Taking care of customers

How well do you take care of your customers?

The other day, I had to visit my dentist to get my filling replaced. Yes, just the one. And it’s really tiny. :) There was a mother in the waiting room with her 3 children. Evidently the oldest was getting a teeth cleaning that day. The hygienist came out to see if mom wanted to get x-rays for the kid, as it was almost time and it was covered by insurance. Along the way, it came out that the kid was getting braces out in a couple of weeks. The hygienist was immediately on top of that, and wanted to know if the mom wanted to just come back after the braces came off, instead of making a second appointment to get the cement, etc., all scrapped off. Essentially, the hygienist cost herself money in looking after the best interests of her customer…she got the kid’s appointment rescheduled instead of scheduling a 2nd post-braces appointment, and didn’t have anybody to fill the now-vacant appointment.

Those are the types of businesses I like to patronize. When a business looks out for the welfare of its customers, even if it costs the business a sale or service, it shows that the people there care about their customers more than making a buck. You know what? I’m happy to give my bucks to that type of business. Even if it does mean getting a tooth drilled and polished.

How do you treat your own customers?

How to Treat Customers

I’m a big fan of customer service. Businesses that take care of their customers are my first choice always, even if it costs more. I love, for example, Arlington Camera because they are very knowledgeable, and the sales person will stay with me until the end of the sale. I also like B&H Photo Video because they’re very helpful and responsive. I do prefer to shop local when I can, though, but when I need to shop online, B&H gets the nod. Or New Balance shoe stores. Those guys are very helpful, knowledgable, and take care of you. These places provide exceptional customer service, which makes for a stress-free and productive experience, and I am always happy after doing business with them.

One person that I enjoy doing business with is Skip Cohen. I attended Skip’s Summer School last year, and that was a real treat. He works hard to provide a great value at a very great price. One thing I’ve learned about Skip is that he really loves photography (although he’s not a photographer) and he really loves helping people. Skip has also written a few books with photographers. One of them was “Body Parts” with the late Don Blair. I’m really looking forward to getting my paws on that tome! :) Skip was putting the book up for reprint, so I was pretty excited to place my preorder. The book went to the printers a few weeks back, so I was was eagerly awaiting my copy in the mail. Imagine my delight when a package arrived from the US Post Office today!

I proceeded to tear into the package. Those mailers are pretty tough to open! In hindsight, I could’ve turned around for a pair of scissors to make things easier. Oh, well. Imagine my surprise when I found this inside the package:

Joe Buisick and Skip Cohen: Wedding Photography From the Heart

It took me a moment to actually read the title and wonder where the book came from. I had not ordered this book. To the best of my knowledge I had not entered any promotions or contests where this book was a prize. Hmm, strange goings on. Oh, wait! There’s a packing slip! Hmm, no–it was a letter. It seems that “Body Parts” had shipped, but some orders had been misplaced. So they ran out of books before mine was shipped, and some others, I reckon. So Skip sends out this book. Not as an equal value replacement. But as an apology while they were waiting for more to be printed. Wait, what? I can reasonably expect notification of a delay, or even a refund (I’d rather wait and have the book…). But sending another book as apology, and still send me the book I ordered when it’s printed?  That totally exceeds expectation. That’s the type of thing that builds loyalty.

Mistakes happen. Anything done by humans is imperfect and can go wrong. If you run a business, how you respond to mistakes can build loyal customers or drive customers to the competition. Regardless what your business is–photography, consulting, make-up artist/hair stylist, banking–how you treat the people with whom you do business says a lot about your character, and will be a large part of your success in business. Do you try to help people, or are you just trying to make money? The more people you help, the more successful you’ll be. That is what customer service is about–helping people.

Who have you helped today?

Import creativeLIVE downloads into iTunes as TV Shows

So, I really like the creativeLIVE courses. I listen to them on my iPhone when I can. However, when downloading the courses, I end up with perhaps 30 or so individual video files, for the different segments of the course. These do not carry any metadata in them, and while being named such to keep the files in order, the names can still be rather cryptic.

