The Inconvenient Truth of Customer Service

Customer Service

When my son Darren got engaged a few years ago, everyone from close family members to complete strangers felt compelled to offer him sage advice on how to have a successful marriage. I was at the head of that line, of course. One of the phrases he heard over and over was how having a good marriage takes hard work. That may not be a profound truth, but it’s true nonetheless. Most everything in life that’s worth having requires a certain amount of sacrifice and commitment to maintain it. Like a good reputation, for example.

When I got into the publishing business many years ago, I was shocked at how much animosity existed between authors and their publishers. It seemed that every author I met was frustrated at some level with his or her publisher and the publishing house staff were typically frustrated with their authors. “The best authors are dead authors,” one esteemed editor used to tell me with a certain amount of tongue-in-cheek. At the time, being young and used to wearing rose-colored glasses, I was sure that I could change that viewpoint.

Over the years, I’ve come to understand the dynamics of why such tension between authors and publishers exists. In another blog we can unpack those issues and address them, but today I want to simply acknowledge that the tension does indeed exist. One time I was copied in on an e-mail from one of our clients expressing frustration over an issue related to our handling of his website. This was not a big client. We never generated any significant revenue from our relationship with him. But that didn’t matter. What mattered is how we treated him in that situation—even when the potential to make more money or the threat of losing money was not an issue. What mattered is that we found the most efficient, timely, and economical way to respond well to his concerns and take care of him. What mattered is that we met or exceeded his expectations, even though handling his concerns was not on any of our to-do lists or priority plans for that week.

Why did this stuff matter? Because when nobody is looking, it’s consistency, not convenience, that determines your reputation. We are constantly building our reputation with authors, clients, and prospective clients by the priority and value we place on communicating well with them and solving problems when they arise. Brands are built on legacies, not logos. Just as it takes hard work to be a good parent, a good husband, or a good wife, it takes hard work to be a good publisher for the clients you are privileged to serve.


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