Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wedding Favor-It

When I reflect on our wedding planning process, the single biggest source of disappointment is the treatment we have received from an unfortunate number of potential wedding vendors. This is an industry that is all-to-frequently characterized by high levels of dysfunction. For example
  • Vendors who believe that just because the word 'wedding' is attached to something they are justified in charging ridiculous prices for stuff. We looked at one venue that wanted to charge us $10 per chair to set up chairs for our ceremony -- chairs they already own, mind you. For 120 people, that's $1,200. Let's say it took two people an hour to set up 120 chairs and you paid them $10 each. Let's also say it took the same two people another hour to break them down. That works out to $40.
  • Vendors who are clearly working off a rehearsed script that defines their interactions, prices and level of service. These guys treat the wedding experience like buying a box of Fruit Loops at Stop and Shop.
  • Vendors who just plain suffer from severe personality disorders.
I've run successful service businesses. You need to offer people a level of service commensurate with the price you're charging and the importance of the experience to them. If I've just spent three hours in your store picking out wedding invitations and am about to drop close to a thousand dollars on them, don't tell me your bathroom is for employees only and send me across the street in the rain to a (locked) public restroom.

So that's a long-winded way of setting up how pleasantly surprised I was to finally encounter -- well over a year into our planning process -- a vendor who actually went above and beyond the call of duty. The set up: we were planning on addressing our invitation envelopes using my office's super beefy solid ink printer. This thing has handled worse, but for some reason decided it didn't like our envelopes. Jam city. Invitations had to go out Monday, it's Saturday and we're SOL. Dialing for dollars commences.

Fortunately, we found Paula. Paula is the proprietor of the Favor-It Shop in East Brunswick, NJ. She sells and prints invitations and other stationary, as well as favors and gift items. She had just gotten back from her son's wedding the prior night, but when we called told us to come right over. She sat down with us right away and started picking out fonts and importing our list. We do a test run on her printer: the envelope feeds perfectly but the printer is randomly dropping ink (smudging) and we can't figure out why. Burns through two sets of ink cartridges. Still no dice. Unboxes the back up printer and burns through another set of cartridges and print heads. Finally success. Envelopes printed and ready by 10 o'clock the next morning.

Again, Paula didn't sell us these invitations (I wish we had known about her a few weeks ago!). She'd never seen us before. She was trying to land our business, which in this case amounted to a relatively modest sum of money. But she spent well over three hours on a Saturday afternoon just trying to win that business, to say nothing of the additional time of actually doing the printing. She could not possibly have been kinder, more pleasant or more fun to be around the entire time. For the first time in the entire wedding planning process, we finally felt as if our big day was as important to one of our vendors as it is to us.

Monday, June 29, 2009

What Honey now wants for her birthday

Sculpture Dog Cake Incredible - The best free videos are right here

Update 6/30: This video originally found by Leigh Beachem. Trademark and Copyright 2009 Leigh Beachem Enterprises. Leigh Beachem to the max!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

It is a pleasure to do business with me

An open letter to anyone who I have been, or in the future will be, a potential customer of:

Dear [Sales Associate / Shopkeeper / Service Provider / Human/Animal Healthcare Specialist]:

Congratulations! My current [presence in your establishment / telephone call / perusing of your website] indicates that I am strongly inclined to favor you with the privilege of having me as a customer. I don't mean to toot my own horn, but -- if we can just make it through the next few minutes -- I think you will find that it is a pleasure to do business with me.

First, a word on just how fortunate you are. With almost no direct or immediate effort on your part, you have stumbled into a situation in which you are dangerously close to making a sale. Completely unbeknownst to you, I have arrived at the conclusion that it is in my best interests to exchange a portion of my hard-earned income for a good or service that you provide. Consider that against all the other possible uses of said funds -- savings, investment, other purchases, etc... -- I have decided that I want to use them on what you are selling: even in the midst of these challenging economic times. Moreover, my independent analysis has suggested that yours is the right enterprise from which to obtain my desired purchase, as considered against every other similar business in the entire world.