Because I’m a lazy programmer (the best kind, if I do say so myself! ;) ), ease of access is important to me. I find an little effort at the outset makes the overall effort significantly less. So, I like to have my creativeLIVE downloads organized as TV shows, and appropriately metadata-ed. They’re just easier to watch that way, in my opinion. Which may not be worth much, but it’s the only one I have…

So, to make this all work nicely, a little pre-work is needed. Here are the steps I go through to make it all happen according to my plan:

  1. When downloading the files from creativeLIVE, I copy the title of the course segment from the course page, and use that as the file name. I number the files sequentially, depending on the day. E.g., when downloading cL-1109-TLB-D1-Banter-HD.mov from the recent Tamara Lackey class, I saved the file as “01 WELCOME-Opening Banter for Day 1.mov”. Special characters such as colons need to be replaced, but that doesn’t bother my OCD side enough to matter… For each Session (day) I restart number, but that’s just me. The reason I include the number on the file names is so that Explorer, Finder, et al, will show the files in the correct order. That may not be a concern for somebody else.
  2. When I download the files, I save them in my iTunes music library location, under the TV Shows folder. I put each day of a class into a Season folder (Season 1, Season 2, etc.), because in the end that’s just how I like to see them in iTunes. If the folder doesn’t exist (because you have no TV shows…), you may have to create it. In the case of the Tamara Lackey class, the files would go in “<iTunes Music Library>/TV Shows/Taking Care of Business with Tamara Lackey”. I have no idea where <iTunes Music Library> is on your system, of course… Underneath the “Taking Care of Business with Tamara Lackey” directory, I created a Season 1 and a Season 2 directory.
  3. When all the files are downloaded, it’s time to import them into iTunes. There’s a trick, though. Because iTunes sucks big time at organizing TV shows and movies, a preferences change is in order. Because the metadata is not set on the files coming from creativeLIVE, the files will be imported as Movies instead of TV Shows. Typically, iTunes would put each file in a separate folder under the Movies folder in your iTunes library. That is, one video file per folder. So, we need to trick iTunes temporarily. To do this, open your iTunes preferences and select the Advanced tab. Turn the “Keep iTunes Media folder organized” and the “Copy files to iTunes Media folder…” options OFF–make sure the checkboxes are cleared.
  4. Once the preferences are updated, you may now import the creativeLIVE course. I imported the “Taking Care of Business with Tamara Lackey” folder, instead of importing the files individually. This caught both the Season 1 and 2 folders, as well.
  5. After the import has completed, the course will show up under the Movies in iTunes. Now, it’s just a matter of editing the metadata. I like to select all the newly-imported files and set the Album and TV Show information. Simply select the files, then right-click on them and select “Get Info” from the menu.
  6. On the Info tab, enter the Album, Artist, Album Artist, Year, Genre, etc. You can come back and edit the Name for each individual file after all the global metadata has been entered. I make good use of copy/paste and the Previous/Next buttons seen on the bottom of the dialog.
  7. On the Video tab, enter the Show name. When editing individual files, this is where you will set the Episode ID (I just use the segment title), season number, and episode number. You can come back in after setting the global data and update the metadata for each individual file:
  8. The last part of the equation is setting the Options. The files need to have the “Media Kind” changed to “TV Show”. Once that is done, you can click “OK”, and all the changes will be applied to the files.
  9. Once all the changes have been applied, you will need to look under “TV Shows” to see the videos. Assuming all the changes were made as suggested, of course. At this point, you may want to go back into the Advanced tab on your iTunes Preferences and reset the “organize media” and “copy files” preferences…
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Hopefully that provides a bit of clarity on how the creativeLIVE videos can be imported into iTunes as a TV show. Once it’s done, it’s done. Organizing the classes as TV shows makes the videos much easier to locate on iPhone/iPads, and in iTunes. I’m sure there are other workarounds that could be used to organize the files in iTunes, but this is the way I chose, and it works pretty well for me. Most of these steps are the result of the files not having any metadata in them, and iTunes not giving you any intelligent import options.

Hope it helped! If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below, and I will try to answer as soon as I can.

Dragon’s Breath

So, I have a new camera. And a party to attend. A party, mind you, where things can get slightly crazy. Although, as the years go by, the crazy gets less so. *sigh* Kids and old bones. Such is life, I reckon. Well, in any case, Kacey still breathes fire, and does it without burning off his beard. :) I’m always impressed by this. It takes skill and control to 1) not swallow the fuel and 2) not dribble the fuel down your chin (which would be VERY painful when lit on fire!). In addition to some pictures I took of the event, I also captured a video of Kacey’s fire breathing. Have a look-see!

