Category Archives: Support

Customer service: it’s all about imagination

By Sue Littleford

Towards the end of April, Cathy Tingle wrote an excellent post here on customer service. A bit of chat on the SfEP forums resulted in Cathy suggesting I write a follow-up, so here we are!

True story: I recently had to chase a client for payment. The due date was missed, so I emailed. I was told the same day that the project manager had emailed their manager and accountant to find out what was going on and to chase payment. Six days later I email again. That email is ignored. I wait five more days and email a third time, adding ‘3rd reminder’ to the subject line.
The manager hadn’t authorised my payment before going on a business trip to China, and his staff were having difficulty reaching him. Someone else in the company would now be responsible for pursuing this. Sorry. And that was it. I wasn’t told how long it would be before the manager was back in the UK, or at least in a country where they could expect to reach him. I wasn’t told how soon after the payment was authorised that I could expect the money to land in my bank account. It had taken nearly two weeks to get this far, which, as far as customer service goes, is pretty sucky (happy ending – I was paid three days later).

I’ve worked in customer service, one way or another, since I was 14 (and that’s a loooong time). I’ve handled complaints from the public, from colleagues, from MPs. I’ve held senior customer-facing posts in a major government department, and in the private sector. I’ve handled complaints face-to-face over a counter, in writing, by phone, in large meetings and by parliamentary question. And here’s what I’ve learned.

In a nutshell, good customer service comes down to an active imagination. Imagine – if I were the customer, what would I want? And then do that.

Easy? It can be, although some customers are just going to be a nightmare – keep those antennae attuned to your red flags and hope you sidestep all such folks. Assuming you’ve got a regular person for your customer, here are a few elements, unpacked.

1. Manage customer expectation

This is something my client signally failed to do. What does this mean? Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Remember Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child? Set out your who, how, what, why, when and where. That should be in your contract, and it should be in your email or phone communication. Don’t be above issuing a gentle reminder on due dates, both yours and theirs, for things like sending out and getting back author queries. Talk to your client!

2. Make sure you’re on the same page as your client

Ensure they understand precisely what they’re paying for – what you won’t do as well as what you will. Make sure they understand how well you will do the work, when you’ll do it by, and how many rounds of editing that can involve for the price. Novice indie clients may need a lot more hand-holding with regard to the terminology of editing – we’ve all had people say they want a proofread when they need a developmental edit. On the other hand, publisher clients will occasionally call things by weird names. If in doubt, ask. Ensure you understand precisely what you’re being paid for.

3. Under promise and over deliver

But don’t be too far out of whack or your customer will think you’re either taking the mickey or are really, really bad at estimating.

Well, my client had managed to under promise by one definition, but that’s not what I mean. If they’d said ‘We’re so sorry about that; there was an internal breakdown in communication. But you’ll be paid by next Thursday’ and then paid me on Tuesday, that’s under promising and over delivering. There’s another aspect of this I’d like to sound a dire warning about: I just wish we could ban editorial folks from claiming to ‘perfect’ text. Some people even have it in their business name! With so much of English being subjective, how can you ever deliver perfection? Your perfect may not be your client’s perfect. But with some folks persisting in waving their ‘perfection’ banner, it makes clients think you’ve messed up even when you really, really haven’t.

If you do these three things, and the quality of your work is up to snuff, then you’re unlikely to get caught up in a complaint. But it can happen – maybe you messed up, maybe your client did (inaccurate or ambiguous brief, anyone?). Either way, your client isn’t happy with you or your work. What next?

1. Don’t ignore the complaint

Here be dragons. Pretending the complaint didn’t happen is truly awful customer service, and quite foolish since social media happened. Get a quick holding reply out – apologise without accepting responsibility (initially). ‘I’m so sorry to hear this. Let me take a look at it and get back to you. I hope to be able to do that [by when].’ That gives you time to check the brief/contract/your files and work out how valid the complaint is. If it is down to you, even in part, you’ll say so and apologise properly soon enough. A little tip – if the complaint comes in while you’re between jobs, and you have acres of time right now, still do the holding reply. Don’t rush your analysis of the complaint, and don’t rush your response. Complaints are emotional things, whether you’re in the right or in the wrong. Give yourself time to calm down.

