Prod512 Logo 400pxI had dinner a few nights ago with some really good friends who are a bit older. He was telling us about his medical maladies and the various Doctors who were treating them. We all agreed that a really great Doctor is not only competent, but also has excellent bedside manners. My wife brought up her former boss, an internist in the New York City area who always takes the time to talk with his patients about all of their concerns, real or imagined, and yet never has more than one person in the waiting room. He is always careful to schedule plenty of time for each patient, even with the long talks. As our conversation moved on, we talked about business models; what makes some work and others not work so well. Our friend talked about a business she likes that is wildly successful without any kind of advertising, but everyone who shops there raves about the service.

As the evening went on, I knew that the subject of this month’s column had to be about the one thing all of these people and businesses have in common: amazing customer service.

If you’ve ever been to Chick-Fil-A, you understand why they are the single most profitable fast-food franchise in the world. Number 2 is McDonalds at $1M less annually, per store! CFA’s food is really good, but the service is simply outstanding. You’re always treated with the utmost respect and courtesy, servers are friendly and truly helpful, and every franchise I’ve been in is spotlessly clean and neat. Ever since CFA became top dog in fast-food, the quality of customer service at other chains has started to go up…a lot. The fast food industry is catching on to the idea that it’s not just about getting food quickly, but getting food quickly with a big smile.

If you are treated poorly by any business I doubt you would ever go back for more of the same. Why would you? Especially when there are lots of other places you can go for the same product or service.

So what does this have to do with radio production? Good question, Hamburglar. You have clients. They’re either clients of the station or the station itself. How well do you treat them? This is not an idle thought. I’m serious.

There’s an old saw about “The customer is always right,” but in this business, the customer is almost always wrong, at least when it comes to building their spots. Providing good customer service does NOT mean giving in to their every whim. How well are you treating a client when you allow them to make egregious mistakes in their copy? If you’re asking, “What mistakes?” you’re not paying attention. I hear them all the time, even from people who should know better.

Phone numbers – How many clients ask you to use their phone number 4 or 5 times, “Just to make sure listeners have a chance to write it down?” Seriously? This is radio. You must know by now that the vast majority of listeners are hearing this spot while they are on the move. They don’t have time to write it down and they sure as pop aren’t going to memorize it. They can Google it!

Location, location, location – This ain’t real estate my friend and that’s the ONLY business where that trope works. Capture the heart of the listener and you’ll make them want to learn more, location really doesn’t matter. Again, they’ll Google it if they’re properly motivated. Get outta here with that 15 ‘convenient’ locations crap.

Copy Points – The client wants 11 selling points in their spot? What a waste of time and money! ONE is as many as the listener will put up with. It’s not that the listener is too stupid to deal with more, they just don’t care. They’re more than likely doing something else like driving, studying or even talking with someone else. Once you get past one selling point, it’s all just noise.

Dumb Humor – Comedy gold for one person is dull, dull, dull for another, and male anatomy jokes are always wrong, no matter how hard they might make the boys at the bar laugh. Even if you’re on a sports station where the listenership is decidedly skewed male, you can never make the mistake of alienating women listeners. DAD jokes are the worst, especially for younger listeners. Use humor if you can, but remember it is a two-edged sword.

Keeping It Street – There are a vanishingly small number of clients this might work for, but trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator almost never delivers the massive audience that every client wants. If you can, you need to be the grammar police. Yes, seriously!

So, how can you offer great customer service to clients who make these mistakes? To be honest, these are only a small sample of the problem thinking that’ll come through your door. My biggest solution has always been teaching clients about radio. I always try to help them understand how this medium is used by most listeners, their target audience. Once they understand that, the rest is gravy.

Teaching Good Radio…A Story

When I was working in the DC market, a woman from a major luxury car dealership came in with a whole campaign someone on her staff had dreamed up. It was ambitious, full of selling point after selling point and thus…completely wrong-headed. But instead of confronting the AE and his client with all the things wrong about her approach, I took a different tack. I asked, “What do you think my job here actually is?”