At the risk of hyperbole, even this may be understating the extent of your good fortune. You see, of all the people in the world who could have shown up on your doorstep quite out of the blue with not only the means but also the inclination to purchase your product -- again, if you will indulge me -- you've really hit the jackpot, because I mean business. I am a thoughtful, pleasant, polite individual who is interested in consummating a fair and mutually-beneficial business transaction. Because I am deeply respectful of your time and effort, I am also interested in consummating it with the minimum amount of delay and fuss. In addition to this, I am highly susceptible to rational argument, meaning that if you can succinctly and logically convince me of the value of what you are selling, you will sell it forthwith.

More than anything else, I truly believe that you and I are in this together. As such, I'm going to go the extra mile and offer you a few pieces of concrete guidance on what to do to win my business:

  • The Greeting -- "Hello" is an excellent choice. "Good morning, "Good afternoon" and "Good evening" are also fantastic. Adding "sir" to the end of one of these is beyond great: it's a little stodgy and old-fashioned, to be sure, but it lets me know right off the bat that you are as respectful of me as I am of you, which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. "What!?!?" is to be avoided: it creates the impression that my desire to give you sums of money is something of an imposition, and the last thing I would want to do is impose. Ditto on willfully ignoring my presence while conducting a personal cellphone call.
  • Listen -- Now that we've started a conversation, please listen carefully. I'm going to tell you exactly what my needs are and how I think you might be able to fulfill them. I'm not an expert in your particular field, so I may not be able to express myself as clearly as you or I would like. I am reliant on you to interpret what I need and translate what I say into a plan of action.
  • Focus -- In situations where people have approached me in a state of inferior knowledge or confusion (as I am approaching you now), I often find it helpful to give them my undivided attention, lest any key or subtle detail of what they're saying slip through the cracks. If a source of distraction (e.g. a telephone call, another customer, a colleague, etc...) should manifest itself once we have entered into our interaction, may I suggest the phrase "I'm sorry, I was just helping this gentleman. I'll be with you as soon as I'm done." It has the effect of both eliminating the distraction and demonstrating to me (and the third party) that you are a polite, serious, focused individual who is proactive in attending to the needs of his customers.
  • Special note to cashiers -- Kindly familiarize yourself with the operating procedures of your point-of-sale terminal, basic arithmetic and the United States monetary system. It makes me very uncomfortable when I receive only a bewildered response when I hand you $21.10 to pay for an item costing $16.06. Oh, and on the subject of change: first hand me the coins, then the bills, then the receipt. This way, I can use gravity to my advantage and place the receipt in the bag, the bills in my wallet and the coins in my pocket without having to reshuffle.
  • Special note to medical practitioners -- From time to time, sick people may call your office requesting appointments. By 'sick people', I mean individuals seeking medical care in response to an unexpected deviation from their baseline state of health. At one time, it was common for medical professionals to examine, diagnose and provide care to sick people, often in a timely manner. Many ordinarily healthy individuals still operate under the assumption that, on those rare occasions when they do experience sudden (though not life threatening) illness, they will receive an appointment sometime within a fortnight of their reporting the condition. Please be prepared to explain to such individuals that your scheduling practices no longer anticipate the emergence of sick people and to provide suggestions as to what they should do under these circumstances (e.g. go to the emergency room, apply leaches, quietly suffer/die, etc...). Alternatively, you might consider reorganizing your schedule in response to the emergence of a new, high-priority item, as is routinely done in other industries.
  • If you screw up -- I probably shouldn't tell you this, but at the end of the day, I'm going to forgive an almost unlimited number of errors provided i) they appear accidental and non-systemic; ii) you seem generally contrite; and iii) you go out of your way to make right.

There it is. Not an exhaustive list, but I think it lays the groundwork to get our relationship off on the right foot. Earlier, I said I was highly susceptible to rational argumentation, but the truth is I'm also highly susceptible to being treated well. If you're capable of at least appearing to acknowledge the fact that I exist and want to do business with you, and even showing a little appreciation for it, I'm sure we're going to get along just swimmingly.

Now, let's get down to brass tacks...