(Editor's Note: "Above and beyond" is a phrase so overused by businesses to describe their level of service and commitment to their customers that it's become a cliche. Recently, Kyle and I were discussing the concept of going above and beyond - specifically, how what seems like an entirely benign, even virtuous, approach to business actually has real ramifications for business owners - and immediately thought of three major problems with it.
Of course, being avid bloggers, what better forum than WeddingIQ to break down these problems and start a conversation on what customer service actually should mean? In this three-part series, we'll discuss how an addiction to "above and beyond" can backfire big time.)
As business owners, we have several resources to draw from in operating our businesses and serving our clients. One, of course, is money - which we spend on products and invest back into our marketing. Another is labor: the people we have available to us to help carry out our contractual obligations. One that is often overlooked as a real asset, however, is our time. I've observed many wedding pros who consistently undervalue their own time; I've been guilty of it myself.
Unfortunately, what can seem like a cost-free resource actually costs us big-time when it's abused. And the "above and beyond" culture our society, and the wedding industry especially, have created is leading more and more of us to abuse our own time, to the detriment of our businesses and our happiness.
Undervaluing your time is a timesuck that rears its head in any number of ways:
Spending way too much time in client meetings. A sales consultation that should take 30 minutes takes an hour; a venue walk-through that should take 45 minutes actually takes two hours; a menu tasting that should take 90 minutes takes 3 hours.You think you're being accommodating, but what you're really doing is demonstrating that your time has no value - you have nothing in the world to do but chit-chat about minutia, sit back while family members squabble, and speculate about every possible thing that could ever happen on the couple's big day. Of course, it's not always the clients who are driving the time-wasting bus. Sometimes, it's the vendor themselves with no regard for time - we personally know a number of pros who really like to share anecdotes and spend time "planning" for things way outside their scope of concern. Again, it's easy to seem like you're doing this out of concern for your clients, but their time matters,too - and we'd guess that dragging out a meeting, especially that first meeting, might subconsciously be an attempt to distract the client from the price, or simply wear them down into thinking you'll be indispensable on their wedding day - after all, look how dedicated you are!
Being a little (or a lot) too accessible. This is, more than anything, a boundaries issue. Like the long client meetings, it may be born of good intentions - when I myself was starting out in business, I was determined to differentiate myself and my company's service by being the most responsive and easy-to-reach professional in this business. Know what that got me? Loads of clients, and vendors, who expected that I'd always pick up the phone, or answer an email at any hour of the day. Going back-and-forth with people is one of the biggest time-wasters out there, and you and your business deserve more. Cutting back on your accessibility is totally doable, but you need to be proactive enough to do it. Start by managing your clients' expectations up front: in your first meeting, let them know what they can expect from you in terms of response times - this way, they feel reassured that you will, in time, get back to them and you're not a flake. Use auto-responders on the weekend if you don't want to be available at that time. And, for chronic quick responders, I recommend easing back on your response time, just a little bit, and see what happens. You might find that the same people who may have complimented you (with surprise) on replying right away won't actually be fazed if you take one whole day (gasp!) to address their non-urgent issue.
Functioning as an endless fountain of wisdom. Most of us count colleagues among our closest friends, and with that comes plenty of business-related conversations, guaranteed. That's all well and good, when the conversations are taking place either during business meetings designated for that purpose (like a mastermind meeting) or during social gatherings. The problem is when a colleague - even one you call a friend - relies on you day in and day out for advice, commiseration and handholding. It becomes a distraction from your own business and drains your energy. Believe me, I can empathize - most of my closest friends are wedding pros, and perhaps since I also offer business coaching, I get asked a lot of work- and client-related questions. I love talking shop, so it's hard for me to dial those conversations back so I can focus on my job. It's a huge black hole when it comes to productivity.
Focusing too much on the little stuff. Very few of us have help when we first launch our businesses, and many wedding pros are still one-man (or one-woman) operations many years in. As a result, we tend to do everything - from stuffing envelopes to writing checks, ordering office supplies to answering client inquiries. When we allow ourselves to spend too much time on administrative tasks, though, it keeps our businesses from moving forward in any real sense. Businesses of all sizes need a leader, and leaders lead. They think. They strategize. They plan. They focus their energy on where the money is: building relationships that create referrals, creating marketing campaigns, analyzing sales performance and identifying ways to improve If you don't have an employee or intern who can take some of the basics off your plate, consider outsourcing - there are lots of great virtual assistants out there, as well as automation technologies that can free up more of your time for the big stuff.
Giving it all away on the big day. Of course, no one's showing up at the wedding without being paid - at least I hope they aren't! However, lots of vendors also get approached on-site and are asked to stay longer. Generally speaking, from a customer service standpoint, the answer should always be yes, assuming working more hours won't interfere with other clients' events or with important events in your own personal life. Where lots of wedding pros trip up, though, is in equating customer service with giving away your time. "But I'm already there," you may be saying. "I've already been paid for my normal package, so what's an extra hour (or two, or three)?" That right there is the mistake. See, the customer service? That's in the saying "yes." Being accommodating is a great customer service strategy. On the other hand, you are in no way obligated to provide that service - and your time - without being compensated. If this is challenging for you (as it is for a lot of people), try practicing your response to this kind of request ahead of time until you're comfortable with it. Repeat the script "Sure, I can do [insert requested thing here]! The cost would be x..." until it becomes second nature. And if it still seems too hard, remember that my own scientific (i.e. totally anecdotal, BUT shared by lots of other experienced colleagues) evidence shows that the clients to whom you give away the most free time and stuff, tend to value it the least. Seriously.
Guarding our precious time - by managing both our own schedules and our clients' expectations - is one of the most effective ways to begin changing the "above and beyond" mentality that has told us that our talent and paid services aren't enough as-is. I'd challenge every reader of this blog to consider ways to take back some of your own time, and to feel more control and less resentment in the process.
Be sure to check back next week for part two in our "Above & Beyond" series!