Last month I rented a car at Payless Rental. Upon returning the car I found myself in an unbelievable game of bait and switch tactics. I was charged more than agreed upon and the customer service was beyond deplorable. (BTW...don't ever rent from Payless Rental...Don't! Don't! Don't!) I'm telling this story to highlight that when as a consumer we feel cheated, then we take action. We can call customer service, demand refunds, post negative Yelp reviews, Angie's List, Better Business Bureau, etc. Which by the way, I did all of the above. After numerous phone calls and some yelling back and forth, my money was refunded. I will never use them again and I will make sure my friends know to never use them again. They are a business and not a person and I felt no love loss for going after them.
So what happens when in the world of pageantry similar events happen? What should we do when the drill writer you hire doesn't get the drill to you in the specified amount of time? What about costume companies or silk design companies? What about the consultant you hire who clearly isn't invested in your program, but only in the check you can write? They are out there.
I've gone back and forth on this issue as I'm both a consumer and consultant. How would I want people handling issues they have with me? The reality is that the people we hire in the pageantry arts aren't corporations, but real people and from my view, the problem we are having as an activity are people who over extend themselves and don't grasp their ability to turn a product around when the entire country needs their costumes, drill, and silks within the same two week period. I consult with a small program in Florida and last week was told that the silks we ordered had not even made it to print yet. It was a big deal. We had to scramble and make a decision to cancel the order, as we couldn't justify paying for one set of expensive flags for one show and homecoming. Additionally, those silks were the crux of the entire show. It told the story. So...I got mad. Very mad. Communication in the beginning of the process of an order is crucial. Picking up the phone and returning emails is not just important, but just good business practices. We had issues with all of that.
As I seethed throughout the week, I thought of every evil, vindictive way I could possibly go about ruining them. I was coming off of the Payless scenario and had to take a step back and realize that we weren't getting screwed over, but just a victim of an overwhelmed start up company. However, it was important to me to make sure that people knew about the situation and I did it as professionally as I could, as I went back and forth on the wording when posting it on Facebook. They are still a business and we are still consumers and my guard was negatively impacted by the situation. I wanted others to know that they too, could be in similar scenarios for winter guard or the following band season.
Over the week I thought about the implications of starting a sort of "Angie's List" of pageantry. I thought that people have the right to know when they got less than professional services from those they hire for their band and guard programs. My brain had it worked out perfectly, but after a glass of wine and a Xanax, I realized how an Angie's List would never work. I thought about the drill writer who writes drill for a band and the band is not happy with the product. I think we all have a right to know who that person is, because they all can't be great. Then I thought, "Wow...what a witch hunt that would become." Drill is often written and the band it is written for doesn't teach it correctly or doesn't clean it in such a way to make it effective. I thought about the consultant who is hired for a rehearsal and doesn't deliver the services promised. Then I remembered about a time I was flown in and paid to work with a guard for one camp and got less than 5 total hours in front of them, as the director failed to alert me to the fact that they brought me in during a weekend of a parade and a fundraiser. So my Angie's List idea didn't last long in my head. It would be a lawsuit waiting to happen and make me one of the most hated people in the activity and to be honest, most services out there are pretty good. Really they are. I've worked with a lot of drill writers, consultants, designers, music editors, and costume companies and have rarely had an issue. Usually, the issue when there was one, was ours. We failed to get purchase orders in or communicate with our drill writer in a timely manner. We failed to get contracts written appropriately, if we bothered with contracts at all. I've noticed that when designers were hired out, then problems arose when those designers were not effectively communicated with. It's often a 50/50 problem on both sides, but it's rarely an all or nothing scenario like my rental car issue was. (By the way...Payless Rental really sucks)
So, I decided to simply put a list together of the best ways I know to work with those who we buy services from as it seems that the issues often fall on the side of the consumer. It's not always the case, but often it is. The flag scenario with my guard was about 80% their fault and 20% ours. We were offered a solution, but the solution was not appropriate for our situation with only one show left to show off very expensive silks. So here are my recommendations:
- When contracting services, contact those companies and individuals very early and communicate often.
- Sign contracts that outlines dates of delivery for both parties when appropriate. When the drill writer states they need your performer numbers by a particular date, then you need to get it to them by that date. When the costume company states that production doesn't start until a purchase order is received and then they say it will be four to six weeks after receipt of the purchase order, then you need to get it to them early...very early. If you do your part, then it is on the company at that point to get the product to you by the specified date. Once you've done your part, then and only then, can you get mad if delivery is late. They however, the company that is, needs to be upfront at all times in the process of production.
- Communication should be an expectation of hiring services of any individual consultant or company. If a person or company won't return phone calls or emails, then run fast and run far. Your band or guard is on the clock and everyone knows that problems occur. Kids quit. Shows change. The people you hire should be willing to work with your issues to a point, but if you don't communicate those issues or they don't respond to those issues, then the relationship as consumer and business is clearly broken.
- Make sure who you are hiring is reputable. Ask around. Call your friends. Ask questions.
- Did you have an issue with delivery time frames?
- Did you feel they were invested in your program?
- Were you just a number to them?
- Did you feel like you were treated as good as a national program would have been treated?
- What is their experience?
- When hiring a designer, drill writer, or consultant ask to see a website or resume. Ask to speak to previous clients.
- Ask about process. What is the process of the person you are hiring? How do they like communicating? How do they like dealing with snags and changes.