The Freelancer’s Guide to Customer Service

outbound sales callBig companies have whole customer service departments. Retail workers have customer service seminars. Offices have standard customer service protocols.

Freelancers? You’re kind of on your own, huh?

Customer service is never the easiest task. People will heckle you about prices and your website’s design. They’ll critique your work with no experience of their own, or ask what seems like absolutely ridiculous questions. If you’re not already trained in crafting your best customer service smile and voice (ask any retail worker about theirs), then it’s difficult to get right.

Still, effective customer service is important when you’re building a client base and reputation, even more important than your products or prices. In fact, about 64% of people surveyed reported that customer experience was more valuable to them than price when deciding to make a purchase.

Have no fear, independent workers! With these tips, anyone can get through the most frustrating phone calls with minimal stress.

 

Underpromise, Overdeliver

You should always, always be crystal-clear up front with any customers about expectations. Never be unsure about what you sell and how much you sell it for. The best route to go is to slightly underpromise on what you can actually accomplish for a client. Staying humble and not over-hyping your work gives them a typical standard to look forward to in the end product. Worst case scenario? They’re not disappointed if it’s not your best work. Best case scenario? They’re blown away by you overdelivering on your promises, and you have a loyal customer.

 

Validate-Clarify-Continue

When clarifying info for clients, it’s difficult to avoid language that makes them feel talked down to. Using the validate-clarify-continue language strategy can steer a client away from negative emotions and pass along the necessary info. Here’s a good example:

You’re on the phone with a client who can’t find your office door. They’re frustrated. “Actually, the entrance is at the back of this building,” you say. Your correction is right, but the client is now embarrassed and feels a bit patronized. Instead, try:

  1. Validating their belief: “It would make sense for the entrance to be at the front, wouldn’t it!”
  2. Clarifying: “For some reason, the entrance here is at the back.”
  3. Continuing with a question to move the conversation forward: “Do you know how to get around there?”

Embrace Formalities

If you’re meeting with a client in the physical world to discuss your project, be sure to be as formal and polite as possible. This can include dressing appropriately, offering them tea or coffee if you’re meeting at your office (Fun Fact: It’s estimated that 80% of them will accept!), or something as simple as a firm handshake and a big smile (92% of adults say that a great smile is an important social aspect) . You want them to know that you’re excited to work with them, make them feel comfortable and taken care of, and most importantly that you truly care about them. If they trust you and feel cared for, you’re bound to have a wonderful relationship with your customer down the road.

 

Handle Feedback Gracefully and Productively

I know, handling criticism is tough. But to keep your clients happy, you need to listen aggressively to feedback and react appropriately. Think their feedback is absolute garbage? You’re allowed to think so, but for Pete’s sake, don’t tell the client that. While a good strategy for handling criticism is difficult to perfect and changes case by case, there is good general advice out there. An article from the Interaction Design Foundation has a helpful section on handling customer feedback that you might find useful.

You don’t need formal customer service training to make your customers happy, but it sure helps. If you find your service and communication skills are damaging some client relationships, don’t hesitate to ask others for advice or find some online workshops.

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