Thursday, January 28, 2010

Challenging client? Pick up the phone.

As writers, we're not afraid of expressing ourselves in text. Indeed, there's a certain amount of pride at our abilities to make the written word do a little jig on the page, to persuade, to entertain, to make people laugh, cry, etc. We can do anything with a clever turn of phrase, right?

But my experience has been that the phone is often the best tool to deal with an interminable back-and-forth with a client. The other day, I experienced a pingpong of emails with one of my usually low-maintenance clients. Little editorial tweaks on an article I'd written--nothing major, but each time required pulling up the file, making the change, and sending it over for re-approval.

I realized, after around Round 4, that we weren't getting to a resolution, so I called her up. It was the best decision I could have made: She was able to express herself much more quickly verbally than she was doing via email. And it also gave me a chance to schmooze her a little bit, ask her about how things are going, and get on her calendar for coffee in a few weeks.

A few closing thoughts:
  1. Part of successful communication is understanding which mode is best suited to a given situation.
  2. On the phone, you can pick up and deliver subtle cues that can't be conveyed in text.
  3. As a businessperson, you need to recognize that being a skilled writer doesn't mean that it's the only or best tool in the box.
So, a question for you: What tricks do you use to derail the re:re:re:re train?


Note: While we're on the subject of client challenges, Planet Word has a two-entry series on "Selling Your Value" that's worth a read.

An earlier version of this was cross-posted at Freelance Writerville II [registration req'd]. 


  1. I have long been a proponent of "pick up the phone." Another pet peeve of mine is while working in an agency (as I do), coworkers in the office right next to mine or just a few steps away would email me questions. Instead of replying, I would walk to their offices and discuss the matter face-to-face. This was very foreign to them (I was the new guy). But a simple face to face (or verbal) conversation is far more efficient than banging sentences back and forth. We are in the business of communication. Let's not forget how to do it!

  2. THe more uncomfortable the situation, the more important it is to deal with it person-to-person.

  3. @Rob, good anecdote and very true. At my old job, I remember joking with an art director with whom I shared an adjoining wall that I wanted to break out the Sawzall and just cut a hole in it. It's in the same weird vein as people sitting across the table texting each other. I don't get it, but some people think it's perfectly normal. Ah, maybe I'm just an old-fashioned and cranky GenXer...

    @Anon, I think there's a mathematical formula in there somewhere: The more uncomfortable and the sooner something needs to be done, or the more important it is, the more it requires (or benefits from) voice to voice or face to face.