Excellent points. If we don’t truly care, we’ll always struggle in this area and customer care is closely related to business ethics.
Do You Hate Your Customers?
“Of course not!” You protest. “My customers are why I’m in business. They keep me going.”
Okay, maybe you don’t hate your customers — but when we freelancers provide poor service to our clients, we are behaving just as though we do hate them.
Poor customer service makes our client’s lives harder and may ultimately even lead to the loss of a client. In fact, good customer service is vital if you want to retain clients and grow your business.
Seven Cardinal Customer Service Crimes
Here are seven common cardinal customer service crimes:
- Delayed Response Syndrome. “The early bird gets the worm” is a common saying, and when it comes to customers that saying is often true. If you make a potential customer wait before you get back to them, there is a good chance that he or she will do business with someone else. A good rule of thumb is to get back to any potential client within 24 hours – even if you are on vacation or busy.
- Poor or No Support. If you’ve ever been on the client side of a customer service call, then you probably already know what it is like to receive poor support and you know that it is not fun. Just because you’ve delivered a product or service doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re done. The client may have a question or the materials you delivered may not work as anticipated.
- Curt or Rude Responses. You’re tired. In fact, you’re exhausted. You’ve been working on this client’s project for hours and hours. While I can certainly empathize, exhaustion is no excuse for being curt or rude to a customer. (And I guarantee that the customer will remember your rudeness long after he or she forgets that you put in extra hours.)
- Incomplete Contact Information. When it comes to contacting you, don’t make your client guess how they can reach you. Every piece of communication that comes from you (including bills) should contain your contact information. The client shouldn’t have to work hard to figure out how to find you. Just because the client contacted you once is no guarantee they will contact you again.
- Missed Deadlines. As a freelancer, your word should be as good as gold. If you agree to have a product or service ready by a certain date, then you should do everything in your power to meet that deadline. Your customer likely set that deadline for a reason. A casual attitude towards client deadlines is a quick way for you to lose clients.
- Lack of Communication. Do you have questions about your project? Is the project bigger than you anticipated? Have you had a personal emergency interfere with your work? Let your customer know what is going on. Usually, he or she is more than happy to answer questions and (provided you don’t make a habit of it) willing to be understanding about a crisis.
- Acting as Though You Don’t Care. Even when you find a client’s project dull and uninteresting, don’t let them know how you feel. Nearly every client believes that his or her own work should be the most important and have the highest priority on your schedule. If you can, look for something interesting in every project. (It’s there if you look, believe me.)
When In Doubt…
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How would you like to be treated if the situation were reversed?
- What sort of customer service would you expect to receive?
A Final Word About Customer Service
I think that many freelancers are afraid to offer good customer service to their clients because they’re afraid of being taken advantage of. While it’s true that there are customers out there who will try to take advantage of you, the majority will not abuse your good nature. Most of your clients just want to get their product or service and have it work properly for them.
And if you do find that a particular client demands much more than he or she paid for, you can always refuse to work for that client in the future or negotiate a higher price.
Have Your Say!
Have you ever experienced poor customer service? How did it make you feel?
What customer service techniques have you implemented as a freelancer?
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January 12th, 2009 at 12:05 pm
January 12th, 2009 at 12:12 pm
Completely Agreed!! thanks for the post, I’ll put some clients and some developers to think… ;)
January 12th, 2009 at 12:17 pm
The behavior listed in this post reminds me of my final days in book publishing: I was unmotivated, irritated, at the end of my rope…once I finally resigned, I was also mentally checked out! When I think back on these days, I’m somewhat horrified. After all, I was treated well within my company because of the good rapport I had developed with my authors. How far the mighty fall…
Now that I run my own at-home business, I more cognizant of the ways in which my behavior can affect business. I also try to mentally place myself in my clients’ shoes, aiming for empathy rather than irritability when I can. It makes a difference, and makes clients appreciate you more! And, as Laura wrote above, you can always refuse future projects from a particularly pesky client!
Thanks for the awesome post, Laura!
January 12th, 2009 at 12:30 pm
There is a delicate balance between being able to stand up for yourself so as not to be taken advantage of as a freelancer, and at the same time providing excellent customer service. The truth is, Great customer service should also make your life easier. You must set limits and manage expectations while providing the service your customers deserve.
January 12th, 2009 at 12:41 pm
I agree with you 100%. Really great Customer Service is about managing limits and expectations. Of course, you also need to provide excellent work and be very friendly. Rudeness, anger, and upset definitely have no place in a client conversation (and you don’t need them to get the job done).
