Tag Archives: customer service

My way or your way? (Or how to strike a balance when dealing with clients)

My way or your way? (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin, with due permission from the 2 'spotted' models.)

My way or your way? (Photo taken by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin, with due permission from the 2 ‘spotted’ models.)

The other day, I received a long email from someone who has assisted me in an urgent project this year and a thought-provoking question was in the email: “To what extent do you push for your ideas and when do you give way to client’s wishes?

It seemed a very simple question but the longer one ponders on it, the more complex it somehow becomes. And so I briefly replied that, “Hmmm, I am not an expert but, I guess, the priority is still the client’s wishes, his comfort zone, and his realities.” I then realized that the question deserves a longer reply so I decided that this can actually be a good topic in my next blog. :)

Before I expound on this question, let me first qualify that my tips/insights below apply only to circumstances when one’s core values and beliefs are not going to be compromised (that is, the situation should not call for pleasing a client but committing a crime or even a professional faux pas in the process!). Therefore, this post refers only to situations that do not involve the commission of a crime, breach of contract, and other similar consequences.

I may be citing real-life experiences just to emphasize a point but I won’t be mentioning names of persons or institutions, for privacy’s sake. (It is indeed true that ‘experience is the best teacher’ so I hope that my own experiences will help you, dear readers, in dealing with situations when you are torn apart between wanting to please your client 100% and pushing for your ideas.)

The following may be considered as good take-off points or pieces of advice:

1. The customer is always right. This may sound used and abused but always remember, when faced with a blank wall, that you exist because of your customer (client). Fortunately, I got trained in DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) Methodology, an approach to problem-solving and considered in the corporate world as part of the Six Sigma management philosophy. Through DMAIC principles, I had a deeper understanding of how to connect the client’s wants and needs to my existence as part of a corporation or even as an independent professional. I will not bore you with the details of how my training went but suffice to say, there really is a ‘methodical’ way of appreciating why clients behave that way and why you, as a supplier or service provider, should go the extra mile to do what your clients want.

2. Know your bottomlines but always refer to point No. 1 above. You can always have your own ‘bottomlines’ or that specific points when you really must say “no” already. This means that you may always bend to the wishes of your client but if such acquiescence means that the final project/output will already have significant impact on your career and long-term goals, then by all means, say a respectful but firm “no”. For example, if a valued client requests you to finish the layout and design of a book with a very short lead time–a time frame that makes it physically impossible to deliver a brilliant design–you can respectfully but firmly reject the project. After all, it will be your reputation and portfolio at stake there.

However, there will always be those rare instances when you simply cannot refuse, right? I had been in those situations and they were really difficult times. Should this ever happen to you, you can consider taking the following course of actions: (i) Accept the project but propose changes in the terms of reference so that the tasks may be adjusted based on the time frame given (e.g.,  if it is no longer possible to develop 3 cover studies, then strike an agreement where you will only propose 1 or 2 studies; (ii) consult a lawyer to help you develop a contract where there will be enough protective clauses for you (e.g., your contract should stipulate that the client should give their comments within a specific period only and anything sent beyond that will already impact the project calendar and, therefore, you should not be made liable for the consequent project delay); (iii) agree on fair/realistic quality standards and ensure that your client will not feel shortchanged (e.g., while it may be impossible to develop highly-complicated graphic works, you and your client should agree on minimal use of info-graphics and nice but simple design tweaking); and (iv) request your client to allow you to sub-contract some of the tasks involved so that you can deliver on time with the agreed quality parameters.

3. Listen. Have a more open mind. These two ‘epic statements’ sound simple, right? However, they are easier said than done. I have met consultants, artists, and graphic designers who are so brilliant but seem to lack or fail in the emotional quotient (EQ) department. In the same way, I have worked with young and upcoming specialists and professionals who may still be ‘learning the ropes’ but whose work ethics, patience, diligence, and commitment are exemplary. These are preferred by clients. I don’t need a very brilliant artist but who always complains, doesn’t listen, and acts as if he is always right and the greatest artist in the whole world. I prefer someone who does a great job (even if it’s not so perfect) AND really listens, appreciates my business, and open to my ideas. Simply put, intelligence, brilliance, and talent should be accompanied with the right attitude. No wonder EQ is essential in ascertaining whether a person is perfect for the job. :) You might ask, “How will these two statements help me when I want to push for my ideas because I know I am REALLY right and that my ideas ultimately support the goals of my client?” My answer is simple: You can actually make your client feel that your idea is actually his idea just by simply listening and having an open mind. Listen more and you will perhaps realize that your ideas do not exactly oppose his ideas. And in the worse case scenario, there might be a workable compromise position somewhere. The trick is to make your client feel that his ideas are also important and useful in the bigger picture.