They both kind of sputtered around a bit until the she said, “To sell our cars.”

I smiled and replied, “Indirectly, sure. But honestly, my job here is to sell our listeners on you.” I paused a beat and continued, “My job is to get people to like you, believe in you, to trust you, to get them to come to you so you can sell them a car. You are the expert on cars, not me. You’re the go-to woman for automotive finance. Your dealership is the place they should want to go to have their cars serviced. It’s your job to sell cars. My job is to sell you.”

As I recall, she did one of those, “Dog cocks his head to the side saying, What are you going on about?” looks, so I continued, “I’m a radio guy. Our listeners know that and they’re inclined to believe me because they’re already listening to our station, but they’re not going to trust me about cars. If I can sincerely tell them that you are good people, that they can trust you, they are a lot more likely to accept what I say. They know as well as you do that there are a lot of competitors out there selling the exact same cars, but if I can get them to feel good about you, they’ll try you first.”

The actual conversation was a probably a lot longer (it WAS more than a few years ago), but that was the main message and she liked it. She understood it. Our relationship grew from there. That’s when she asked the right question: “What should I say about our dealership?”

Right away I asked, “What’s the ONE thing that sets your dealership apart from every other dealer in the area? What’s the one thing you are most proud to announce to the world?”

She thought about it and started tossing out selling points like great selection, low-cost finance, certified BMW service and all the other crap that every car dealer spouts. I kept saying, “Nope, not that.” After several like that, she got frustrated and stopped talking for a minute.

After a long pause, she finally said, “We sell luxury cars.” I smiled and replied, “You sell luxury…period.” She smiled back and I knew we’d found her Unique Selling Proposition.

The real beauty of the entire conversation was that by the time we were done, she had come up with the key. It was HER idea. I helped her find it, but it was really her idea. Luxury became the watchword for every one of her spots. If she wanted to do a spot on financing, it was done through the prism of luxury. If she wanted to sell some of her used car inventory, we did a whole spot about finding the gem (car) in the giant cache of jewels in their lot.

After the first few spots ran, she was completely sold, as was her boss. She was promoted to a Senior VP position because sales were way up and advertising costs went way down. They killed their TV budget once they caught on to the fact that the impressions “Cost Per Thousand” (CPM) was pennies on radio, as opposed to dollars on TV, and they went all in on radio on several stations/formats. Cars were flying off the lot, the service bay was always busy and they were making some serious bank on financial services. They even installed a really classy snack bar area with nice carpet and furniture, muted lighting and music, plus real coffee and croissants. Oh, and in one stroke of genius, they offered top of the line models as ‘loaners’ to service customers. They really leaned into the whole luxury angle and it paid off huge dividends…all because of her idea.

I gave great customer service that day. My car dealer Senior VP friend ended up leaving the automotive business a year later to become a radio Account Executive, sadly at another radio station. We kept in touch though. (She even hired me to deejay her wedding in Rehobeth, Delaware a few years later.) She has said many times since that I got her started in radio sales because I helped her understand the power of radio. She’s really done well for herself too. Yay me!

Practical Good Service

Not very many clients will take the time to listen. Far too many of them treat radio advertising as a vanity project. Hearing their name (or worse, their voice) on the radio is a big rush, even when the money spent could have been used more wisely. If they won’t listen and learn, take their money and run because they probably won’t be there for long.

Once in a while, you’ll have a client walk in who is willing to let you be the expert that you are and let you explain how they can really make the power of radio work for them. When they DO listen, teach them well. It’s the best kind of customer service you can give. Be patient and do your best to let them come up with the ideas that will work. Once they understand the mechanics of good advertising, you’ll have all the return business your station can eat and word will spread. Your clients will get big results and they’ll tell their friends and business associates. Your station will prosper and your GM will be all but forced to give you that enormous raise that you so richly deserve. Maybe.