardless of the effect that decision may have on relationships or reputation.
  • Preserving relationships. Regardless of the outcome of the event and the reputation of the producer’s company, conflict resolution decisions may be influenced by a producer who values relationships over other options. For example, if there is a conflict between the producer and a Catering Manager in a venue, the producer may opt to agree with the Catering Manager because the preservation of that relationship is worth more than keeping a client or team member happy. Perhaps the Catering Manager sends the producer’s company $100,000 worth of business every year and the client for the present event is one-time only and difficult to deal with. It would not be hard for most producers to opt for a decision that favors preserving the relationship with the venue over satisfying the client. Ethically wrong? Maybe, depending on the circumstances. Smart business? Definitely. A little humble pie eaten with business survival in mind is not necessarily bad – or stupid.
Most producers will, without knowing it, have a priority list similar to the one above, at the back of their minds during any event setup and execution, and will react in a manner that reflects that list in a conflict situation.