2. Don’t reference satisfied customers as the norm

NEVER tell a customer that all your other customers are perfectly satisfied, even if it’s true, because if you’ve messed up for that client, your failure rate is 100% as far as they’re concerned. I’ve had this happen to me, and it just got my dander up. You don’t want to rile an already annoyed client. Don’t compare them with your other, perfectly content, customers – it can be read as a form of victim-blaming.

3. Put a lot of effort into responding to complaints

Make sure you’ve addressed each issue the customer has raised, even if you think it’s utter garbage; address each issue in full, anticipating as many rebuttals as you can; check and recheck and rerecheck your reply before sending it out. Again, use your imagination – put yourself in your customer’s position and craft the kind of response you’d want to receive; keep your zingers to yourself and don’t reply until you are perfectly calm. If you fail to do any of this, I can pretty much guarantee that the correspondence will continue to suck time out of your life, complaints will get escalated, perhaps to the SfEP complaints panel, and the complainant will tell all their friends that you are useless. Or they’ll use social media to tell the world that you’re useless.

4. Keep full records of the complaint and your response

Some complainants simply don’t know when to let something go, so you’ll want to have everything at your fingertips should they re-erupt. If your red-flag-o-meter didn’t go off and you have got a nightmare client, remember some people nurse their grudges and are quite happy to keep the complaint going as long as they can. That is taking up your working time, or your private time. Either way, the job is now earning you less and less per hour.

5. Know when enough’s enough

Some clients simply don’t know when to let go. If you’ve responded in detail to their complaint, and you consider you weren’t at fault, but the client keeps coming back, perhaps demanding a refund you know isn’t justified, there’ll come a time when you simply have to tell the client that you won’t engage in any further correspondence. Similarly, if you realise you were at fault, and you’ve rectified your mistake and/or made a partial refund, you may have a client who decides they want your work free of charge and keep nagging for a total refund. You’ll have to decide for yourself when the time has come to put an end to the exchanges. Nowadays, that does involve the risk of being attacked on social media, sadly, but you can’t be held hostage. This is why it’s more important than ever to ensure you and your client understand each other, and understand what each side’s responsibilities are in your transaction.


We’re all human, which means we all make mistakes. It’s how we deal with those mistakes that spells out the quality of our customer service. And how we avoid them in the first place.

I’ll finish up with a favourite quote from Henry Ford, who knew a thing or two about customer service. When checking the exact wording, I was delighted to see it included the I-word!

‘The man who will use his skill and constructive imagination to see how much he can give for a dollar, instead of how little he can give for a dollar, is bound to succeed.’

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford was a career civil servant before being forcibly outsourced. That was such fun she changed tack altogether and has been a freelance copy-editor since 2007, working mostly on postgraduate social sciences textbooks plus the occasional horseracing thriller. She is on Facebook and Twitter from time to time.

 


The SfEP upholds editorial excellence through high standards; all its members sign up to the Code of Practice.


Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

 

 

 

Working with an assistant: nuts and bolts

By Cathy Tingle

Steel structureIn a recent SfEP blog I talked about the benefits of working with an assistant, which really came down to three things: speed, safety and society. I complete more projects in the limited time I have; I feel that as a team we are more thorough than I could be alone (there really is no substitute for that extra pair of eyes); and, joyous or frustrating, we can chat about the work, which really helps.

So that’s the ‘why’. But how do we work together?

From batphone to batches

Once I get notice that a project is on its way, the first thing I’ll do is contact Helen via the batphone (which is what we call our DocEditor WhatsApp group). This is to book her time – I can fill her in on the details later.

Then I will look at the manuscript. This might involve a lie-of-the-land review (everyone does this differently but I do mine with the help of PerfectIt) or, because this is the way our biggest client works, I’ll edit a sample chapter to kick off the process. This gives me a sense of the issues so I can brief Helen, and it also means that she can see how I’ve approached things in the sample.
My brief can be anything from a short email to a longer Word document, but it has become snappier over the years as Helen has got to know what I’m after. What I should do is set up a version of a style sheet which not only contains information about the manuscript but also incorporates tick boxes for tasks. One fine day (perhaps when our respective kids have gone off to college) that may happen.

