The Soapbox Archives:
Note, "bicycle pants" don't count as dance pants. I don't think they're very flattering and I know I'm not the only person to think so.
Want an example of how important your words are? Watch this video on "The Power of Words". I got some email this weekend from two people who need to think about how they say things as much as what they say. The right words can make people listen and the wrong words can drive people away, even if it's the same message.
The first email was a mailing by someone who had their own mailing list for current swing dance announcements. Of particular note was this paragraph embedded within the note.
(Note: As of this writing HaveToDance.com says music at Swing City will be by Love Dogs, but email directly from Swing City definitely says Sax Gordon. So either there was miscommunication between Swing City and Benson, or Benson made an error formatting the calendar hey, it happens!....)
The premise was that EITHER Swing City screwed up OR I screwed up. However, it doesn't say who made the mistake because that information wasn't known at the time. Sure, it was 50/50 chance that I messed up but the note only served to imply that there was a good chance that I made the mistake and to get people to think less of the accuracy of my website, even if that was not the conscious intent of the email. Yes, technically, the statement is mathematically or logically "true", but I contend that if you don't know who made the mistake, why bother mentioning it at all if there's a chance that the wrong person would be implicated? Anyone else would just send me a private note with the correction (thanks, Bonnie!) so I can make an update behind the scenes. After working on the website for the past 16 years (plus 4 on the newsletter), I think I deserve a little more courtesy than I was given here.
That was just a minor hassle. The second email bothered me a lot more.
A dance customer (let's call him "Bill") wrote into Swing City because he was upset that my website had listed the Love Dogs for September 16 and he arrived to find that Sax Gordon was playing instead (he came to see the Love Dogs and didn't care for Sax Gordon). In fairness to everyone, bands do cancel out at the last minute, I don't know when "Bill" last looked at my website and I don't know when the band substitution was made. I did update the website when I got the new information...from a fellow dancer.
One of the Swing City managers wrote to this guy and CC'd me. He said (in a condensed form):
The thing is:
The whole point of my website is that the average reader shouldn't have to look through 50 different websites to get the information they want. That's why they come here instead.
The Swing City manager blamed me for their failure to let me know about their change. I'm pretty reasonable and if I'm near my computer, I go out of my way to upload last minute changes if at all possible. The same manager obviously never looked at my website because he wouldn't have made those other statements if he paid attention.
It's also bad that the customer was blamed for not following through and checking on the latest information. It's not the job of the customer to get the latest information; it's the job of the venue promoters to get the latest information to the customers. For swing dancing in Boston, this website is *it*. This is where most people go to get their dance information and updates for venues in the Greater Boston area. A last minute update on this website will reach the most dancers, all for the cost of a 30 second email. Sending me a long newsletter or press release that has mostly repeated information from the previous week is not notifying me. On the other hand, sometimes the customer can't be notified in time and that's a fact of life; everyone should deal with it calmly.
The best strategy for dealing with the customer would have been to say "I'm sorry. We goofed. We tried out best. We'll try harder next time." and leave it at that. It makes the customer feel good that they were heard and it takes away any excuse for the customer to continue arguing. And it really doesn't cost one's ego to do so. Perhaps then, that customer might decide to continue attending that venue instead of walking away angry (and telling all his friends about the poor way he was treated). Who in their right mind has so many customers that they can afford to alienate some customers? Complaints from customers are a fact of life; deal with them politely and things might turn out better.
The Swing City dance promoter said he didn't read my entire email so he probably never got to the part about it being his responsibility to make the most use of the most widely read dance website in the region. This website reaches dancers who weren't even planning on going to Swing City and might have decided to try it out. This website reaches new dancers and sends them to the local venues, including Swing City. (type "swing dance boston" in Google and see who has the first *8* unpaid listings).
If you're in a service-oriented business, you have an obligation to your business to treat your customers and business partners politely, even if the customer is rude!. No good can ever come from yelling at a customer. That's why I'm not in the dance business; I don't want to feel obligated to be nice to people I don't like. Dance organizers don't have that option.
I have a coffee mug that I bought from some business-oriented store. It says:
"If we don't take care of the customer, someone ELSE will!"That mug has sat on my desk at every job. Swing City, as well as every other dance business, should take that to heart. Isn't that why Blues Café and Boston Swing Central got started in the first place?
Proper phrasing is important. Fine, you can tell someone to go to Hell, but with the right words, they'll look forward to the trip.
FYI: I've been in field sales engineering and technical support for many years. It's not that hard to be nice to difficult people.
PS: Most people seem to misunderstand the message "The customer is always right". It doesn't mean you have to give in to the customer all the time; you just have to make them feel better about the situation. Telling a customer off, making them feel bad, letting your ego get in the way, having no patience...that's the way to destroy your business.
When in doubt, remember the following:
On the other hand, I was really disappointed with the "dance" music by the Compaq Big Band at the BSDN dance a couple of weeks ago. I've heard this band before and they're usually great, playing good big band music that fills the dance floor.
This time they managed to play a lot of fairly boring music, either too slow or too fast and seriously lacking in "dance energy", that was more suited for a dinner club's musical entertainment than a swing dance. I finally felt motivated to dance to a song during the second set and the band managed to hit a dissonance in the middle of the song (and my dancing) that it ruined the mood. For any singer, his or her greatest asset or drawing power is their voice. The (new) singer that night didn't seem to be able to cleanly hit all the notes and probably distracted the band members with her prancing around on the stage.
The most common comment I heard that night was "they normally don't play like this".
No, I'm not picking on the Compaq Big Band; I'm using them to make a point. Any band can have an off night and most of them do (well, maybe not the Glenn Miller Orchestra but they're special).
If you're a band leader and someone decides to hire your group for an event, they probably like what they heard at that very moment. It's time to take an inventory and a snapshot of your band right there and then and make sure that exact band configuration shows up at the gig. There are several "bands" in the area that just hire freelance musicians to play for whatever gigs that come up. Sometimes the same "band" will be playing in multiple locations at the same time. I once heard one big band play at Broadway Studios...in San Francisco and yet, the "same" band was playing in New York City a day or two later. A band led by Bo Winiker will sound different from a band led by Bill Winiker, and together they have yet another sound. Sometimes a different combination of singer(s) and musicians will produce an entirely different mood. Once, Toni Lynn Washington had a drummer who had no clue what a swing rhythm was; that's probably why she had Mike DiBari play for her ever since.
And if you're a dance organizer and you're looking for a band for your venue or if you're planning on hiring a band for a private event, go listen to the band multiple times and make sure you know what kind of music you're looking for. And then have a serious conversation with the band leader.