The Fired Customer

Have you ever had to fire a customer?

Seems like an illogical notion.  Why wouldn't you take every opportunity?  Why judge anyone's money?  Especially if you're not compromising your principles, what's the issue here?

Then again, have you ever had an opportunity that was so surreal, so "how did this happen?" that you hoped and prayed that you'd never EVER be in this situation again?

We certainly have - and I've met many creatives who have also had the pain of a 180 from "you're the best" to "never again!"   A disconnect occurred somewhere!

The first step is to understand yourself. Creatives have a need to please or at least a need to be understood for their way of doing, being, thinking, etc.  Add in the spirit of an entertainer and our highly "ME" culture and it's a recipe for eager-overload.

The professional creative wants to do well, but also worries about doing well.  Hence the eager can outweigh the communication. 

Next, there's the way the customer thinks - and if you deal with a variety of customers, you deal with a variety of "thinks." If you're speaking art and they're speaking business, who translates? And really, how many of us have had any training from class to coach on communication?  

For example:

Customer: "I want a musician and a stilt walker"

Us: "We have a musical stilt walker!"

Customer (thinks) "A one-man band on stilts? Great!"

Us: What else can we help you with?

Customer: "Can they engage with our crowd?"

Us: "Of course!  Anyone who sees them will be entertained.  It's a conversation starter and a nice visual.  We won't bother anyone and are happy to pose for pictures or interact without getting in the way."  Translation: We'll be nice, we'll stroll, we'll pose, we won't be any trouble.

Customer: (thinks) "A one-man band on stilts? AND they can put on a show! Double win!"

This is a hypothetical, but not too far off from a real conversation we start to have all-too-often.  A key word here is "engage" and perhaps a key question should be "what do you mean by that?"  

Outcome 1, the customer learns what we mean, finds it to be a great fit and we work together again.  In a perfect world, this should happen BEFORE the event ;)

Outcome 2, the customer is disappointed because they expected too much or a communication breakdown occurs. We talk it out, grow together and work together again (a little older, a little wiser) ;)

Outcome 3, the customer is disappointed, had unreasonable expectations, we're not a mind-reader so it's our fault for anything and everything and we likely never work together again (BUT it's possible. Call me an optimist.) 

Then again, the "dream" here is to "fire the customer" and hope they're replaced with another, better opportunity (isn't it?)

Outcome 4, Yuck.  Very rare and always avoided.  Let's not speak of Outcome 4...

We all want Outcome 1.  We don't prefer but will deal with Outcome 2.  How do we get more of either?

Being a little assertive and as clear as possible (barring semantic barriers) can prevent a lot of issues.  Beware - it can limit your opportunity and may even impress that you're high-maintenance, BUT if your focus is neat/clean/safe/strong/fun, you should never feel guilty about standing up for yourself and/or your team. 

Speaking from experience, you want to attract business, but also the right business.  If you're too fluid, you could get washed away.