Thursday, September 29, 2016

How to annoy your freelancer

Being a freelancer means that you’ve chosen a different type of lifestyle. If you work at home, then you’re not rushing to fight traffic every morning. You’re probably not wearing formal attire. Most likely, you don’t consider yourself quite so mainstream. And yes, that does make you very cool (not to mention good-looking)!

The trouble is that clients, family and friends also see you as different. They may actually have a pretty hard time wrapping their heads around your unconventional career. That can lead to some odd requests or just plain crazy situations.

So, how do you annoy a freelancer? Here are some slightly-dramatized versions of situations that I’ve found myself in that were annoying and/or just plain baffling.

Play a game of hurry up and wait

Client: “I need this site to be up in a week!”

Freelancer (reluctantly): “That’s going to be tough, but I’ll give it everything I’ve got to launch on time. Just keep in mind I’ll need all the content within 48 hours.”

Fast-forward to three days later…

Freelancer (proudly): “Great news – I’ve finished the site’s theme! Just send me that content and I can get everything ready for launch.”

Client: *crickets chirping*

Now, six weeks later…

Freelancer (miffed): “Um, do you have that content yet? I thought this was a rush job and now it’s well past your specified launch date. I’ve sent several requests for content and left voice mails.”

Client: “Oh, something came up. We’re putting the site on hold for now. I will get back to you after our committee meets next month.”

Four months after that…

Client: “Hey, attached is all of our content! You may notice that we’ve added some new stuff and changed the functionality around. Can we have this ready by the end of the week?”

Freelancer (opening a bottle of wine): *unintelligible moaning sound*

Does this mean that the client is a horrible, unfeeling monster? Not necessarily.

Isn’t it amazing how everything is rush-rush until the ball is in the client’s court? While delays are understandable, there aren’t many good excuses for disappearing from view and then coming back several months after-the-fact demanding immediate action on your part.

What this really shows is just a lack of respect (even if it’s not intentional or personal in nature) for a freelancer’s time. When a client delays, you have no choice but to move on to other projects that need taken care of. It’s not as if you can then just drop those other projects the minute the M.I.A. client suddenly reappears.

Does this mean that the client is a horrible, unfeeling monster? Not necessarily. Is it annoying? Heck yes.

Assume they have no life because, hey, they work at home

It’s a lovely Saturday evening and you’re at a family gathering…

Client: “Could you please replace the text on the About Us page with the attached copy? Thanks!”

A few hours later, you come home and check your email…

Client: “This is completely unprofessional! I expect you to respond quickly when we need something done. Please get this done ASAP.”

Freelancer (majorly ticked): “I do apologize, but I was away at a family event this evening. I had no idea changes would be coming in. Typically I am not in the office on weekend nights waiting for unexpected work to arrive.”

There’s a fine line between expecting outstanding service (which, as a client, you should expect) and requiring non-stop attention.

One of the biggest misconceptions of freelancers is that somehow we’re just sitting around waiting for a client to send work to be done immediately. Now, to a degree I guess that’s true. We’re here to serve the needs of our clients, right? But sometimes this can be taken to a whole new level of strange.

There’s a fine line between expecting outstanding service (which, as a client, you should expect) and requiring non-stop attention. That being said, it is up to freelancers to make their policy regarding after-hours availability known.

Treating invoices not-so-seriously

Freelancer (hopeful): “Hi! Attached is the invoice for the design. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me.”

Two months after the due date…

Freelancer (quizzically): “Hi! How are things going with the new site? I wanted to reach out and make sure that you received the invoice I sent a couple months ago — did it come through?”

Three months after the due date…

Freelancer (starving): “Here’s another copy of the design invoice. Please confirm receipt ASAP. I have also sent a copy to your mailing address.”

To me, a good comparison to this situation would be receiving your electric bill. How seriously would you treat that bill? Odds are you would probably want to pay it quickly so that the lights don’t get shut off.

Unfortunately, not everyone treats an invoice from a freelancer with quite the same seriousness. You might be seen as someone who is a hobbyist or without the resources to fight for your payment.

The good news here is that you can solve a lot of issues by having a contract that stipulates when and how you’re to be paid for your work. That will at least give you some leverage against someone who is either refusing to pay or is just exceptionally slow to do so. It also sends a message that you are a professional and deserve to be treated as such.

Schedule a pointless meeting

Client: “Can you come by the office tomorrow at 10am?”

Freelancer (frazzled): “Well, tomorrow might be difficult as I have a lot of work to get done. What did you want to discuss?”

Client: “I just wanted to run a couple of ideas by you. See you then!”