Great post, Laura!
January 12th, 2009 at 3:06 pm
At no time should you hate your consumers, but there sure are times when you hate the way that they treat you. Most of the times they may be treating you in a certain way because you failed in one of these and may not even be aware that you have.
You may not realize it, but many times the person that you made mad today may be the one that you need to succeed tomorrow.
January 12th, 2009 at 3:23 pm
I often get annoyed at customers of my dayjob, but luckily I never have to talk to them; the sales team do that part!
It’s common sense to treat customers with respect though, especially when you’re freelancing/are a one man show. If I’m annoyed I’ll usually wait til I’m in a normal mood before composing a response.
Jees this makes me sound like a right grump!
January 12th, 2009 at 3:50 pm
Every customer counts, however, don’t let them abuse you. Sometimes it’s best to ‘fire a client’ than putting up with unreasonable demands.
January 12th, 2009 at 9:58 pm
This is one area where I know that Men with Pens exceeds client expectations every time – we take customer service to heart, and we hear people tell us how much they appreciate it all the time. It’s one area of our business that we’ll never, ever skimp.
(Okay, and 8 years running an international customer service department sure helped…)
So all that to say, yes, Laura – you hit it right on the head with this, and I was nodding the whole way through.
January 12th, 2009 at 10:08 pm
Wow, thanks for all of the support!
I can see that this hit a nerve for a lot of people, but truthfully I was actually expecting that a few freelancers would be in denial of my main point – that providing poor customer service is pretty much like hating your customer.
You guys are much more together than I thought. It just goes to show what a great group of readers we have here! :-)
January 13th, 2009 at 6:35 am
I was just last night talking with a friend about the hosting company with whom he does business and why he is soon going to dump them. Reasons: poor support, delayed response, and incomplete contact information. Good customer service is fundamental!
January 13th, 2009 at 11:01 am
I just had to turn down working with a new client. After a few email exchanges, I didn’t have a good feeling. Turns out my gut was right. I contacted the person who referred the client to me. My contact confirmed my thoughts were true.
Yes, we’re living in times where we want to take every new client that comes along. But is it worth the sacrifice when you find you’re avoiding working on the client’s projects? In this case, you might find you spent the same amount of time and energy helping two wonderful clients as opposed to one difficult one.
January 13th, 2009 at 1:02 pm
I certainly agree that you should check out each prospective customer thoroughly. You should definitely turn down any customers that make you feel uncomfortable. That’s good business sense. If at all possible (and sometimes it’s not really possible), I think it’s a good idea to refer such customers to another freelancer.
However, once you’ve accepted work then I believe that’s when your customer service ethic needs to kick in – EVEN if the customer turns out to be more than you bargained for. (You can always turn them down next time.)
January 13th, 2009 at 2:31 pm
Thanks, Laura. Actually, I’ve “let go” of a client even after working with him for a long time. It was ongoing, not a project-based assignment. But for projects — I agree it’s best to see it to the end.
I did give a referral to the prospective client.
January 16th, 2009 at 3:27 pm
You have to have the mentality where you are thankful for having the business of your clients, then treat them accordingly. If it gets to a point where you committ any one of the “sins” its time to take a vacation.
dpihostingJanuary 20th, 2009 at 11:22 am
Great points- I have to print and display for daily view.
February 2nd, 2009 at 3:55 pm
Some good points. I think a lot of us take our clients for granted from time to time. This kind of common sense reminder serves us all well.
December 22nd, 2010 at 12:24 pm
We’re living in times where we want to take every new client that comes along. But is it worth the sacrifice when you find you’re avoiding working on the client’s projects? In this case, you might find you spent the same amount of time and energy helping two wonderful clients as opposed to one difficult one.
November 28th, 2012 at 4:15 am
Stumbled upon your post and I just can’t agree more!! One good thing today is that we have a lot of customer service software at our disposal.
Say for example, our software Freshdesk (http://freshdesk.com) is an online help desk tool that can help manage SLAs, maintain canned responses for FAQs, automate escalation to managers in case an SLA gets missed and also check out customer satisfaction after every issue resolution. Isn’t that cool?
Also, many such software are FREE for the first support agent. Now that customer service is gaining a lot of prominence, companies both small & big should consider investing on a customer support tool and revamp their customer support system to earn some “Customer Love”!
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