As a freelancer, it’s easy to get a bit overwhelmed when work is piling up in your queue. Sometimes, it can lead to mistakes or miscommunications with clients. It can sometimes be quite embarrassing.
Luckily, the solution is often very simple. Own up to the mistake, make sure it’s fixed and move on. If it was a particularly bad mistake, perhaps offering a bit of a discount could smooth things over.
But, what do you do when a heavily relied-upon third party service drops the ball? That can put you in a much more difficult spot.
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Third party services (hosting, e-mail lists, payment gateways) are a necessity for most web designers. We use them, resell them and recommend them to our clients. The trouble is, third party services add another link in the "chain of trust". That means that part of our clients’ satisfaction is based upon the success or failure of that service.
Often times, a freelance designer can find themselves in the unfortunate position of playing the "middleman". We’re the ones who communicate directly with both our client and the vendor. This can be especially frustrating when there’s a problem.
Even Though It’s Not Your Fault…
Whether your web host is having problems, or that remotely hosted shopping cart is refusing orders, having a third party service fail on you can become a nightmare. Even though you’re not the one having the problem (after all, it wasn’t your misguided PHP coding that is causing the error), it’s still your problem.
After all, it was you who chose the hosting. It was you who recommended that mailing list service for your client’s newsletter. So, when your client has a problem, they’re going to call you first.
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Clients can get understandably frustrated with this type of situation. Someone’s mistake is costing their business. And getting a straight answer on the situation can be difficult for both clients and freelancers.
What To Do
If you find yourself stuck in the middle of third party nightmare, here are some tips to help you weather that storm:
Don’t Panic – This is my toughest task during such a crisis. If something’s not working, I want to hide under my bed. But that’s not going to solve anything. So the best thing to do is to try and remain calm, especially when discussing the issue with your client. If you’re panicked, it’ll make them more likely to feel the same.
Contact the Vendor – Do your best to find out what is happening and why. Politely (at first) ask for a timeframe of when things will be fixed.
Tell the Truth – I speak from experience when I say that most clients don’t like to be placated with false assurances. Sure, you can tell them "Give it an hour to get back online." But, what happens after that hour is up? You’re better of explaining the situation, exactly as the vendor explained it to you. Also feel free to throw in a warning that the status of things can change at any time. And, since you aren’t the one directly working on the problem, explain that it’s difficult to know exactly what will happen next.
Keep Checking In – Asking the vendor to provide you with periodic status updates can be helpful for both you and your client. Some services have support pages dedicated to ongoing issues. Others may require you to call in once an hour. Share any updates with your client. Even if there are no updates, share that with your client as well. Make sure they know that you care and are frequently checking in with the vendor.
If and when the issue is resolved, ask the vendor if this problem is likely to happen again. If it does happen again, seek a partial (or full) refund. That will at least help to keep your client happy.
And, even though it’s often painful, don’t be afraid to switch to another vendor if problems persist. No one likes to change web hosts, etc., but you may be better off in the end. Just make sure to do your research and look at support forums, etc. before making a new choice.
Hopefully, you’ll never have to face a third party nightmare. If you do, being proactive and honest will help both you and your client get through the situation.