4. Always remember, your client is NOT stupid. There are designers and IT specialists who think and act like they are God’s gifts to the universe (pasintabi lang po, bato-bato sa langit, ang tamaan ay h’wag magagalit). They are the ones who will bluntly tell you, “Oh, I cannot do that because…(and then give you long explanations with their technical jargons and IT what-nots)” when you simply needed a user-friendly template. There is a common joke circulating around that we must never have IT administrators as enemies because they hold the passwords to our private emails and, painfully, they can easily cause the demise of our careers (or reputation?). It seems a harmless joke, right? But the reality is that many IT and graphic design professionals have strangely developed a certain ‘air’ around them. They are the untouchables. You cannot mess with them. You cannot argue with them. They have their own language, which you cannot penetrate. They make fun of lesser morals who have only basic understanding of IT and design jargons. But be warned: clients are smart, too. They may have lesser gigabyte of IT knowledge but their basic understanding of IT and design what-have-you’s may mean that they have humongous understanding and ownership of the other important matters in life–including the money that they will pay you. Never assume anything. Never assume that the client doesn’t know anything about your line of work. Never assume that they are stupid or fools. Thread carefully for the client might just ask someone to blacklist you in the whole corporate community just because he did not enjoy your sarcastic email about why it is not possible to convert such a file to the template that you needed. Fair enough? :)

5. Good track record matters. Build a solid track record with your client and this makes the work (and future negotiations) a lot easier. It is alright to push for your ideas particularly if they are really brilliant. However, remember that it takes time for a client to trust you enough. It is the same with relationships. Don’t expect people to trust you instantly just because you have a very good CV. Relationships take time to build. It is the same way with clients. They tend to listen more to people whom they already worked with over the long haul. Therefore, if someone or a corporation is your first-time client, be very careful with your ideas. Try to hold your horses at first. Get a feel of how they interact with you, take note of their corporate culture (and even their body languages!), and eventually, you will know when is the perfect time to propose your ideas. (See no. 9 below also.)

6. Appreciation. We had been taught the power of appreciation by our parents. We had been told to say “Thank you” when someone helps us, gives us a gift, or utters a compliment. But no one really told us how to say “Thank you” if someone acts like a brat or refuses to listen. Someone has forgotten to say that the workplace is in another dimension. Planet Mars, maybe? The thing is, it is difficult or downright impossible to say “Thank you” if you are pissed off. However, if the going gets tough and you are faced with a client who doesn’t seem to want to listen to your ideas, count 1 to 10 and say an inner “Thank you”. Thank the heavens above because you have this client and the job. Thank the universe because this difficult moment in your life makes you a better and more patient person. Thank the stars because you have this opportunity to practice yoga (read: the art of detachment). Finally, thank that spot where you are standing on because certainly, someone else can easily fill that spot (and he is just a phone call, SMS, or even tweet away!).

7. Remember the rule of karma and the saying, ‘walls have ears’. Every action that we do will become part of our history. There is no way that we can delete the past so we must always strive hard to think of the consequences of our action or statement. If we made a client very happy today, it may eventually lead to more opportunities in the future (and not necessarily with the same client). A satisfied client will always speak nicely of you and such a reputation is very important in the market. If you are faced with that moment when you really must be frank with a client and insist on your ideas, then weigh the benefits versus the risks. Will insisting on your point ruin or negatively impact your relationship with your client? If the answer is yes, then don’t hold your tongue and simply do what the client wants or wait for the right time to re-negotiate.

8. Patience is the best virtue. I always liked this saying, “Good things come to those who wait.” This is can be applied when faced with the dilemma of finding a way to push for your ideas without offending your client. Learn to be patient. This is particularly challenging especially if the deadline is tight or the situation is just too stressful. I had been there and believe me, I had experienced moments when I just wanted to walk out of a project. Once or twice, I actually gave up an opportunity for a good reason (see my earlier notes about not compromising our values and principles in life). However, it is best that we always keep our cool. It helps us have a better appreciation of the demands of our clients. I guess it takes many years of practice and experience to develop genuine patience and wisdom. I think no one can really be completely patient (every one will always have that breaking point) so let us also try to accept our humanity. The key, I think, is having enough self-restraint and magnanimity without having to compromise our core values.

9. Timing is everything. I have encountered people who seem so close-minded at first but who eventually open their minds up if only they are allowed enough space and time to think about your ideas or proposals. There is that thing about finding the perfect timing. Don’t talk to a client who just had lost a bid or even endured two or three hours in traffic. In the negotiation table, your client will always have the upper hand. Therefore, you have better chances of ‘winning’ if you lay out your game plan at the perfect time. Pray, consult a feng shui expert, or do a ritual dance  if you must!

