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I’ll Manage, Thanks: All Clients Are Created Equal — Or At Least Should Be…

“What I don’t get is why all of our other clients don’t deserve the same treatment!”

Some years ago, I left my job as a maintenance technician at a large recording studio to manage a moderate-sized sound company. I had worked for this company in the early days of my career, and, when I told a friend, who was a stage manager for major events and tours, that I was going back, his response was, “My condolences!”

On my return, I soon learned that to say that there were some “issues” getting orders, any orders – rentals, shows, you name it – out the door was an understatement. I remember, as I was trying to get up to speed on how things worked, asking myself, “Where are the systems?” In this case, “systems” applied to everything from actual sound systems (there was a ton of audio equipment at the place but very little of it was organized into a cohesive grouping that was meant to work together) to systems for making sure that an order was complete.

As I was struggling with these issues, I was also fielding a steady stream of irate phone calls from both rental clients and show personnel, many of whom I’d known and worked with for years, all of them of the “Where is the ____ that I need to make this work?” and “You guys forgot to send the _____” variety.

One day, after a few weeks of this, I arrived at the shop to find my staff swarming around with great purpose, all busy as bees and very focused. “What’s going on?” I asked my assistant, to which he replied, “It’s a Joe Client show!”

“Who’s Joe Client?”

Well, it turned out that “Joe Client” (not his real name) was the owner’s big corporate account and that everything with his order had to be perfect. This information was invariably followed by a little factoid, that Joe Client once had our tech shop build him a “black box” for recording show calls on the intercom system, so he could land on anyone who had made a bad call.

I should also point out that at this point, show orders went directly to the shop floor, with the manager expected to referee issues that came up as the staff encountered them rather than specify what exact pieces of gear they should be pulling. I changed that…

In any case, things proceeded in this manner, the job went out, it all worked, and everyone was happy.

This incident was followed by another couple of months of the same hell that had preceded the Joe Client show – items missed on very simple orders, racks being built with, for example, no power cable for some piece of gear, incorrect patching, you name it.

I remember personally checking over a small rental order for a steady customer: one power amp, one sub-processor and associated patching in a small three-space rack. Looking through the vent panel that was effectively cutting off access to the back of the rack, I saw the half-inch nut-driver that whoever had built the order had used to tighten the binding posts on the amp, sealed up inside the rack — as the client was standing beside me, waiting to pick up his order…

On a subsequent morning, I walked into the same burning hair smell at the shop I’d encountered a couple of months earlier, and sure enough, another Joe Client show was in the works. I quickly called a staff meeting and demanded to know what was going on.

My crew all looked perplexed and then patiently explained to me, once again, that Joe Client was the owner’s big corporate client and that everything on his order had to be perfect, and did I know that Joe Client had our tech shop build a “black box” for recording the…?

“I don’t get it,” I said, flatly. They all just looked at me and tried again, “Don’t you understand? Joe Client is the boss’s account and everything has to be perfect!”

Me: “No, no, I get that.”

Them: “Well, what don’t you get?”

Me: “What I don’t get is why all of our other clients don’t deserve the same treatment!”

Looking back at my staff that day was like looking out over a large city at dusk and watching the lights go on… one… by… one…

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