Then it’s over to Helen for a few days. Sometimes I get the project back in one go, but more often she sends it back in batches for me to start while she’s still working on it.

Sharing out tasks

I have asked Helen to undertake various editorial tasks while we’ve worked together, but over time I’ve realised that my needs can be crystallised into one request: ‘Help me focus on the text in front of me.’ To labour the already groaning ‘DocEditor’ extended metaphor that the branding of my business rests on, she’s a bit like a nurse handing me the equipment and information I need to fully concentrate on the presenting patient.

At a recent meeting of the Edinburgh SfEP local group, members talked about the joys of using a second, or even a third, screen so they can review different parts of a document at the same time. In a sense Helen does this job – making visible certain elements from elsewhere in a chapter or a manuscript, or from further afield. She checks:

  • citations against reference lists, to make sure they match;
  • proper nouns in an internet search – that spellings are correct, that any dates tally up, and then that those proper nouns and related facts are completely consistent within the manuscript;
  • weblinks, to make sure they work, and if they can be shortened/neatened in the text;
  • other internal cross-references – that descriptions of other sections or chapters are accurate, and that what’s in the text matches lists of contents, illustrations, abbreviations, cases or glossary terms;
  • that any numbering – of sections, or of illustrations, for example – runs chronologically.

If our clients asked for tagging/coding she could also do that, but there hasn’t been much call recently.

In the past, Helen has:

  • checked if quotations in body text are over the length which requires an indented extract;
  • checked if multiple citations are in chronological/alphabetical order as per house style;
  • changed hyphens to en dashes in number ranges;
  • changed double quotation marks to single (or vice versa);
  • executed basic style amendments – standardised ise/ize/yze endings, for example.

But these are things I can happily do as I review the text page by page, and so they’ve fallen away from her task list.

An obvious task for an assistant would be to format references. This is something that other editorial assistants (for there have been others, at various points) have done for me in the past. However, there’s something about a reference list that keeps you close to the heart of a text so I like to do it myself. And I just have this feeling that it’s not something Helen would enjoy.

TeapotThe nitty gritty

From all this I hope you’ll gather that every editor/assistant relationship is different. There are tasks that you want to keep for yourself, and tasks that you can’t wait to give away. There are particular talents that your assistant will display and that you will want to encourage, and tasks that won’t suit them. However, in terms of the nitty gritty of a project, the following tips should work for most teams editing documents in Word:

  • Always, always get your assistant to track changes, in case of slips of the keyboard or rogue deletions. Happens to the best of us.
  • Ask your assistant to post comments in the text (with Review/New Comment) to alert you to anything. Make sure they always begin a comment with a word that’s easily searchable – Helen addresses notes to me personally and at the end I run a search for ‘Cathy’ (there are precious few other ‘Cathy’s in the books we edit) to catch any strays.
  • It helps if your assistant can adopt an editorial assistant persona in their comments (they can do this in Word with Review/Tracking/Track Changes Options/Change User Name). I am ‘Cathy Tingle (DocEditor)’ but Helen is ‘DocEditor’, which means that I can adapt any notes she writes, perhaps to query a discrepancy between a citation and a long, complicated reference, with only a little retyping.
  • Make the most of highlighting. If your assistant has checked a fact/name/web address online or an internal cross-reference, get them to highlight the first letter (we use pink) to indicate it’s done and correct. If something is not correct, a comment can be left. You can use different colours for different purposes – a green for ‘Is this right?’, for example, if your assistant spots what they think might be a mistake in punctuation or grammar.
  • If you are asking your assistant to run checks but not to actually amend anything in the text, you could work with two versions of the manuscript. Simply go through the assistant’s version before you start your own edit. This might be a good method in the first few projects with an assistant, while you’re both getting used to the process.

