When I was asked to write about customer service, just thinking about the level of customer service I find today, the number of angles and topics that came to mind was overwhelming. Considering you as the audience, it seemed important to focus on what might serve writers and how customer service is critical for our craft.
Service is basically common courtesy and common sense – providing the service we would like to have provided to us. As writers this means we deliver what we promise for the price we quote, in the time agreed –the ultimate in customer service. Most of all, we keep our readers and the one who is paying us in mind throughout our work.
Whether writing a novel or a complicated explanation of an intricate IT network process, a work instruction or test case — the perception is that it cannot be that difficult to write, write quickly and for almost no cost!
The reason is simple — people have been writing since grade school. However, this complicates our work when it comes to charging others for what they believe they could do themselves if they just had more time.
In the 80s the mantra of business was:
- customers come first, shareholders next and profits last.
By the ‘90s there was a shift to:
- shareholders first, profits and customers last
Today, it is typically:
- profits first, shareholders next and … well customers are just too expensive to serve anymore.
As writers this current shift means the major driver for our work can be to get the most for the least cost.
Quality is not always as important as cheap and fast. Yet, cheap and fast does not deliver quality that is necessary for repeat business and to provide good customer service. It just gets through work quickly, results in heaps of rework and the writer suffers from lack of income when the client is not happy.
Define the work carefully
In my experience, success begins with defining and measuring what needs to be done. Then establishing a schedule to meet the client expectations. Here is a different, yet critical type of writing. Start with precisely defining and documenting what is to be delivered, by when and for how much.
This can often seem like ‘nailing jelly to the wall’, yet the effort will pay dividends with your reputation and repeat business. It means you can know when you meet your customer’s expectation and deliver good service.
Ensure there is no ‘wiggle room’ to misunderstand what is being agreed to and your client will be an excellent reference for you in the future.
The enemy of every project — no matter how large or small — is agreeing to the scope of work within a set schedule and the client asking for changes or ‘just one more little thing’.
Scope creep is especially poisonous for writers because we sometimes are so grateful for the work, we just want to get to it rather than formalise things. The inclusion of change orders and how they may impact the cost and time upfront is critical.
Make it clear you intend to deliver the best quality for the defined scope at a fair price in an agreed-to timeframe. Any required changes must be defined, costed and agreed to before they can be undertaken. Changes can impact the delivery date, or the work may need to be delivered in stages.
Writing and managing change orders can become more time consuming than the original project and if they grow too ponderous it is time to have a good talk with the client. Everyone must understand the rules of the project before it begins, to manage potential complaints later.
Professional writers know that to write well, to be thorough and accurate, is not about the time spent writing, it is the time preparing, researching, thinking through what is needed, what is meant, what the reader needs to know, writing for the reader, editing and proof-reading.
There is legal, compliance or audit requirements that often must be met, especially by technical writers. Clients want to know why it is taking you so long. Pricing your writing to meet deadlines is a huge challenge. It is the measure twice, cut once rule that will ensure you are profitable and popular.
Pricing success comes from pricing fairly. Most of us do not make $100 per hour writing. Endeavour to set your fees, not on what others charge, but for how complicated the topic, the level of the audience/ reader, your overhead, the time the client is allowing to complete the work … you will know the key factors to include. Never be afraid to turn work down because if you do not, it will come back to bite you.
If you have been in or near organisational customer service, you know the ‘holy grail’ is — and always will be — how can we put a price on the cost of adding customer service on top of what is delivered?
When I was a child, if you found one gasoline service station at an intersection, there would be three more, one on each of the other corners. You choose by the personally perceived brand value and the customer service received.
One day we pulled into our favourite Texaco station. The service attendant took my Dad’s order to ‘Fill-er up’ and popped the hood to check the oil and water. I noticed the cost of a gallon of gas was less at the Mobile station across the street. Over the months that followed, a gas war took place and gas stations began to close as competitors sacrificed profit to undercut their rivals.
It might have been alright if it has just stayed with gasoline stations, but the idea of undercutting your competitors with the hope of being the last one standing lingers today. Resist the temptation. Price fairly and your customers will come back for more.
Extraordinary customer service in writing comes from having as much information about the expectations of the client as you can. Being honourable and truthful about your ability, experience and availability to meet the requirements. Always
- Define the work precisely
- Price fairly
- Work to an agreed schedule
- Ruthlessly police scope creep
- Deliver what you promise
Being professional means, you clearly establish and mutually agree in writing on what will be delivered, at what price, by when and the impact of scope creep. If you do this and you fulfil your agreement, there is no better customer service!
By Darlene Richard (www.write4you.co (not com)
Note to readers: Darlene is author of The Customer Response Management Handbook: Building, Rebuilding, and Improving Your Results available at https://www.amazon.com/Customer-Response-Management-Handbook-Rebuilding/dp/007470978X.