The internet is now one of the primary mediums through which modern businesses operate, and has had no shortage of major effects on the global economy. It’s allowed innovators and small businesses to compete in global markets they've previously been denied access to, helped drive down overhead and operating expenses, and given consumers a near-limitless number of choices when they seek products and services of all types.
At the same time, ubiquitous, global access to the internet has also started to change the very nature of work, from enabling flexible working arrangements, to making it possible for just about any business to maintain an inexpensive presence via a global, on-demand workforce in the markets that matter most to them.
The rise of the internet and the explosion of related technologies have also made it easier than ever for individuals to strike out on their own and pursue freelance work as their primary or secondary source of income. In the United States, a full 36% of the workforce already reports taking advantage of freelance opportunities. This number is expected to continue to grow, as more and more people consider involvement in some form of online business. For them, freelance work means flexibility and choice, but it also means a very different set of priorities and responsibilities that they may have had as a salaried or hourly employee. One of the most important of those responsibilities is to provide an excellent customer experience for their clients, which isn't always easy for a busy freelancer.
Making the customer experience a priority when freelancing isn't something that comes naturally to most people, nor does it tend to be top of mind, particularly for freelancers who are just starting out. Still, it's a task that is essential for anyone who hopes to earn a steady and substantial income from freelance work, in particular for those who rely on recurring donors for the bulk of their income (artists and video content creators come to mind).
To help, here's a guide to providing a world-class customer experience for do-it-all freelancers.
Start at the beginning
Believe it or not, putting customers first is easier than it sounds. The best way to start doing this is to make a professional and memorable first impression. The first interaction a freelancer has with a customer will set the tone for the entire relationship, so getting this right will pay dividends far into the future. Make sure to have your website address handy and freelance business cards available at all times so you'll be ready to provide a potential new client with all of the information they need to contact you.
When a potential (or existing) customer does make contact, make sure to respond in a timely manner. Most clients who are used to dealing with freelance workers expect an answer to a query within 24 hours, but staying on top of correspondence should make it possible to cut that time window down significantly.
Depending on the kind of freelance work you're doing, it's generally a good idea to set aside specific times during each workday that you can dedicate to responding to clients, keeping in mind the hours that those clients keep. For example, business clients may require a response during normal business hours, but others may prefer responses after-hours. Learning the schedules and habits of your customers can help you to respond to the majority of requests right away, without having to interrupt your work to do so.
Stay positive and helpful
For freelancers, the old axiom 'The customer is always right' remains as true today as it was when the phrase was first coined in the early 1900s. That's because the customer experience is tied to customer satisfaction, meaning the surest way to keep a customer happy is to give them what they want—and to do it with a smile. In practice, this isn't always as easy as it sounds. It may mean having to re-do work to compensate for a mistake made by your customer, or showing understanding when they're in a hurry and are behaving in a less-than-friendly manner. No matter what happens, how a freelancer conducts themselves speaks volumes to customers about what they can expect from the relationship over the long term.
Handle feedback the right way
It's also important for freelancers to realize that the way they handle clients while collaborating on a project is vital. In almost every situation, working on a project for a client will involve a certain amount of give and take, and it's critical to manage client feedback well. To do so, it's a good idea to follow a set process consisting of the following steps:
- Listen carefully – The first step in the client feedback process is to allow the customer to give you a complete, uninterrupted explanation of what they'd like to change or improve. No matter what issues they raise, it's a good idea to let them proceed without interruption.
- Ask questions – Once the client has provided their feedback, repeat their request back to them and ask whatever questions are necessary to make sure you're on the same page.
- Consider the scope of the work – Sometimes, a client may make a request that goes beyond the original scope of the work you've been hired to do. In that case, it's a good idea to let the client know that right away. If the request is small, offer to do it without further charges, with the understanding that future requests won't be free. If the request is large, come to an agreement on what additional charges may apply.
- Agree on a timeline – Discuss how long it's going to take to make the requested changes, and agree on a completion date as well as an adequate review period for the client.
- Show appreciation – At the end of the discussion, be sure to thank the client for their feedback, and assure them that you're going to carry out their requested changes correctly and on time.
Add personal touches
Although larger businesses may be able to devote more manpower to their customer service operations than a freelancer could ever hope to match, there's something to be said for the personal touch as a factor in the customer experience. As a one-person operation, there's a good chance that a freelancer will build an intimate awareness of the likes and dislikes of every customer, and can more readily provide a personalized customer experience. Adding personal touches like handwritten notes and post-project follow up calls can go a long way toward building a loyal business following, and offer clients an experience that larger competitors won't take the time or the effort to create.
Offer payment flexibility
Another part of providing a world-class customer experience as a freelancer is to provide customers with multiple convenient ways to pay for your work. Doing so ensures that you'll be able to offer services to the widest variety of consumers without forcing them to jump through hoops to pay you. This is easy to do for freelancers who operate an online business because they have the ability to integrate a payment portal right into their own website. If most deliverables are digital, customers will likely expect to pay online as well.
For freelancers that perform on-site services, particularly for non-business customers, it's a good idea to offer mobile payments through a smartphone or tablet using a system that supports the latest payment services like Apple Pay, since they're so widely used by individuals everywhere. Business customers, on the other hand, tend to have accounting processes that demand conventional invoices and check payments. The good news is that most online payment processors provide some facility for issuing invoices and tracking check payments, and can even send automated reminders to clients when payments are overdue. The bottom line is that it doesn't take much effort for freelancers to be flexible with how they accept payments, and eliminating friction in that process leads to happier customers and a healthy bottom line.
Happy customers are repeat customers
By starting off every customer relationship on the right foot, and then maintaining it through clear, prompt communication, a positive attitude, and a payment process that works for everyone involved, it's possible for freelancers to provide a customer experience that's on par with a much larger organization. The best part is that doing so isn't all that difficult or time-consuming, so long as the necessary tasks are planned out and attended to without exception. It's also worth noting that keeping customers happy also cuts down on the need for the freelancer to have to solicit additional work, as their existing clientele will almost always be happy to give them more projects and recommend them to peers. At the end of the day, providing an excellent customer experience benefits everyone involved, and should form the foundation of every freelancer's ongoing strategy – it's a true win-win scenario.
Philip Piletic's primary focus is a fusion of technology, small business, and marketing. He is an editor, writer, marketing consultant, and guest author at several authority websites. He’d like to thank Eleven Plus Tutors in Essex for their help with this article.