“Hello, Ms. Client? I’m Sue Archer from Customer Relations, and I’m calling to follow up with you about your complaint.”
I’ve performed a number of difficult jobs in my life, but by far the most challenging one was a call centre role where I dealt solely with complaints. Every day it was my job to try and satisfy unhappy clients. I hesitated before taking the role on — I’m an introvert, and I was terrified of talking to angry strangers on the phone — but I thought, “This job will be good for me.”
And I was right. Stressful as that job was at times, it gave me a mental framework for preventing issues with clients. I continue to use what I learned back then when I work on editing projects today.
Listen before you act
Back in the call centre, I mentally labelled the first call with the client as “the listening call.” I never made decisions during that call or tried to come up with solutions. My sole focus was to listen to the client and draw out all the details.
- What was the client’s story?
- What was the client’s conversational style?
- What did the client say she wanted?
- What did I think would actually satisfy her (if anything)?
I ask myself the same types of questions today before I take on an editing project. The more I discover up front about the client — her goals, her body of work, her style of interaction, her previous experiences with editing — the more information I have to help me decide on an appropriate approach. Even if that approach is to turn down the work.
Clear the path
The best way to satisfy a client is to look ahead and anticipate potential obstacles. When speaking with my unhappy call centre client, I would patiently explain the process I would be taking to help resolve her issue so she could see where things were going. I would attempt to answer any questions she might have before they could be asked. And I would commit to a series of follow-up calls on specific dates to inform her of what was happening, even if it was to tell her things were still in process.
Today, I find my website, my editing contract and my sample edit to be excellent opportunities for clearing the path ahead of time. They help me to spell out the services I offer, what the process will involve and how I will be interacting with my client throughout the project.
And when things don’t go according to plan, I try to be proactive and discuss things with my client right away, before little issues turn into roadblocks.
Forget about who’s right
This final concept was the hardest for me to learn, but I managed it. After being in my call centre role for a while, I remember wincing as I listened to one of my newer colleagues arguing with a client who was “wrong.” I had learned that it was pointless to try and change a client’s opinions or beliefs, because they are based on feelings as well as facts. And in that context, it doesn’t matter whether your client is objectively right or wrong. What matters is whether she can be satisfied.
Our editing clients are paying us for a service. We do our best to help our clients and provide the best possible service, but sometimes they will see things differently than us. We shouldn’t take it personally, because it’s not really about us. We’re not in this game to win it; we’re in it to satisfy our clients.
Sometimes it just can’t be done. But it sure won’t be for lack of trying.
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