Strong words aren’t they? This had to be especially unnerving if you believe that we are supposed to forgive and forget each other’s trespasses. I do believe that, but, (and it’s a BIG but), in trying to attract clients in as a freelancer, just saying, “sorry” can be disastrous.
Take an example that my buddy in Ohio told me about recently: he was looking to hire a mortgage broker to help refinance his home. It turns out he met a broker through a friend at their church. The broker instructed him to fill out an online application, once it was completed, she would get back to him. My buddy mentioned that filled out the online application out on 3rd of the month; the broker didn’t get back to him until the 22nd. Really? It took the mortgage broker 19 days to get back to a referral from a friend.
This communication delay of course did not sit well with my friend. You might think that the broker being significantly late in responding what set my friend off; it wasn’t. What ticked him off was what the broker said in email back to him. Here’s what she wrote:
“Sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. Can you call me so I can help you? If you don't reach me, please just leave it on voicemail and I will return call.”
So, there’s the apology. And while it’s not an overly sincere one, we’re supposed to forgive and forget, right? My buddy never called her back. He told me, “That was fine that she apologized. The issue was that she was late; REALLY late, and didn’t offer any explanation or reason for it.” My buddy voiced that he was concerned (and I’d have to say legitimately) that if this broker could disappear for almost three weeks on someone who would be an ideal new client, how could he even trust that she would be there for him once he became a client. His rationale was that vendors (brokers or even freelancers) always try to do everything they can to get a new client. They put their best foot forward. However, once they get the client, their service often tends to wane.
“If she would’ve had a logical explanation for disappearing for three weeks, I could have at least considered working with her. She offered nothing but an apology, so I have no idea if this is standard behavior for her. How would I know if she does this type of stuff all of the time?” he finished.
He’s right. How would he know whether the broker felt that not responding for three weeks is acceptable behavior? Furthermore, is being “missing in action” something she often becomes? Would you have confidence working with this woman? I wouldn’t, apparently my buddy didn’t either.
Forgiveness is one thing, but forgiving and still agreeing to work with someone that doesn’t seem like they’re on top of their game is another matter. The same will hold true when it comes to you and your freelancing business. So to help you avoid the mistake this mortgage broker made, here are a few client service points to remember:
- Trust needs to be established when working with clients – especially new or potential clients. Do everything you can to show people that you are responsive, caring and client-focused (disappearing for three weeks would definitely be considered a “No, no”). You should do everything that you can to respond to clients within 24 business hours. Try to get back to a potential client (a lead) within one to three hours.
- If you are not able to get back to a client in a reasonable period of time (which is becoming harder and harder to explain since we have mobile phones) make sure you offer an apology followed by a reasonable explanation as to why you couldn’t respond timely. This would preclude you from using outlandish excuses like, “My uncle just had his appendix taken out,” or “My bird just died,” unless they are true.
- Finally, follow your apology and explanation up with a sincere promise that the unresponsive and unavailable situation was extremely rare. Reassure the client/potential client that they should not expect it to occur again.
The market is tough out there, guys. Make sure you don’t let golden opportunities, like referrals from friends and family, slip through your fingers because you were lazy or you weren’t on your game. On the rare chance, if you were either of these things – remember that saying your sorry is a great start, but it’s not enough.