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Sue Archer

May I Help You?


“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.


Previous post from Sue Archer: Review: Correct English: Reality or Myth? by Geoffrey Marnell.

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About the author

Sue Archer

Sue Archer’s official job title keeps changing, but she remains an editor at heart. During the day, she helps people from different worlds (business and technology) communicate with each other. At night, she writes urban and paranormal fantasy and occasionally assesses manuscripts for indie authors. Her debut novel Fortune’s Shadow was published in April 2020.


6 Comments on “May I Help You?”

  • Sylvie Collin


    Thank you, Sue, for sharing your experience. I totally agree with you when you argue that “We shouldn’t take it personally, because it’s not really about us.” Once we truly understand that, it takes away much guilt/anger and stress. What we should remember, as a wise former boss of mine taught me, is that it is counterproductive to look for who is at fault. What we need to look for are solutions.

    • Sue Archer


      I’m glad you liked the post, Sylvie. Yes, it really does help to reduce stress. It sounds like you had a fantastic boss. I agree that finger-pointing in any situation doesn’t really get you anywhere!

  • Paul Buckingham


    Lovely analogy between editing and working in a complaints centre, Sue.

    I sometimes wonder whether editing programs should include a short course on conflict resolution. (Conflict resolution may sound a bit dramatic, but from what I understand it concerns precisely the issues you raise.) When I started out in editing, a certain inspiring editor related a story very similar to yours: she’d heard one of her colleagues on the phone losing it with an author. The message was simple and has stuck with me ever since: you can’t be an editor and let yourself come to blows with your authors.

    • Sue Archer


      Thanks, Paul. That’s a great idea about the conflict resolution course. When I was in the call centre, I completed training on conflict resolution as well as negotiation skills. I’ve taken editing training that included some discussion on preventing issues, but it didn’t really get into what to do when you’re already in a negative situation. I think that whole topic area would work very well as an editing seminar!

  • I learned this little gem from an old boss of mine: You can be right. You can be dead right.

    His point was that arguing with a client to prove you were right could win you the argument and lose the business. I never forgot that.

    • Sue Archer


      What a great line, Margaret! Thanks for sharing it.

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