Not So Great Customer Service

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.

Your turn:

Where have you had the best customer relations experience? What happened?

24 Responses to Not So Great Customer Service

  1. Terry Whalin August 4, 2016 at 5:30 am #


    Great post about customer service. I agree the editors, agents and writers need to think about this element as they interact together. Thank you,

    The Writing Life

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 4, 2016 at 9:06 am #

      Thanks, Terry!

    • Peggy Booher August 4, 2016 at 4:25 pm #

      I appreciate the way you tied customer service to writing, as in, the writer trying to accommodate an editor. I’d never given that idea much thought, but I will now!

      Some of the best customer service I’ve had recently was with my car insurance company. I had a claim (my fault) and through all the phone calls, all of the reps were kind, patient and understanding.

      I’ve worked in customer service in various stores for years. One odd thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes the stores that say customer service is #1, don’t act that way. Policies regarding customer service are more for the benefit and convenience of the company, not the customer. Poor communication of what’s expected of the employees plays a part. Plus, time constraints often work against good customer service. Management may want a certain task done by a certain time, but there are also customers to wait on. Taking care of customers’ needs and problems requires time, too.

      In reviewing my own work, the best customer service I’ve given is when I acted as though the customer’s needs/problems were my own. I dropped what I was doing, empathized with the person, thought how I could help him/her, and did it. Tamela, after reading your post, I realize I can transfer that mindset to writing.

      Thanks, again.

  2. Loretta Eidson August 4, 2016 at 6:10 am #

    Well said, Tamela! Team work with flexibility works best. I was at a restaurant last week where I literally had to leave my seat and hunt our waitress down for my tables every need. Frustration tugged at patience door!! I cannot imagine the frustration agents, editors, and publishers encounter with pressing deadlines and uncooperative writers.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 4, 2016 at 9:07 am #

      Loretta, and I have a feeling you might not return to that restaurant any time soon.

  3. Sarah Hamaker August 4, 2016 at 7:16 am #

    One way writers can work on having a positive response to the unexpected like a sooner deadline is to work in extra time to the process on our end. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a long-time freelancer, it’s to start early. That way, when a source needs “extra” time, I can be gracious and give it to them–and in turn, that source has a positive experience with me and by extension the publication for which I’m writing. I’ve had sources thank my editor for my professionalism in handling those situations, which in turn has kept me top of the list for plum assignments.

    I always think it’s best to remember you’re only a piece of the process–an important one, yes!, but not the only one. Whatever you can do to ease the process on your end will pay back in spades. A reputation for being easy to work with will help your career much more in the long run.

  4. Richard Mabry August 4, 2016 at 7:46 am #

    Tamela, great example and good advice. Sure, the reader is the consumer of our product, and should get our consideration.. But since we’re all in this together (at least, most of the time), it behooves those of us in all facets of the publishing industry–writer, agent, editor, everyone at the publisher–to work together. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Nancy August 4, 2016 at 8:42 am #

    In November,1997, I took my father, who suffered with Alzheimer’s, to the emergency room for what turned out to be pneumonia. After being temporarily settled in an emergency room bed, he needed a bedpan. I requested one, but never got it. It was cold and we both began to chill. I asked for an extra blanket for my father and never got one. I didn’t have a chair and stood on my feet by my father’s bed for seven hours (ten passed before they found him a room). An arrhythmic heart made me so weak I could hardly stand , so I leaned on Dad’s bed rail. In the meantime, my mother was at home without insulin, which I was supposed to pick up on my way home. Explaining the situation, I requested a phone to call my brother and was told I could use the pay phone in the hall. I didn’t have any money with me. The shift changed and a nice young male nurse brought me his stool to sit on, two blankets warmed in the bed warmer and a bedpan for Dad. When he gently placed a blanket around my shoulders, tears moistened my eyes. He allowed me to use the desk phone to call my brother, who agreed to pick up Mom’s insulin. Dad asked the young man if he was a Christian. He was. Perhaps some of the other attendants considered themselves Christians, too, but they sure weren’t showing love and compassion, as Jesus would have us do.

    I had an unsettling experience with an editor at a conference once. I will always remember that man as someone who didn’t care for others because of his bad attitude. The nice male nurse couldn’t pronounce Dad well, but he did make the suffering easier. Editors and writers need to practice kindness in every situation. Kindness makes the bad situations easier to endure. I haven’t had an experience with you, Tamela, but I have had with Steve, and he has always been kind. I’m sure you would be, too.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 4, 2016 at 9:12 am #

      Nancy, I’m so sorry you had that experience. I think sometimes people who are stressed and overworked forget how much the small kindnesses to other people matter. At least you found one “angel” there!

