Thursday, April 8, 2010

Client communication 101 (and Schrödinger's Deadline)

I was recently working for a client for whom English is a second language, quickly discovering that our easiest form of communication was chat. The project at hand was hot, requiring a good chunk of my time several days in a row. On Day 2, he asked me how long I thought a certain section would take to write, and I answered, "Oh, about an hour." He responded that he thought that seemed fast, and I typed back that it might take a bit more time in revisions, but the first draft would indeed take around that long.

The next day, panic struck. I found out through a third party that I "wasn't hitting my deadlines." I was a bit dumbfounded, since I really hadn't been given a specific deadline in the first place. How can you miss a deadline that you didn't know about? (I'm coining it a Schrödinger's Deadline™, in tribute to the famous thought experiment with the cat in a box that might be dead or alive depending on whether a radioactive source had broken open a flask of poison. It's a quantum physics thang.)

Anyway, I puzzled for a while before coming to the explanation: He had expected to have the piece in his hands 60 minutes after our initial conversation.

I sent this knowledge back up the chain of command, and as far as I can tell, everything was effectively patched up. What I do know for certain, even if I'm still unaware of a deadline, I know in the future to cite not only the duration, but the projected time of arrival.


  1. I hate chat. I'm not sure I could deal with a client that required it.

  2. When they ask such a question, especially when it pertains to money/budget, give a rather broad range. Invariably, it'll always take longer or more. But in your case here, I see how it happened. DOn't get a lot of non-English clients here! :)

  3. @Anon: I'll be honest, whenever I chat, I feel like I'm a 14-year-old girl.

    @Ad Chick: Yeah, I don't get myself into pickles like that very often...but every once in a while, it's a doozy. (And let's consider that there are plenty of English speakers that would interpret it the same way.)

    Bottom line: I gave a very direct answer to a question that I completely misinterpreted. Doh!

  4. The planets must have been preventing good freelancer/client communication last week. I had problems in that area, too, which is pretty unusual. Glad you got it all patched up.

    I love chat, and wish so much that more of my clients were comfortable with it - it's such an easy way to ask or answer a quick question.

  5. @STW, funny you mention the planets--I actually looked up what phase the moon was in! (Apr 28 is the next full moon, so that didn't explain anything.)

    I think you're correct about chat expediting a quick Q&A...but it's agonizing for me to carry on a 30-minute conversation that way. It underscores that, ultimately, you need to communicate with each client in their own preferred form...hmm, maybe there's a future post in there somewhere :)