Ink-Dipped Advice: Your Disorganization Is Not My Emergency

 

The downside of the technological age is that people expect an instant response. One of my small business clients has this problem all the time. The staff is small and part-time. The office is closed on weekends. If someone places an order at 11 PM on Friday, it gets filled and shipped as soon as someone arrives on Monday. Yet, nine times out of ten, there are a dozen or more nasty messages on the answering machine and/or emails having a hissy fit because it hasn’t arrived by Monday. It’s very clear on the site that it is a small business and there is no 24-hour fulfillment staff. The shipping date ranges are also clear. The auto-acknowledge is also clear. But people throw tantrums anyway. Supposedly, they’re buying from my client because it’s unique, one-of-a-kind merchandise. But they act like spoiled toddlers.

I’m audience engagement, not customer service, so I don’t have to deal with them, thank goodness.

When I have a big event or plan to be out of the office for a day or more, I let clients know ahead of time. I often put up on “out-of-office” message on my email. I complete anything they need AHEAD of time, and remind them, when I send it, that I am not available on days X, Y, and Z. I will get back to them as soon as possible after Day Z.

It never fails that, any scheduled day out of the office or doing an event for another client, the clients WHO HAVE ALL THEIR MATERIALS AHEAD OF TIME start making demands on something they need RIGHT THIS SECOND.

Which, of course, they don’t. Because they received everything they needed ahead of time, and there is plenty of time in the schedule to take the next steps on time WHEN I AM DONE WITH MY DAYS AWAY.

This is when firm boundaries are vital.

If I’m only out a single day for an event, I simply wait until the following day, when I’d be officially back in the office to respond. If I’m out multiple days, I send a reminder that I told them I was not available during this time, they have the materials they needed AHEAD of time, and we will continue when I get back.

If there is a GENUINE emergency (which are few and far between), I respond as best I can.

Most of it is panic or a want to prove that I will drop everything to respond.

I don’t work that way.

In the situations where there is continued escalating demands for instant attention (especially without reason), I wait until I am back on the clock. I wind up the project, on time, and on schedule, as per our contract.

Then I don’t work with them again. If they want to set up another project and the panic demands have only happened once, I have a discussion about the panic demands and solutions so it doesn’t happen again. If it DOES happen again, I don’t take on any more projects with the client. I let them know our working styles aren’t compatible and wish them well.

One of the discussions we freelancers often have is how we set up the terms and schedules in the contract, we turn in our part of a project on time, but don’t get back what we need from the client on time, and then they expect us to scramble to make up the difference.

I handle this with clear communication, reminders, and reminders about the contract terms (because this issue is contained in the contract). If (and when) it continues, I start charging the additional fees as stipulated in the contract.

I am not staying up until 4 AM to meet a deadline when I’ve met all my fulfillment dates and the other party hasn’t. Not without additional money.

It’s vital that we make these terms clear and hold them. Far too many clients don’t think what we do is work already. If we continue to let them create unnecessary emergencies and we continue to clean up their messes without charging for it, and showing that there are consequences, then we encourage and enable their behavior.

Which makes it harder for everybody.

How do you deal with clients who fabricate emergencies and expect you to drop everything to tend to them?

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