10. It’s a free world. At the end of the day, you are answerable to your own self. Stick to your guts. If you are comfortable in your own skin and have a positive outlook of how the world and businesses operate, you will find it easier to strike a balance between what you think is right and what the client wants. Bend if you must. Be like a strong bamboo that sways with the winds. However, never lose yourself just because you need the moolah. Develop an inner compass and that will surely help you make those critical decisions in such challenging phases in your career, and even life in general. It’s a free world. You have the right to make your own decisions, cognizant of the goals of your clients and the rights and welfare of people around you.

Let me end this post by sharing with you a picture of Nobuko, one of the dolls in the Kimmidoll series. She reminds us to ‘live what we believe.’

Nobuko tells us, "By living what you believe, your actions will always find their true direction." [Doll by Kimmidolls; image taken by M. Velas-Suarin]

Nobuko tells us, “By living what you believe, your actions will always find their true direction.” [Doll by Kimmidolls; image taken by M. Velas-Suarin]

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This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

Be fired up for the job

No, this post is not about how to fire someone. :) This is a summary version of what my husband and I have discussed several times over the two years of our marriage (and over the four years of our friendship).

Jump if you must! Doing something for others is a gift in itself. (Photo credits: http://rajeshshukla.com/)

It’s about passion for one’s work. This may not probably sound extraordinary anymore  but nevertheless, let me share my learnings and experiences in client management and customer service or CS (both as a service provider and client). I think that poor services and treatment of clients can almost always be rooted to a lack of passion for the job. Many of us share these typical encounters: long lines in the bank during lunch break because bank employees also take this exact time to take their lunch break (not thinking that workers use their lunch break to transact with the banks); bookstore sale staff not being able to locate the book that you are looking for because they do not know the difference between anthologies and satire; courier service company staff refusing to call the originating branch where a document came from just to verify if indeed there was a typo error in the name of the consignee; telephone service providers who ironically cannot even call their linemen who are supposed to be fixing your landline after a storm; remittance center who refuses to hand over your funds because they do not have smaller bills of USD (yes, this actually happened to me–the center even suggested that I go back the next day!); and the list is endless…

Admittedly, corporate culture and values should be strongly inculcated in the minds of employees but I will not attempt to discuss this dimension here as it is another topic that needs more lengthy discussion. Let us then concentrate on discussing how fire and passion into one’s job can make a whole lot of difference.

Definitely, training and exposure in client management and customer service are important in enhancing our skills and competencies. I always believe in the beauty and importance of continuing learning. In fact, I am beginning an MBA course soon, with focus on renewable energy (to know more about it, you can go to this link). It is always wiser to continue investing in ourselves, particularly in this age of globalization and outsourcing (and intense market competition).

However, there are aspects of our jobs and careers that should be deeply-rooted in our core being. One of those is passion for the job. Just like in any relationship, if passion is gone, love also wanes and may eventually die. In the same way, our passion for the job constantly fires us up, pushing us to greater heights of accomplishments and fulfillment.

For example–in my example above regarding my encounter with a bookshop employee–it was disheartening for me to receive only blank stares when I tried to look for a specific book title. It was hard for me to understand why a bookshop employee does not know the different types and genres of books. I do not say this in a condescending way. It is just frustrating that someone who is surrounded with shelves and shelves of books does not care enough to even attempt to get to know their “wards”. I may be too biased because of my love for reading but I think that this should apply in any merchandise that one is trying to sell.  If you are selling a stove, you must know exactly what are the different types of stoves and how one type is better than the other. This takes passion. That ‘connection’ where you find a deeper meaning to even the mundane details of your job.

At the core of this drive is the joy of being able to serve others. I think we are depriving ourselves of joys and a sense of fulfillment if we take our jobs for granted. We are shortchanging ourselves if we do not try our best to enjoy our jobs. Remember that our jobs connect us to the outside world and give us opportunities to serve others. I think the chance of doing something for others is a gift in itself. When we serve, we give a part of our time and ourselves. It may lead to a continuous cycle of giving and serving. If we served someone with a smile that day, that person will be gracious enough to do the same to another person. That single act of serving can lead to long-lasting friendships and even casual acquaintances who may eventually end us as our future colleagues, employers, or clients. And such attitude of graciousness should remain even if we are under extreme pressures or faced with difficult circumstances.

Let me share a very challenging encounter that I once experienced when I was still serving as a customer service (CS) manager of a global service delivery firm. Note that I have no prior (formal) experience in CS although I have considerable experience in client management. I think that even without such formal experience, it was relatively easy for me to adapt to the responsibilities of the job because I truly enjoy serving others. It is in the core of every work that I do, even when I was still in college working as an associate editor of our university paper. I tend to go beyond what is expected of me not because I care about credits but because I truly enjoy working. I get a certain high if I have already accomplished my tasks and satisfied my peers and clients. Perhaps (and I am just guessing here) that my former boss in that firm decided to hire me even if I did not have a formal training in CS because he saw that ‘inner fire’ and the commitment to perform and excel.

