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  • Writer's pictureJennifer

Customer Service?

When I started in contract negotiation, I found that I was immediately balancing multiple priorities -- document precision, the interests of my party / my side of the negotiation (which had multiple competing priorities every time, itself), timeliness (I had to touch 20 agreements a day to stay above water in a very under-staffed high-stress office), and the administrative concerns of tracking and recording the documents appropriately.

Covert contract negotiation occuring

That is a lot. I get a bit sweaty thinking about it even now, to be honest.

The thing that I didn't realize that I needed to fold-in was customer service. In fact, negotiating contracts, which I initially just considered a function of protection -- protecting all the people and parties the contract mentioned (or didn't mention but was supposed to) and their creations, is in fact largely customer-service based.

You have to really listen to the people involved, respond with understanding and timeliness, be helpful when possible, hold their hands through the process often, and make sure that they feel as though they received the best overall contract negotiation possible at the end. As much as I may have wanted to just say "stop calling and checking on this, I have to get it done and you are taking up my time and attention," the truth is, I wouldn't have been there if it wasn't for their needs and concerns, and they couldn't do what I was doing.

What I have found in the many years since my induction-by-fire of those first hundred-or-so contracts is that most industries have an aspect of customer service in them, not just the call lines of tech companies or the retail industry. If you are providing a service for anyone, you need to have some customer service skills. What do those look like?

Well, you need to be able to: 1) Listen to the other party and reflect back that you are hearing their actual concerns (and this is truly the biggest one, because people often just need to be heard); 2) Be available and responsive; 3) Be flexible and creative at times in your ability to respond to their needs - they often want to feel like their problems are both unique and something you've seen before and can tackle; 4) As positive and/or understanding, based on the context, as possible.

Now, we all have heard of the nightmare situations that customers can present, where they are screaming or blaming you for things, and I want to say that I truly do not believe that customers are always right. To give them good customer service, you don't need to treat them as though they are always right, but you need to be able to explain to them in a collaborative and understanding way why they might be wrong. If they are unwilling to accept that, it is on them. Good customer service doesn't mean that everyone ends up happy, but it does mean that they end up being heard.

The interesting thing is that a lot of these pieces look a lot like the skills one can learn through improv comedy and its functional arm: applied improv. It becomes a bit of learning to "think on your butt," (instead of thinking on your feet, because you are probably doing all of this in an office chair, yes?).

For me, when I started to realize that I really had to apply good customer service to my process, from top to bottom, the whole thing became a bit smoother, the other people involved became much more cooperative, collaborative, and grateful, and this made my job so much easier. Beyond that, being able to apply the concepts of applied improv on the job made it more enjoyable for me, as well, and less terrifying to have to pick up the phone.

Do you apply customer service concepts in your job? Could you add them in a bit more? Have you considered using applied improv to help with those skills?

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