And don’t forget

  • Always let clients know that you are using an assistant. All of mine have been delighted to have this extra pair of eyes on their work for no extra fee.
  • Create a non-disclosure agreement and ask your assistant to sign it. If you’re doing this for clients, your assistant will need to do this for you.
  • Your assistant deserves recognition. If it wasn’t for them, you might not have done such a thorough job within your deadline. I always include Helen’s name at the bottom of any handover notes that I write for the author so that if an acknowledgement is forthcoming she also gets a look in.
  • Make sure your assistant logs their hours – this helps you to understand how it’s all going, but it also means that if they want to join the SfEP, or upgrade, they can use this information as part of their application.
  • If you can, write a feedback document at the end of a project. I can’t say I have done this every time, but I’ve always been glad when I have. In taking a few minutes to review what your assistant has done this time, you can see how you can brief them better next, or streamline your processes in future. And it gives you a chance either to ask them to make doubly sure of a certain area of work in the next project or to praise them for specific achievements, which is more valuable than a vague ‘Great job!’
  • Buy your assistant a mug. Much tea or coffee is likely to be imbibed in the process of getting your projects done. Then, if you’re very lucky, when you’ve been working together for three years and your original mugs are getting chipped and faded, a lovely client might send you a smart new set.Gifts from clients

Cathy TingleCathy Tingle, an Advanced Professional Member, came to freelance copy-editing after a PhD, a decade in marketing communications and four years as editor of a popular Edinburgh parents’ guidebook. Her business, DocEditor, specialises in non-fiction, especially academic, copy-editing.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

Working with an assistant

By Cathy Tingle

When you’re editing, there are tasks for which you need your highest level of expertise – reading for sense, reviewing and amending grammar and punctuation, setting overall style – and tasks that require a different level of editing, such as checking, comparing, coding and formatting references.

Most editors work at both levels, and sometimes it is helpful to do tasks that are a bit less demanding, that we can tackle in the evening or when we’re listening to our Fleetwood Mac’s Greatest Hits album (although I suspect that may just be me).

I usually delegate this second set of tasks (apart from listening to Fleetwood Mac – she’s more of a George Ezra girl) to Helen, my editorial assistant. It’s difficult to remember quite when the lightbulb moment of ‘someone else could do these reference checks!’ struck me in my early freelance days, but it sprang from a combination of having a mountain of manuscripts to get through (having not yet realised that I could say ‘no’ to clients), the understanding that some publishers had technical editors or pre-editors, and the discovery that the SfEP had a system whereby surplus work could be delegated to Intermediate Members.

I was already friends with Helen because our kids went to the same nursery. I knew she had an English degree, that she was a voracious reader, and that she was incredibly organised. So I wrote some guidelines and gave her a project. From Helen’s point of view as a mum to young children she was after flexible work, but not too much of it; interesting work, but nothing overwhelmingly taxing. She set herself up as self-employed, which meant she could also take on work from other clients.

That was three years ago. This year we have received two author acknowledgements as a team, and a beautiful mug each from a satisfied client. Over the years we have identified the tasks that Helen is happiest doing: checking references and cross-references, internet fact checks, weblink checks, and so on. She is a wizard with cross-checking case titles in law books, something that, frankly, would make my head fall off. My editing mind feels less cluttered, knowing that basic checks are taken care of, although of course I double-check anything that sounds alarm bells as I go through the text. As well as reading the entire manuscript for sense and for correct English, I set style and perform any related checks and changes, and I always format references, citations and footnotes. This means that I do enough work on the technical stuff that I’m completely familiar with all the elements of the text.

Helen

Helen: On it

It might seem a bit belt and braces. It probably is. And of course it does mean losing some of my income – on average Helen will get around a third of my project fees. But being part of a two-person team works for me, because:

  • We can discuss things. It helps oil the wheels of a project to be able to talk about it, whether it’s the author’s referencing style or an interesting fact found in the work, or even a great word – in May, Helen encountered ‘boondoggling’ (spending time on wasteful or fraudulent projects), which caused us both a level of delight that I wouldn’t have experienced ploughing through a manuscript on my own.
  • We do at least one more pass than I would do alone. Helen will probably do two passes through a script; I do two to three. I feel that the work is more watertight this way. We recently got a comment from an author of a third edition: ‘I was very pleased with the work done by the language editor. Not just on a language basis, but also the fact checking. They even managed to catch quite a number of mistakes in the original text of the second edition!’
  • I get through more projects. Without the technical stuff dragging me down I complete projects at a faster rate – I probably take on at least a third more work, which is Helen’s fee covered, right there.
  • I think about Helen’s progress, which helps mine. Having to write guidelines, explain rules and share stylesheets helps my own progression as an editor. I encouraged Helen to do a copy-editing course early on, and she feels she has picked up a fair bit over the years, too: ‘I have learnt a lot about a process I realise I knew very little about.’
  • There’s someone to have my Christmas party with. It seems trivial, but having a colleague means having company – a catch-up coffee together every so often, and of course a Christmas do. Last year we had a scone at M&S Simply Food, this year we’re off for brunch in a café that does great vegan food. It’s not fancy, but it does warm the cockles.

