Friday, 22 May 2015

Customer Empathy

Many of you may know me — if you do — as someone who is not a great fan of introducing customer service notions to professions, including ours, or 'client-centricity' in translation. This is because I don't view translation as a normal, typical service industry, especially not one that's predicated on just making the customer feel good as opposed to rendering good service. This places me at odds with many agencies and even translators to whom pleasing the customer is core activity and translation is only secondary, i.e. a means of achieving the goal of pleasing the client.

However, today I would like to focus — rather than on any of the client service jazz — on the plain human emotional suffering clients can experience in their dealings with a company or a professional service provider.

It pains to be excluded or cut out of the loop
As you well remember from childhood and from school and perhaps from turbulence of teen age and college life, exclusion is one of the most powerful tools of torment one can use on another human being. The history of criminal justice is history of using that tool in various iterations throughout millennia.

... Especially when you have been a long-time supporter of your business
Relationships are by definiton mutual. A long-term client has not been getting his translations from you free of charge, of course, but the money you've been getting from him was not tax, damages or payment back of a loan — it has always been payment for a service that was bought. A long-term client, in a certain sense, is a sponsor or patron. Yes, you are in charge of how you run your translation practice. No, that doesn't cut it.  Because relationships are mutual, and it stings when only one party makes decisions that affect both parties.

People don't like change
Especially when they've been long-term supporters of your business and their opinion is not sought before a game-changing decision. You can't just redefine your service or your way of providing it and expect your clients to be happy with any and every such decision no matter what it is. They have an emotional interest in how you run your practice (or your business, if that's what you'd call it).

Misguided visionaries are a pain to deal with
Perhaps you know the type: perhaps they've been right once or twice or on a couple of things, but they have their own idea of running their business, even if it means running it into a tree. They won't listen to anyone else — even when everyone else but them sees where exactly they're headed. Nobody will be telling them... until it's too late to hear any advice from anyone. You don't want to be that trainwrecked business.

... As are those who are superheroes in their own eyes
Be lucky that you are not chased away from the court they hold for those lucky mortals who are admitted into their exactled presence. You'd better not speak without being spoken to, unless your message is one of praise, in which case some liberties can be taken at the discretion of the object of your praise. But try saying something critical... You know those people, and you don't want to be one of them to your own clients.

Especially if they begin to 'manage' it
Just like you don't want to be a 'resource' to your clients, your clients don't want to be managed like a resource by you. They don't want to be a dehumanized figure in your calculation sheets when you start managing relationships like they are a piece of maths. If you don't want to connect with people, that's fine. But once you do connect with them, it has to be real. When it's being 'managed', it's not real, it's being gamed. You can delete negative feedback and you can ban people from posting comments on your own website or blog, but you can't change reality by pretending it doesn't exist. If that reality looks bad to look at it, then it's time to change the way you treat your clients rather than trying to control the way they speak about you.

Clients don't necessarily want to be your 'fans'
It's fashionable in modern marketing to 'turn clients into rabid fans' or whatever your respective marketing guru is calling it. Guess what. The standard, normal person, a human being just like you or me or anyone else.

In the words of a real expert, David Ogilvy, the father of modern advertising:

The customer is not a moron. She's your wife
(D. Ogilvy, Confessions of an Advertising Man, 1964, p. 96)
According to Wiki he made that remark 'in response to typical advertising practices of the early 1950s, which featured loud and hectoring voices and blatantly exaggerated print.' You'd think something would have changed since then...

Your client doesn't want to be 'rabid', nor even necessarily your fan — that it need to deserve but even then can't just claim as your birthright. It is something that's totally at the discretion of your client. So don't presume. Don't treat clients like fans or admirers, especially when you know that the quality you offer isn't perfect.

Self-enthusiastic PR does not make you really be all that
Anybody can write that crap. It doesn't become real just because it gets published on your website or some other place you control. Some people will buy into it inevitably, but the bubble will burst if you exhaust your initial loan of confidence.

It gets worse when you start to believe it, at which point things get really serious and — I dare say — at that point you begin to need professional help.

Not everybody who is critical of your direction is your enemy
For starters, they probably wouldn't be wasting their time talking to you if they didn't care for you. If they wanted to really just take it out on you, chances are a smear campaign would be taking place instead. As long as they talk and talk to you, they probably still want to communicate and give you a chance to regain their trust.

Not even if they sound angry
Perhaps they have a valid reason to. Consider that for a while — don't presume they're wrong and you're right just because they are they and you are you . Don't hide behind platitudes like 'constructive criticism' or 'civil atmosphere' — just like with any 'managed' image, any remotely smart person will see what you really are doing. Once again: the customer is not a moron, she's your wife. With your wife, you wouldn't be trying that.

This post was inspired by a certain company whose name starts with the letter P.

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