 

Hope you enjoy the display! I did, even watching it through the LCD screen. I’m thoroughly in love with this camera. While composition and content is my own creation, the ability to capture a clean, detailed image depends on the camera. I can focus, select aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc., but if the camera performs poorly, then my (so-called) brilliance will be for naught. Somebody who doesn’t know how to capture a great image won’t really benefit from better gear. A good photographer, though, can use the better gear to stretch her vision and more accurately realize what is seen in the mind’s eye. It’s a constant battle: vision vs. gear. Without vision, gear is useless. Better gear makes it easier to realize the vision. It’s a symbiotic relationship, in my opinion. One day, I’ll look to medium format. For now, I have an opportunity to grow into my new camera until I can stretch its boundaries.

 

Homeward Bound

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Well, I’m on the plane flying home from a wonderful few days In Las Vegas. I attended Skip’s Summer School there at the Mirage. It was quite the experience. I’ve been to 1 or 2 hours-long workshops before, but never one this long. 3 1/2 days of photographic learning! It was a ton of fun, but now I’m ready to get home and make some pictures!

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The workshop covered everything from posing to lighting to skill improvement to business considerations. Such names as Tamara Lackey, Kevin Kubota, and Jerry Ghionis provided a metric TONNE of useful information. I learned SO MUCH about lighting and posing, an quite a bit on the business side. Roberto Valenzuela’s advice to not only practice but to practice the right things hit right home with me. I can use anything as a model–even bananas on a light stand! The things I do while programming will work equally well with photography. Experimentation is the key: just start trying stuff and see what works, That’s how I got so good on computers; the same mindset applies equally well to photography.

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Going forward with Matt Vanecek Portraiture, I resolve to shoot somebody every week. Maybe my wife, maybe a paying client. I will not feel weird using a banana or a Teddy Bear as a model for practice! I will get my Web site updated an create a consistent look across all of my business presence. I may not be leaving my day job anytime soon, but I can certainly arrange my business to flow smoothly. That way I can concentrate on making beautiful images!

My goal is to be more than a part-time photographer. My goal is to be a top name in photographing women. Editorial, portraits, and boudoir. I want to provide a glimpse of the heart and soul; to gently nudge aside the outer layers and see the steel that lies beneath. I love my steaks and football, but nothing fascinates, inspires, and moves me like the female of the species.

I’ll be touching down in a while. When I do, I can spread my notes out around me and get everything organized. I can remember the lessons in using speedlights from Kevin Kubota, and study the flow of posing taught by Doug Gordon in his energetic enthusiasm. I can communicate with my subject like Bambi Cantrell showed, and make my subject comfortable and confident. When I touch down, I can start working on changing the world with my photography.

For now, 33,000 feet above New Mexico, I will meditate and prepare.

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Vegas Baby!

So, today I’m flying to Las Vegas, Nevada to attend Skip’s Summer School at the Mirage hotel. This promises to be a fun and educational time learning about photographic lighting, composition, and hopefully workflow. I’ll get to meet in person some of the photographers whose works have helped me reach the level I’m at. After this week, I expect to be able to take my work up a notch and be more productive.

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The airline I’m flying is American Airlines. I think I still like them, even with the baggage fees. Which, thanks to smart and compact packing, I did not have to pay. I got everything in my carry-ons. :)

Let me just sat, electronic check-in is da BOMB! 24 hours ahead of the flight, I was able to check in via the Web. I know, this is probably old-hat for all you frequent travelers. But this is the first time I’ve been inside an airport in over 10 years.

Also, the mobile boarding pass: IT ROCKS! Just pull up that little QR code on your phone and they scan it at all the checkpoints! No irritating pieces if paper to keep track of, nothing to lose! You can save the QR code as an image on your phone, too. So if there’s no reception, you’re all set!

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So far things are going pretty well. The guy next to me is pretty skinny, which makes up for my current girth. The flight took off right on time, so I’ll be in Vegas when expected. The flight is jam-packed full-literally not an empty seat on the plane.

The week is starting off on a pretty high note. I’m sure it will get better from here!

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