This won’t last for ever. I’m prepared for the fact that I may lose Helen at any time. She may get a part-time job as her children grow, or she might decide to do more work for other clients. That’s fine and really to be encouraged. Being an editorial assistant should be a first step only – but for Helen and for me, it has been a massive help and comfort at this particularly busy time of our lives.

Cathy TingleCathy Tingle, an Advanced Professional Member, came to freelance copy-editing after a PhD, a decade in marketing communications and four years as editor of a popular Edinburgh parents’ guidebook. Her business, DocEditor, specialises in non-fiction, especially academic, copy-editing.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

The Book Trade Charity

By Gerard M-F Hill

Every year, members of SfEP do their bit to support The Book Trade Charity (BTBS). Why? What does it do?The Book Trade Charity (BTBS) logo

It helps anyone who is working or has worked in the book trade – editors, proofreaders, indexers, printers, publishers, binders and booksellers, for example – and is in difficulty.
Suppose you fall seriously ill, you have no family support and you can’t work for a while: how will you pay the bills? Imagine you are offered a job interview, or even a job! What will you do if you haven’t the train fare? Perhaps you want to retrain and can’t afford the course? What if you suddenly find yourself out on the street? Divorce, redundancy, a failed client leaving you unpaid, a partner’s terminal illness: any of these might exhaust your resources.

In such situations The Book Trade Charity gives welfare grants – very quickly in emergencies – but it also supports people needing help over a longer period, from those on benefits and pensioners on low incomes to young interns on even lower incomes. It can help with the deposit for a flat, repairs to a boiler or replacement of a fridge. As well as helping older people who have fallen on hard times, it is now giving more attention to young people at the start of their working life, with career guidance, financial help and accommodation.

Established in 1837, the Charity has attractive flats, bungalows and cottages available to rent. These began with John Dickinson, the paper manufacturer, who gave the land where in 1845 he built the first almshouses for “decaying booksellers assistants”. Following a merger with the Bookbinders Charitable Society (founded 1830), it now owns 59 properties – 22 at Bookbinders Cottages in north London and 37 at The Retreat in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, some to wheelchair standard but all at affordable rents – and is building more.

The Retreat, Kings Langley

The Retreat, Kings Langley

How does it do all this? It receives annual grants from publishers and bibliophile charities, among them (thanks to T.S. and Valerie Eliot) Old Possum’s Practical Trust. But it also depends on the many smaller donations it receives. People organise fun runs, pub quizzes and all sorts of other events to raise money for the Charity, which also has guaranteed places in the London Marathon for anyone interested; and one person raised £4000 by doing a sponsored cycle ride. SfEP members gave £325 when renewing their subscriptions in 2017 and another £215 in 2018, and the SfEP Council has decided to add to that the £287 proceeds of the raffle at conference.

If you are anywhere near Kings Langley, you can benefit yourself while helping The Book Trade Charity. On certain Fridays and Saturdays throughout the year it runs book sales at The Retreat, where stock given by publishers is sold at very reasonable prices: fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, glossy tomes and more.

The next sales are 12.00–17.00 on 23 November and 10.00–14.00 on 24 and 26–30 November 2018. If you can’t get there, or even if you can, you might consider adding a donation to your subscription when you next renew your SfEP membership. After all, you never know when you might need the discreet, practical help of the Book Trade Charity. Visit www.btbs.org to find out more.

Gerard HillFor his third career, Gerard M-F Hill retrained in 1990 as an indexer and became an editorial freelance as much-better-text.com. He began mentoring for SfEP in 1999, joined the council in 2007 and was its first standards director; he stood down in 2016 to become chartership adviser. An advanced professional member of SfEP and SI, he lives on a hillside in breezy Cumberland.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.