Customer Service Guidelines for Freelancers
As a freelancer, you have to wear a lot of hats: financial officer, marketing expert, project manager, chief dishwasher (okay, maybe not that last one). You are your own boss after all, and any business owner can relate to the seemingly endless list of responsibilities you’ve got to take on. But there’s one skill that is integral to landing new clients, keeping the ones you’ve pleased, and managing the ones who might have a bone to pick: customer service.
Big businesses might have an entire department devoted to managing customers, but for most freelancers it’s a team of one: you. So in this post, we’ll offer a simple set of customer service guidelines for freelancers that you can use to keep your clients happy.
Above all else, be yourself when it comes to dealing with clients. Odds are pretty good that they chose to hire a freelancer over an agency because they wanted to work more directly with a real person. You don’t need to take on an overly formal tone or make yourself sound like someone working in a call center.
Most clients appreciate a freelancer who has a sense of humor, who can get excited about their projects, and who can communicate in a relaxed manner. Don’t be so informal that it seems like you don’t care about quality, but don’t be too robotic either.
In short, be yourself.
Establish Boundaries and Expectations
The vast majority of customer service issues arise when the client’s expectations don’t match up with what the freelancer delivers. Whether it’s is the quality of the service you offer, the speed of your delivery, or your communication practices, establishing crystal clear expectations is one of the most important customer service guidelines you can work on.
Here are a few ways that you can do this:
Make the quality of your service clear. Providing samples is an ideal way to do this. If that’s not possible, your service description should make it abundantly clear what the client is getting for their money. A writer who only charges $5 for 1000 words, for example, may not provide particularly well-written content. For some clients, this is fine. But if they don’t know it before purchasing, they’ll be more likely to be upset with the results.
Spell out the next steps. In your order confirmation message, you can manage client expectations by providing an overview of the next steps. Does the client need to do anything else? Should they expect communication from you before delivery? By answering questions like these before your clients ask them, you keep them from getting anxious about the status of their order.
Establish communication boundaries. Some clients expect a freelancer to answer messages immediately regardless of the time of day. But that’s not realistic. You can help establish appropriate boundaries with a simple statement like this in your service description or order confirmation message: “If you have any questions, send me a message and I’ll get back to you within 12 hours”. You can also set boundaries on how you are willing to communicate. Don’t be afraid to tell your clients that you aren’t available for phone calls or that you prefer to keep all of your messaging on Legiit.
Keep in Touch
On the subject of communication boundaries, it’s also worth considering the importance of keeping in touch with clients. This starts with something as simple as a message to confirm that you have received their order and understand their instructions. But it goes beyond that as well.
Responding to questions in a timely manner is key. Likewise, you’ve got to update clients whenever there are any snags in your process, such as a delay in delivery. Most clients will understand if the occasional setback throws off your schedule. Radio silence, on the other hand, leads to a poor customer experience.
The Customer Is Not Always Right (But You Don’t Have to Make Them Feel Wrong)
Finally, let’s tackle one of the most common customer service guidelines: “The customer is always right.”
As any freelancer with any experience knows, this is definitely NOT the case. You web designers in the audience, for example, can probably share countless stories of clients who didn’t know a thing about user experience but still had plenty of suggestions on how your design needed to be improved.
But just because our clients are wrong about something doesn’t mean we have to make them feel wrong.
Often, if you take a little effort to gently steer clients in the right direction, they’ll come around to see things your way without being insulted.
Verify, Clarify, Ask
A good solution to situations like this is to follow the verify, clarify, and ask formula: First verify that you understand the client’s concerns. Then clarify what led to the situation. Finally, ask the client a question about moving forward.
For example, imagine a client is unhappy with part of a web design project that you completed. Specifically, they don’t like that every page has a lead capture form taking up about half of the screen when a visitor first lands on the site. One way to approach the situation could be…
Verify: “I see how that might be distracting to some visitors, and I totally understand where you are coming from as a business owner looking to create the best experience for your customers.”
Clarify: “In my experience, placing a form or other call-to-action as one of the first things that a visitor sees is more likely to convince them to contact you. Often times, a visitor goes to a local business site simply to find contact info. So it can be helpful to place it big and bold early on the page.”
Ask: “So how would you like me to proceed? I’m happy to move the forms lower on the page if that better achieves what your brand values.”
Most clients will make the connection that listening to your expertise would land them more sales. This process gives them an easy way to make the right decision without harming their ego.
One thing to keep in mind, of course, is that some client requests are completely unreasonable. If they are asking for work or revisions that go beyond the scope of the contract, you don’t need to be shy about charging for your additional hours. You have to walk a fine line between keeping customers happy and bending over backwards to unfair demands.
Keep More Clients Happy With These Customer Service Guidelines
Providing quality work is only one aspect of successful freelancing. If you can’t keep your clients happy, the best product in the world won’t make them stick around. The more you make a habit of providing quality customer service, the more your clients will give you repeat business and refer you to their friends.