In publishing, all of us are really in Customer Service. The agent serves the writer. The writer serves the editor. The editor serves the publisher. The publisher serves the reader. Of course, there’s lots of overlap, but you get the idea.
Recently I had a not-so-great customer service experience when I tried to check into a hotel early thanks to a morning flight, a situation I could not control. When I arrived, there was no room available. Here’s what happened:
First Poor Response from Hotel Clerk
Clerk: Our check-out time is noon and our check-in time is 3 PM.
Facts don’t comfort the customer facing the prospect of wandering with no purpose for about five hours.
Second Poor Response from Hotel Clerk
I used my cell phone to contact the clerk later. Still nothing. I asked if she could call or text me when a room was available. No, she could not. (Frustration grew, especially since there was no seating near the desk where I could camp out.)
Third Poor Response from Hotel Clerk
I tried again. “Look, I know people leave the hotel at different times. Maybe at six or eight in the morning. There must be something.”
Clerk: “The maids don’t punch in that the rooms are ready until 1 PM.”
What she was actually saying, “I don’t care enough about you to use any common sense.”
Finally, A Correct Response
I went back to the desk and felt relieved to see a different clerk.
New clerk: “You want me to put a rush on that?” She picked up the phone and I was in a room within five minutes.
This should have happened at 10:30.
What Would a Wise Writer Do in a Similar Situation?
The wise writer has several options.
State Facts but Try to Accommodate
Situation: “I promised the manuscript to the editor on November 15 and now she wants it on November 1.”
What seems to be a favor to the editor is most likely to be of benefit to you for some reason, such as, your favorite content editor just became available, or perhaps another author missed a deadline and this means your book will be published sooner rather than later. When you respond, instead of citing facts the editor already knows, see if you can find a way to say yes, or to find a suitable compromise. Yes, the editor’s request may inconvenience you, but she wouldn’t ask without good reason.
Works with the Customer’s Solutions
The editor asking for an accommodation has most likely been here before and knows how to make a situation better. When he offers ideas, see if you can make them work. The ideas may inconvenience you, but it’s better to be cooperative than not. Especially when you find out his ideas worked after all!
Doesn’t Make Her Problems Her Customer’s Problems
Yes, the editor is inconveniencing you and that may interfere with The Way You Do Things. But try not to let your problems become the editor’s problems. She has enough of her own problems. (To wit, going through all the steps successfully to publish your book.) The moment you feel like sending an email to her saying, “I have one last nerve and you’re getting on it,” stop. And remember, this is when your agent can do the talking and keep you smelling like the sweet rose you are.
Gets the Job Done in a Timely Manner
You want that manuscript on November 1? Done!
The Luxury Treatment
Years ago on a brief getaway, my family and I checked in to the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. The winter temperatures were frigid even for New York, and a union strike prevailed. I had booked a standard room at a promotional discount.
Clerk: “The room you wanted isn’t ready. Let me upgrade you to a suite.”
Notice that his problems did not become our problems. And because of his superb accommodation, our experience exceeded expectations.
Later when we dined in the hotel, the waiter told us that because of the strike, he’d bicycled from Queens to Manhattan (about 14 miles) to be at work that day. He never complained about the freezing temperatures or inconvenience. His demeanor was actually cheerful. Amazing.
Like a Luxury Hotel, the Even Wiser Writer Makes Sure the Customer Is Happy
You want to be the Waldorf Astoria of writers, (or substitute your favorite business). Give your customers a luxury experience and joyfully travel the extra mile when needed. Your editor will always remember how well you treated her when she needed you the most.
Where have you had the best customer relations experience? What happened?