      Agents have off days, too, of course, but I try to be kind. Hope I can meet you soon. 🙂

  6. Carol Ashby August 4, 2016 at 8:53 am #

    The best customer service I’ve had lately is from the tech support people at eHost and GoDaddy as I’ve had detailed questions about bringing up a website. Both the telephone and chatline people made me feel like they were delighted I’d contacted them and truly enjoyed helping me with my questions. What they told me worked too. What more could a person ask?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 4, 2016 at 9:13 am #

      Carol, I’ll remember that recommendation if I ever need it. I always brag on Verizon, but not everyone agrees with me!

  7. Nora August 4, 2016 at 9:22 am #

    Well, as for customer service in restaurants…..if you ever want to test it go into a restaurant alone with a book (or a laptop).

    One year (I forget which one), I went into a restaurant by myself. I got terrible service. In fact, it was so bad I wrote the editor of the local newspaper about it. I don’t think it was ever published but I did enjoy the venting.

    Thanks for the good article and all the good stories.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 4, 2016 at 9:33 am #

      Nora, maybe restaurant workers should remember that a person on a laptop may well be writing a review!

  8. Barbara August 4, 2016 at 9:23 am #

    Recently, I called a local newspaper to ask some questions. The first few men I spoke with were patient and cheerful, but when I finally reached the person who knew the answers, he was brusque. I’m not sure what he was afraid of, especially since I only wanted to ask some questions, but his shortness prompted me to wish him a good day and hang up quickly.
    I like to give people the benefit of doubt so I imagine that this newspaper man was pressed on all sides with deadlines so he just wanted to hang up the phone and continue with his paid work.

    And so another reminder for me to be kind when I’m inconvenienced.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray August 4, 2016 at 9:34 am #

      Barbara, I think it takes way more energy to be rude than it does to be kind.

  9. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. August 4, 2016 at 9:49 am #

    Tamela, I am an original cast member at Disney World. When we were in training (and every day we worked there!), we were told “the guest is not always right, but he or she is always the guest.” These days, I understand that the best way to get the attention of an employee (aka “cast member”) at Disney is to say, “Can we make some magic happen?” Through 23 years of owning my own business, the attitudes and corporate attitude of Disney stayed with me, and, as a result, I did very well in direct sales. It sounds like this attitude carries into the world of publishing (and every other business, I would argue), so perhaps we can all “make some magic happen” and get things done on time or early. (And we should do all things with the Disney smile!)

  10. Kristi Woods August 4, 2016 at 12:57 pm #

    Good customer service is a concern, more so as I age. But I haven’t ever thought of it in the terms you mention here. Tamela, I’m noting and tucking away your words for use on the writing road. Thank you!

    ~ Kristi

  11. Stacy Simmons August 5, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

    My family and I went out to dinner recently and could not decide on which dessert to all share. To my surprise our wait person overheard our conundrum and delivered both desserts to our table, and only charged us for one.

    That was definitely going the “extra mile!”

  12. Marilyn Parker August 7, 2016 at 7:38 am #

    My customer service experience involves a toilet from Home Depot. The short version is–I had one ordered. It didn’t come. Finally, I found the right clerk and she drove to another city to pick it up. She definitely went the extra mile (extra 30 miles, actually).

    The sad thing about this story is there’s a number you can call to give kudos to exemplary Home Depot employees. I intended to take the five minutes necessary to make that call and never got around to it. I got good customer service, but it turned out, I wasn’t a very good customer. A few minutes to acknowledge the person that goes out of her way isn’t too much to ask.

  13. Cindy Byrd August 7, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

    There’s a lot to be said for valuing those we serve and those who serve us.

    I recently ordered some business cards for which there was supposed to be a quick turn-around time on. I called the latter part of the week to find out the status of the cards and was told they have been printed and would be mailed within a day or two. Two weeks passed and after several attempts to contact the company finally reached one of their representatives and found out that my cards had never been printed (and of course the charge had been posted to my credit card). I was informed the initial person who gave me this erroneous information had been fired and they would be glad to step up the process for the order. I just asked that they cancel the order and credit my account. Before the day was over I received an email that the charge had been reversed and the owner had offered to send me 500 to 1000 cards free (the initial order was for 250). This spoke volumes to me because it demonstrated they valued me as their customer. I took him up on his offer of 500 and received the cards within the week. Will I order from them again? Absolutely!! Great customer service from a company shows the value they place on their customers!

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