I’m starting to feel like I’ve wandered into some sort of Customer Service Bermuda Triangle. I place orders, submit my payment, and the item inexplicably disappears. Last week I wrote about a run-in with a local company. Yesterday I checked on an online order I placed with a different company two weeks ago, only to discover that unbeknownst to me, it had been cancelled because the order form was apparently incomplete.
Fair enough, but my question to them is: you had my email, so why did no one bother to tell me that the order had been cancelled, or better yet, ask me for the missing information so the order could be completed? Their only response was that they were very sorry to hear about my problem, and that next time perhaps I should order by phone so a representative can place the order for me. Translation: “You are clearly an idiot who should not be using a computer. Next time pick up the phone. Can you handle that?” Thank you, but I don’t think there will be a next time.
Lack of responsiveness and accountability is a huge frustration when dealing with big companies. Would it have killed the customer “service” representative to get the missing information from me and reinstate the order? I’m not even asking for free shipping or a discount here, just a minimum effort to solve the problem. Instead, they opted for the most passive, least helpful response they thought they could get away with.
Freelancers and small business owners, on the other hand, are not insulated by layers of departments and minions who deal with clients for us. Many of us, myself included, use this accessibility as an asset: clients know exactly what they get and who they will be dealing with, and there is immediate accountability in all transactions. But I have to admit … with clients in almost every time zone the demands are never-ending, and when that *Urgent!!!* e-mail comes in at 3 a.m. I sure wish I had a customer-service minion of my own. “We’re very sorry to hear about your problem. Next time, please call us first so you don’t end up in this mess in the first place… bye-bye now.”
Just kidding. I value my clients and would like to keep them.
My question is serious, though: how do we deal with the round-the-clock demands of a 24/7 economy with our finite small-business resources? Is there such a thing as too much responsiveness and availability? A few months into my first year as a translator the phone rang in the middle of the night. It was a Dutch client who had some questions about the terminology in my translation. Now I was born and raised in the Netherlands, but I’ve lived in the US for over 20 years, and my Dutch needs a little lubing when I’m startled from a deep sleep in the middle of the night. Not optimal when you’re trying to justify your linguistic choices and you’re having a hard time putting a coherent sentence together.
The following are some scenarios I encounter on a regular basis. How would you respond?
- A deadline is approaching, your computer is freezing up, and right then the phone rings: it’s a client.
- You already rejected a job offer from a big company because your schedule is full, yet project managers keep e-mailing: Can you take part of it if we split it up? Can you do it if we extend the deadline? Can you take the proofreading?
- You get a job offer via e-mail on a complex project. While you’re still trying to figure out what your quote is going to be, they call.
- You’re in the middle of a project with a tight deadline and you get an email with questions about a translation you finished earlier.
- You get a quick question about a few words from an established client, offering to pay a min. fee.
- It’s a busy day and you get an email from a potential new client asking if you’re interested in collaboration.
- You get an e-mail that does not address you by name.
- A client in a different time zone calls in the middle of the night.
Some of these are easy, like emails that don’t even use your name. Unless you’re a beginner who needs to build up a resume and may therefore need to bid on jobs, it’s pretty safe to ignore these mass emails. But what about some of the other ones. Do you ignore them? Get back to them later? Answer the phone? I’d love to hear how others have handled these or similar situations.