While it’s pretty safe to assume that most people don’t enjoy pointless meetings, freelancers may have reason to dread them even more. Why? Well, consider that a solo freelancer is usually working on multiple projects at once. Meetings, while sometimes a necessity of doing business, can take already limited time away from getting things done.

There are situations when meetings make perfect sense. But there are many times when a simple phone call or Skype session will suffice. I’ve taken to suggesting the latter as a time-saving means of communication that will help get things done more quickly. After all, completing a project is in everyone’s best interest.

You have the power to set expectations

As you may have surmised, I am a person who can be easily annoyed! Part of the problem may be that client expectations of freelancers are a little different than that of larger agencies. The other half of that equation is that I haven’t always set the expectations as well as I should have.

While it won’t lead to eternal bliss, I speak from experience when I say that it really can cut down on those annoyances.

That’s just part of the learning experience and it can take time to understand. Once you realize that, you can set policies which clarify what a client can and should expect from your relationship. While it won’t lead to eternal bliss, I speak from experience when I say that it really can cut down on those annoyances.

Speaking of which, what annoys you as a freelancer? Leave a comment and share what pushes your buttons and your solution for dealing with it.

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What’s new for designers, September 2016

In this month’s edition of what’s new for designers, we’ve included productivity apps, email apps, free icon sets, UI galleries, color tools, CSS frameworks, stock image tools, and more. And as always, we’ve also included some awesome new free fonts!

Almost everything on the list this month is free, with a few high-value paid apps and tools also included. They’re sure to be useful to designers, from beginners to experts.

If we’ve missed something that you think should have been on the list, let us know in the comments. And if you know of a new app or resource that should be featured next month, tweet it to @cameron_chapman to be considered!

Moo.do

Moo.do is a task manager for Gmail. It interfaces with tasks, email, documents, calendar, projects, and contacts.

Moo.do

Diverse UI

Diverse UI is a collection of free stock photos of people from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds to bring some diversity to your designs.

diverse ui

Designer Emojis

Designer Emojis is a collection of 45 vector emojis you can download for free. They highlight the tricky yet rewarding job of being a designer.

designer emojis

Founder Catalog

Founder Catalog is a collection of what founders of some leading startups are writing about right now.

founder catalog

Stocky

Stocky is a source of free stock photos, videos, graphics, and music that you can use for both personal and commercial projects.

stocky

Startup Pitch Decks

Startup Pitch Decks is a collection of real world fundraising decks from startups like Airbnb, Buffer, YouTube, Mattermark, Buzzfeed, Crew, and more.

startup pitch decks

Adioma

Adioma is an easy to use infographic generator that lets you create things like timelines, organizational charts, and more.

adioma

UIDB

UIDB is a search engine that lets you find live examples of any UI. You can browse all the examples or check out the most popular tags.

uidb

Grid.Guide

Grid.Guide is a tool to help you create pixel perfect grids in your designs. Just enter your requirements and it will show you all the whole pixel combinations you can use.

grid.guide

Sunsama

Sunsama is a calendar built just for teams. It helps you run focused meetings, prioritize tasks, and more.

sunsama

Kin

Kin is a better calendar experience. It connects with Google, Office365, Trello, Facebook, GitHub, Meetup, Eventbrite, and Wunderlist.

kin

Timely

Timely is an automatic time tracking app for freelancers and teams. It works in the background, letting you focus on your work.

timely

Duet

Duet is a self-hosted alternative to Trello. It’s completely brandable, so you can make it match your business, and it has a one-time fee rather than a recurring monthly charge.

duet

Checkout Pages

Checkout Pages is a curated directory of the best checkout pages, with additional links to directories of pricing pages, product pages, and store pages.

checkout pages

Hud

Hud is a tool for managing and cataloging your UI patterns so you can share them with your team.

hud

Four Hour Book Club

If you’re an avid listener of the Tim Ferriss Show, then you’ll want to check out the Four Hour Book Club, which catalogs all of the books mentioned on the show.

four hour book club

Napkin

Napkin is a startup idea app for iOS. It lets you capture all of your business ideas in a simple, clean design.

napkin

Apply Pixels

Apply Pixels is a set of industry standard design tools and UI templates for supercharging your design workflow.

apply pixels

UI Temple

UI Temple is a curated collection of website designs to inspire you. Sort by industry, page type, color, and more.

ui temple

Kelir

Kelir is a free color picker app for Mac. It’s also got tools for creating palettes and gradients.

kelir

Wing

Wing is a minimal CSS framework. It’s perfect for smaller projects that don’t need all the features of a framework like Bootstrap or Foundation.

wing

Word Geeks

Ever need on-demand content written for your design projects? Check out Word Geeks, an exclusive network of on-demand writers.

word geeks

Stockmagic

Stockmagic is a tiny app that lives in your menu bar that lets you find the best images on 25 of the biggest free stock photo services.

stockmagic

Rush

Rush is a communications app that lets you easily switch between mail and chat. It also includes a group calendar and other tools for teams.

rush

Polymail

Polymail is a powerful email productivity app that’s now available for iOS. It includes tons of advanced tools for contact management, too.

polymail

Open Icons

Open Icons are a set of 119 open source line drawing icons that include everything from sharing and downloading to bananas and ghosts.

open icons

Land

Land is a free ornate display font inspired by whimsical hand-lettering.

land

Banaue

Banaue is a free brush font with 104 characters, including all the basic glyphs you could want.

banaue

NS-James

NS-James is a free geometric sans serif typeface that’s versatile and highly legible. The “light” version is free.

ns-james

Luciano

Luciano is a fancy handwritten font with upper and lowercase glyphs.

luciano

Sadistic

Sadistic is a decorative display font perfect for horror projects. It comes with a complete set of Latin and Greek characters.

sadistic

Free Brush

Free Brush is a brush style font created for the fps.hu website and downloadable for free.

free brush

Hydrant

Hydrant is an inline shadow grunge font. It has a vintage style that’s perfect for branding and headers.

hydrant

Rocket Shadow

Rocket Shadow is a free vintage-style font that’s great for retro headers and branding.

rocket

North

North is a simple, geometric sans-serif typeface that’s great for things like logos and posters.

north

Noelan

Noelan is a modern calligraphy typeface that includes swashes for automatically connected initials and terminals.

noelan

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

How to Add Real-Time Communication to Your Existing Marketing Stack

Let’s think back to the early days of social media for a moment, and how it impacted our marketing.

Not only did it bring the potential of massive free exposure, it radically increased transparency as well. Every good or bad customer experience suddenly became a potentially viral story. And thus the relation between business and consumer was changed, forever.

But social media isn’t at the top of the digital food chain anymore. As of 2015, messaging apps have overtaken social networking apps in monthly active users.

messaging-apps-surpassed-socialIn 2015, messaging apps overtook social media platforms in monthly active users. (Image Source)

This balance tip coincided with a few other developments: Facebook’s launch of Messenger for Business, WhatsApp announcing a move into B2C communication, an increasing reliance by businesses on message-based communication tools like Slack, and advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) entering a critical phase. The last point was nicely illustrated by AlphaGo wiping the floor with our human champions in Go.

Chris Messina, the guy who brought us the #hashtag, noticed the interplay between these developments, and concluded in a post on Medium that we’re at the brink of another revolution in B2C relationships.

Where before you would use your messaging apps for simple interactions with friends, the above developments allow them to be used for real-time conversations with businesses as well – whether that’s with a service rep or an intelligent chatbot. He dubbed this new era of B2C relationships ‘conversational commerce’.

So, how can you take advantage of this development? How can you integrate real-time communication into your existing marketing stack?

First, let’s clarify why you’ll want to jump aboard this trend in the first place. Then we’ll share some ideas and company examples that will help you start off today.

The Promise of Real-Time Communication

For years, marketers have known the power of ‘now’. Pay attention to the banners and billboards you’ll run into throughout the rest of the day, and notice how often they’re filled with maxims like ‘instant access’, ‘same day delivery’, and ‘quick checkout’. Immediacy strongly impacts our buying behavior.

amazon-prime-no-patience-required-adAmazon Prime, a prime example of our desire for immediacy. (Image Source)

In The Art of Thinking Clearly, Rolf Dobelli shares an experiment into our weakness for ‘right now’ with two groups of participants.

Group A was asked whether they would rather receive $1,000 in 12 months, or $1,100 in 13 months. Most chose the 13-month option; because where else will you find an investment option with a 10% monthly interest rate?

Group B was offered a slightly different choice. They could choose to receive $1,000 today, or $1,100 in one month. Here, most people choose the $1,000 today option. This is remarkable. The choice is basically the same – except that the $1,000 today targets our weakness for wanting things right now. That’s hyperbolic discounting, our irrational preference for what we can get now over what we can get in the future.

Real-time customer service has a similar effect on our preference for right now. According to a Forrester Research study, 57% of online customers leave a website if they don’t receive a quick answer on their question.

This was confirmed in a case study with Intuit, the company behind the financial products QuickBooks and Mint. By placing live chat for real-time support during its checkout process, Intuit increased its average order value by 43%.

From “Interaction” to “Relation”

A major benefit of communication via messaging apps is that it results in a permanent and low-barrier connection with the customer.

Once a phone call with a customer is over, the connection is broken. That is not the case with email, but email has a high barrier to contact compared to writing a message on Facebook.

