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How do you handle customers who lack communication skills?

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I have a situation where a customer I have designed a website for. I do web design on the side and when this customer requests updates, they are sent in a text file with no punctuation or capitalization and seldom in complete sentences. When I ask for clarification, said customer is appalled that I did not understand. I cannot call this customer as it is an overseas client and the phone rates are outrageous.

How do you handle a customer who does not communicate well? I don't want to just come out and say that they suck at online correspondence.

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You deal...

by Jessie In reply to How do you handle custome ...

You make sure all of YOUR correspondence has perfect punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Perhaps they will learn by your example.

A lot of times when I have a client, especially overseas, that I'm having trouble understanding, it's because English is not their first language, and remember, not being able to speak your second language well doesn't make you stupid. I know a lot of brainiacs that aren't capable of a coherent thought in their mother tongue, much less capable of learning a second language.

Be patient, keep your cool, don't try to correct their mistakes unless they ask you to tutor them. This is IMO a wonderful opportunity for you to sharpen your customer service skills.

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If it was me

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to How do you handle custome ...

I'd try asking for clarification, with a multiple choice type response.
By this did you mean A, B, C or perhaps something else.
It's worked for me dealing with non technical types.

Fun ones
Like can you change the colour of the yellow text please.
Which yellow text , where and what to are the questions a developer immediately thinks on reading that, but users anywhere assume you know exactly what they mean. After all you wrote it and you are far cleverer than they are.
Be extremely precise, screenshots are always a great help, when discussing presentation changes.
A few reponses like that, and some one might recognise the problems you are having and start responding in kind.
Puntutation etc is not really the problem, ambiguity is.
So if you can point out what there statement could have been interpreted as, you should make headway.

The yellow text one became a regular joke between me and one mechanical engineer. He used to add to it his requirements every now and then clarify with a request to change it to the background colour, simple soul he was.

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First step

by awfernald In reply to How do you handle custome ...

Try to make as much sense of the mail as possible. Go through the document first, and try to put in the punctuation, capitalization and flesh out the sentences.

If that doesn't work, rewrite the letter to be the best understanding that you have, and send it back to them with some specific questions about certain areas, leaving them space near each line to add in their comments.

Or, best thing, learn their language and just have them type it that way :) (or get it translated)

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you can try saying

by Fonken Monken UK In reply to First step

that you like what they 've done, but here's what you've made of it, just to be sure you've understood it correctly, and would they care to look it over, as there were one or two small typos that could miscommunicate the intended message, and they dont want to be doing that now do they

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