If you have read some of my other blogs, you’d know that I have  often expressed my liking for Elance as the place to hunt for online freelance jobs. And yes, this post too is going to involve them.  But the focus is entirely different –  Customer Service!

The Problem – Sometime last week, Elance experienced an unscheduled downtime.  Having tracked the site for almost two years now, I knew it was ‘uncharacteristic’ on their part to have such a breakdown. Usually they have schedule their downtime and keep contractors / clients informed so that everyone can plan their updates accordingly.  However  site was up and running in a matter of hours. Great- I forgot all about it!

A ‘casual’ incident becomes a ‘game-changer’ – Two days after the system failure, I receive this email from the CEO of Elance ( please click on the image to read the letter). Elance

And here’s why I think this was a fabulous display of customer service:
  1. It acknowledges top management ownership of a problem that could so easily have been dismissed as a system downtime
  2. The action was swift;  within 48 hours of the problem occurring a personally addressed apology letter along with a modicum of compensation is sent out.  The 20 connects they offered in dollar terms is about  3.5 US dollars; but multiply that by all contractors and clients who had live jobs at the time of the problem and you have a figure that runs into several hundred thousand dollars in operational losses for the company for a seemingly small technical snag.
  3. The third and the best reason – It took me by complete surprise! That’s the best way of offering customers a memorable experience with your brand! Here’s a recent quote from Tim Cook, Apple CEO, ‘ We believe very much in the element of surprise. We think customers love surprises’.
As to why this is relevant to you and me –  Freelance Writers are as much  ‘running their own business’ as a brick and mortar entrepreneur.  As a writer you identify your core competencies, pitch to relevant clients, follow up, meet people,  get the job done,raise invoices and (hopefully) check back with the client.   But we tend to get caught up with chasing business and can become negligent of our own ‘Customer Service Quotient’ ( CSQ)!
Here are 3 CSQ tips which I hope you will find useful, no matter which business you own:
qualityGo beyond the vanilla:  In other words deliver beyond what the client expects. A client asked me to write an easy to read E-book for managers on handling performance appraisal. Instead of just sending over a simple word file, I added cartoon clips and jokes related to performance appraisal, some charts and famous quotes on leadership, interspersed with the main content.    Think out of the box, make your output dynamic and surprise your client!
Focus on the 1%:  On the completion of each assignment, make sure you go back and ask the client if the product was up to mark.   If you have done your job, 99% of your clients will answer in the affirmative.  However, that 1%  that doesn’t, needs to be focused on.  
Haste is good:Ask for specifics of what wasn’t as per expectations and immediately send a genuine apology note to the client with proposed remedial measure for the ‘next assignment’. Even if the client was tempted to try a new firm/ contractor, he just may be willing to give you another chance. A  prompt response could save you the cost of finding a new client.
Customer service is not the purview of traditional styled businesses alone.  Its as relevant in the virtual freelance world. The 3 CSQ tips are basis my own experience, but I’d love to hear from you on CSQ tips for running your enterprise.