Lend your ears and truly listen. (Photo credits: http://www.inneraltitude.com/)

Everything was going well in the job when one day, a furious client went up to my office. He was so angry that, I think, if I was not a female employee, he could have easily punched me on the face. The offices are glass-walled and the lay-out is designed such that the managers’ offices (following almost a ‘squarish’ U-shaped pattern) are facing the cubicles of of the staff. The client began ranting at me, in an angry tone, so that all of my staff stood up from their cubicles and looked worriedly at me. I think that they heard every word that the client said even if I already closed the glass doors (which I never do). I just allowed the client to talk and rant and berate me and the company, until slowly, he began lowering down his voice. All the while, I kept on nodding my head, listening to his every word. It was disconcerting but I tried to be calm and took everything he said with serenity in my heart. I did not even try to defend the company’s position. I just put myself in his shoes. Realizing that I was actually listening, he eventually stopped and gave me a chance to talk. Needless to say, it took a combination of sincere apologies, wise words, calm but firm voice, and a concrete solution, for me to eventually pacify him. I have also promised to make up for their company’s incurred losses (which my company did not intend nor were caused by inefficiency on our side but rather a technical glitch which our airline partners also experienced) and beginning that day, I will be personally taking care of monitoring their job requests. This is not actually expected of me (I can delegate it completely to the CS Supervisor, who is just as competent) but in that kind of situation, I strongly felt I have to do this extra step. I also thought that the client will only give us a second chance if he is assured that I am there for him and his company, personally, in the long haul. Needless to say, he was satisfied and eventually remained as a valuable client of our company (he was already, at first, threatening to move their accounts to our competitor company). I was even in for a surprise bonus. Several months after that encounter in my office, I was happily surprised to receive a special invitation from him for the grand opening of his and his partners’ restaurant! For me, this is wonderful but totally unexpected “return” on something that I have done wholeheartedly without any expectation of reward. The mere fact that it was unexpected doubled the joys of being appreciated and considered as a friend (and a special guest at that!). This underlines what I have mentioned above: every encounter can lead to more meaningful and important relationships in the future. However, we will not find any meaning to the nitty-gritty of our “boring” jobs if we fail to appreciate the beauty in each encounter or task, however mundane we may think it to be.

Another important facet of job appreciation is possessing a strong pride in everything that we do. I am not sure if this is entirely a Pinoy penchant for simplicity or the tendency to humble ourselves, but I would oftentimes hear of employees–trying to be defensive when they realize their lapses–saying, “Sorry po, Ma’am, empleyado lang po ako. “ (Loose translation: “I’m sorry, Ma’am, I am just an employee.”) It is like admitting that you are just an employee, therefore, you are mostly useless and have no mind of your own, no power. I heard this statement recently from a lawyer in a public office (yes, he is indeed a lawyer) when I suggested that he should propose  a concrete recommendation to his boss. He said he cannot do that because he has no power nor influence. It was disheartening. I have worked with public officials but I have always thought that my bosses listened to my insights and that I was hired to give them that–clear solutions and recommendations. Apparently, this lawyer does not think of himself as that capable person who can try to make a difference. In his mind, he is just an employee. No wonder we notice such lethargy in many government offices today.

A similar attitude is when we say, “My father is JUST a driver or a factory worker, and so on and so forth” when we can simply say, “My father is a farmer or a driver or a waiter”? Have we really asked ourselves what is so embarrassing or wrong with being a driver or a farmer? I think that it is time that we carry more dignity and pride in our work, whatever it may be.  This will definitely motivate us to appreciate our jobs more. Let us be fired with the knowledge that our jobs are important not just to our families but also to the society as a whole. If our farmers stop planting, what do you think will happen to all of us?

Put yourself in the client’s shoes. We always hear this. It is always one of the key lessons that are being taught us in the corporate world. Do we really mean it when we say that? Take the case of bank employees who also take their lunch break at the exact time when working people would also be doing their bank transactions. Does it take a genius to realize that the lunch hour should also be the exact time that banks should open all their counters? Ironically, bank staff also choose this time to take their lunch break, closing the other counters in the process, compounding the inefficiency because of the long lines of clients who also have to rush back to their offices. This stems from the lack of appreciation of how it is to be a full-time employee who has his lunch break only to do his bank transactions. Admittedly, bank management calls the shot but front-line employees should be the ones recommending changes because they are the ones facing clients on a day-to-day basis. Remember, you have the power to propose changes and this does not stop in your job alone. You can propose and work for changes in every circle where you circulate in. :)

After all, our job extends to the many outer layers of our lives. More importantly, we carry the names of our forefathers so carry that name with care, joy, and pride, for when we besmirch our names, we also hurt the names of our great ancestors.

Be the best in your job, and be among the best citizens of this world!

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This is not a paid blog.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin