Working back from “whenever” doesn’t work for me.

#8 in my series of Lessons Learned blog posts
I hate it when as soon as possible or whenever you can fit it in are the answer to when do you need this?

I’ve been in the customer service business for years. My first job after babysitting for neighbors was working at Busch Gardens. The Williamsburg-based amusement park was the location for my first formal customer service training session.

I view all who contact our office as customers and our team strives to be responsive. We’re pretty serious about customer service; we want to do a good job and we want to get stuff to the person who needs it on time. We think that determining a delivery date and working back from that are part of customer service.

First contact with customers (a.k.a. intake) for their creative projects is fun. I enjoy the ideas, the challenges, the “can you all make this look good” discussions. What I hate equally is either of these two answers when I ask the question, “When do you need this?”

  • whenever you can fit it in
  • as soon as possible

Frankly, neither of these time frames helps me at all. I’ve managed a range of projects from the small and simple to the campus-wide and complex. Despite this experience, I still can’t work back from whenever or ASAP to get your project completed on time. It just doesn’t work for me.

So what do I do when I hear the answers I hate? I simply tell the customer that we are managing a boatload of projects and that it would help us tremendously to have a specific date to plug into our planning. Turns out, this usually becomes an educational opportunity because to help them determine the date needed, I talk through the phases of a project (design, photography selection, layout, proofreading, production, etc.) with the customer. At that point, most on our campus are very appreciative of the care we put into work that has many elements and moving parts.


Author: susantevans

Susan T. Evans is director of corporate and foundations relations at the College of William & Mary. She is a proven strategic leader with deep expertise in advancement, communications, brand management, marketing, digital strategy, technology, administration and organizational development. She is known for creative and strategic approaches to challenges within higher education, nonprofits and business.

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