• Amanda George

Tricky customers

They're everywhere. In all walks of life. Unfortunately, when you come across them when you're self-employed invariably you don't have the back-up of your office colleagues or a boss to turn to in desperation. What am I talking about? Tricky customers, of course. The people who make it their business to ruffle your feathers and ruin your day.

One of the worst situations I recall when I worked for St John's College was a very high-ranking individual who reduced me to a snivelling wreck by insisting that I admit his offspring to the (long closed) imminent degree ceremony. With the support of my colleagues, I resolved the situation (yes, I gave in to his bullying tactics and got his daughter on the list), but it took my very best negotiation skills and diplomacy (begging to be precise).

Of course now I don't have anyone to turn to for tea, sympathy and advice. I've had to learn how to navigate such situations alone, and to make my own tea (I haven't managed to train the cats yet in this simple art). Although I've had a few unpleasant situations to deal with in the Perfect Words office (non-payers, complainers, tryers-on, even fraudsters), by far the worst was a young female student. Let's call her Miss Guided.

I only had myself to blame for this one actually, as I had worked with Miss Guided before and she had become unpleasant on that occasion because of a technical issue (her end, not mine). Anyway, I thought I'd trained her to be a nicer person through that first experience, which is why I agreed to work with her again, on her thesis this time.

So I did the job and she seemed pleased. That is, until I received an email (the joy of smartphones) while on holiday. I promised to address her concerns the moment I got home, which I did. It was only then that I realised she had actually sent me a different version of her original thesis to look at again (presumably after meeting with her supervisor and making structural and content changes). Because I keep meticulous records of everything (this is where the OCD comes in handy), I was able to spot her deception and to see that she was angling for an extra (free) proofread.

When I politely confronted her, all hell broke loose. She became progressively nastier, calling me names, questioning my abilities, demanding her money back (like the first time we worked together) and threatening all sorts... Naturally I had to restrain myself from saying what I really felt about her, but as professionals we can't. Instead, I reviewed my own work on the original document, evaluating my own proofreading and editing (a valuable exercise actually). I then created a document, noting in the finest detail the sequence of events that had led to this unhappy place, in case I had to seek legal advice to protect my reputation. This done, I politely asked Miss Guided for the phone number of her supervisor so that I could 'have a word with him'. Needless to say, I never heard another peep from her.

So what did I learn from this thoroughly unpleasant experience? To trust my own instincts and avoid individuals such as this in the first place. Sure. To keep meticulous and accountable records for everything work-related. Naturally. But, most importantly, to breathe deeply, use your most patient friends as sounding-boards, drink plenty of herbal tea and, if all else fails, cuddle the nearest cat when things become unbearable.