When Does A Client Become More Than Just A Client?
I recently discovered the answer to this question whilst working with my new Firebird Films colleagues in Los Angeles.
Firstly - having been a project manager in the telecoms sector for nearly 10 years I am no stranger to working with a large variation of clients. Some good, some great, and of course some awful. I like to think that most of those clients that I have worked with will look back positively on the working relationship that we shared.
It has often been the case that those strong foundations I built have paved the way for ongoing or new partnerships as I have moved between telecoms companies over the years (ahhh the life of a contractor!). For such a large sector as Telecoms, the industry is a very small one when it comes to people/suppliers/partners. In a contractor heavy industry everyone knows everyone, and everyone has worked everywhere – thus making the need for strong working relationships even more vital. Fortunately for me I now count a lot of past clients and colleagues as friends.
I am proud of this fact. To me, I had the whole client/supplier dynamic nailed…
I was wrong.
So, back to Firebird Films and the City of Angels…
I have known the guys at Firebird for a long time. Having worked with them on several of my previous film-making projects (a very passionate hobby of mine) I quickly learnt that they are highly likeable, highly experienced people, with a wealth of technical knowledge. They have an outstanding work ethic and we always had a lot of fun producing what transpired to be some really great short films. To say I was a fan of Firebird would be an understatement.
Fast forward to August 2018 and I find myself sat in the Firebird Films office on day 1 of my new role as their Head of Creative Development. Combining my film making passion with my project management experience, I land my dream job. I get stuck straight into working with the team - and what I almost immediately grasp is how much their (our) clients value Firebird Films.
Disclaimer: I feel I need to state at this point that I am not pushing for a pay rise, nor do I have my sights set on some sort of employee award! I am writing this blog as an impartial newcomer’s assessment. I feel it is important that I point this out.
I’ll continue. It was with much initial disappointment that I first found out about the upcoming trip to L.A to shoot a film for a client at the ‘Mobile World Congress Americas’. Mainly because I wouldn’t be attending the trip and I was insanely jealous. With this being a client shoot and our full team in place I wasn’t needed.
This is where Firebird’s value to their clients starts to show itself to me. I get a call from my boss letting me know he needs me to attend the trip to L.A. After some deliberation on my part (0.00001 seconds to be precise) I agree and ask him what has changed. He explains that our much-valued client leapt at the chance of meeting more of the Firebird Films team and offered up an additional pass to the MWCA show in order for me to attend. A kind (and expensive) gesture – and a real taste of how much Firebird Films means to the client.
Two weeks later, I find myself in the Los Angeles convention centre being introduced to our client by my boss. What first strikes me is that despite everyone working hard to get the various exhibit stands ready they all stop what they are doing to come and speak to us. The team are greeted with big smiles and hugs (yes, hugs – that’s what we do in the film making business!) and they cannot wait to hear about the work we are going to be doing for them during the show. They are genuinely excited to see what we will create for them as we go over some shots and ideas for a short while. With excitement they show us to the purpose-built studio they have added to their exhibit for us to work out of (usually a cupboard!).
Now, I am a very enthusiastic, positive individual - but even I start to feel a real buzz from the client’s reaction to our arrival. I initially put it down to pleasantries – until more people start to arrive at our client’s exhibit. Not employees of our client but other people, working on other exhibits for other clients, start to arrive genuinely pleased to bump into our team, having worked with us previously. A common theme starts to emerge. Accounts of previous projects that Firebird Films have worked on, nothing but positive comments about how great our team is, all from people I have only just met. My chest is bursting with pride – I knew our work was good, I knew we had good client retention – but I didn’t quite realise how good.
This feeling of pride is compounded on day one of the MWCA show when more senior representatives from our client arrive at the show. Again, they cannot wait to come and engage with us, and not just our director, but all of us. I soon see why when we start to work. We are fully set up, ready to go as soon as called upon. I observe as the team burst in to life – setting up for our client’s interviews with CEOs of huge companies, capturing time-lapse footage of the show, gathering B-Roll footage from the show floor – all working towards the goal of producing high quality film content for our client. Nothing is too much for the client, we are there when they need us, capturing whatever moment they need us to capture.
In the background our editor works closely with our client contact – ensuring that they are 100% happy with the films we are creating. I watch as this whole process takes shape and then before the day is over a film is posted on our client’s social media and gathers momentum at a rate of knots. It is very easy for me to now understand why our client is so happy we are there. Unbelievably, before the day ends our client’s CEO casually instructs our contact to “make sure the firebird team is in Dubai Monday morning to cover us at our next show”. What starts out as a week-long assignment in LA now becomes a two week, 17,173 mile, multi-city, film making trip. Do we deliberate? Do we worry about viability? No – there is complete trust between us and our client so we just make the necessary arrangements and tell them “No problem”.
This is next level customer service, next level client relationship.
For the remainder of the show I now know the level I need to be at as a Firebird Films employee. But I am not daunted by the bar being set so high – because I now know what it is I am representing. I now know that when I approach any new potential client at the show I can tell them with conviction and absolute confidence that we are the right company to create their film content. I know the sort of experience they will have when working with us and I try to project that as I float from exhibit to exhibit shouting about my company to anyone that will listen.
In my opinion - It’s not just cost. It’s not just ability. It’s not just flexibility that makes for a great client relationship. It is what the client experiences, that personal touch, that extra mile (or 17,173 miles) gone, that comfort in knowing that nothing is too much – and of course, the consistently high level of film content created does help!
I never really saw the exact point that our client became more than just a client – but I definitely left LA knowing that they were.