A permanent low barrier connection promises a major increase in customer interaction – keeping your business top of mind and always accessible.

Also, when a conversation picks up again, it happens within the context of a messaging thread. This makes it easier for support reps to understand the situation and provide a good answer. While emails and phone calls are mere snapshots, messaging threads represent long-term relationships.

Lower Costs per Interaction

As mentioned above, the existing messaging thread will prevent duplication. Things become more efficient when customers don’t have to repeat their issue with every service handover – not to mention more pleasant.

At the same time, advancements in natural language processing fuel expectations of chatbots soon solving many support questions that humans are tackling at the moment. Not all, of course. But a modest 20% would already represent a huge gain in efficiency.

We’re still some years away from scenes like in the movie Her, in which we’re having natural conversations with smooth sounding chatbots that are indistinguishable from those with humans. What is closer and easier to picture, however, is a sort of ‘chat cyborg’ – a human service rep that uses AI to deliver a superior service.

When a question comes in, AI runs it through the database of customer interactions and offers answer suggestions to its human colleague. The human serves as the last check, and can choose to override the suggestions or adjust them. The AI learns from the answer that is given, as well as the response from the customer (was it the right response?). That way, the chat cyborg is continuously growing in smarts and efficiency.

Now let’s look at how you can start with reaping the fruits of these developments today.

How to Get Started With Real-Time Communication

Live Chat on your Site

Web chat has been around for some years, but is developing fast together with the abovementioned trends. You implement a live chat window on your website, through which visitors can reach out and receive support.

Live chat offers many of the benefits described above, such as the power of instant support and minimizing duplication. What makes it especially powerful is that the chat is available at a critical moment in the buyer’s journey – on the website.

A customer might be ready to buy, but has some small concerns or questions before doing so. With live chat there’s no need to delay the purchase, since questions can be resolved on the spot.

A great example of how to do chat right is Apple’s live chat service.

apple-supportLive chat is an important ingredient in Apple’s service setup.

If you’re an Apple user, I recommend you try it out next time you have a service question. You receive full and detailed answers in no-time, which suggest they make use of an intelligent knowledge base in the backend.

apple-live-chat-suppport

Facebook’s Messenger for Business allows live chat providers to connect to their platform, and tools like Telegram and WeChat are open for this as well. We can expect tighter integrations between website chat and messaging support in the future.

facebook-messenger-for-businessRogers connected its support team with Facebook to help customers via their favorite channel.

Messaging support

Messaging support is very promising, simply because it’s so darn convenient for consumers. They send a question through their favorite messaging app, and receive an answer in their back pockets.

For this to work, you need to hook up your support team to your messaging channels – be it Facebook, WhatsApp, WeChat, Telegram, or a combination – and let your customers reach out to you.

One example of a business deploying large scale messaging support is Livecrowd, a Dutch company offering next-level customer service and experience for mass crowd events. Think festivals, football matches, or concerts (see BeyoncĂ©’s concert page below). Such events are major logistical challenges. A quick and easy way to advise visitors about transport or safety is invaluable.

livecrowd-beyonce-world-tour-pageMessaging support is perfect for customers on the go, such as music event visitors.

Another messaging example from the Netherlands is KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines. Since a few weeks, they’ve added Facebook Messenger support to their booking process.

This makes it easy for flyers to check the status on their flights and ask support agents any questions:

klm-messenger-supportManaging your booking with an app you’re already familiar with.

When you’re booking a flight and are logged into your Facebook account, you can select to stay updated about your flight through messenger. When you have a delay, for example, you receive an update on the app. You can also receive your boarding pass through Messenger, or ask questions to the KLM service team directly.

As you can see, part of KLM’s messaging support is automated. Which brings us to the next application.

Chatbots

Chatbots are a hot and exciting area of the tech industry, mainly because they’re fueled by advancements in machine learning.

Slack allows you to connect an existing chatbot to your team or build one with its own logic, while Facebook’s Chatbot API allows you to build a bot for Messenger. There are also plenty of third party apps that allow you to set up a chatbot fairly easily, such as Motion AI.

One example of the extensive use of chatbots is Call of Duty. Players can connect with Lieutenant Reyes chatbot, and solve a not-so-easy-to-solve puzzle. This chatbot sent over six million messages to its gamers in total.

Chatbots will only become more interesting with the continuous advancements in machine learning. The more intelligent the chatbots become, the more customer interactions can be left to them.

How to Get Started

Make a comprehensive communication plan.
To get started with real-time communication, you’ll need to integrate it in a comprehensive communication plan. Ask yourself: What channels make sense for me and my customers?

Set up a dedicated service team.
The fact that conversational commerce is based on text means that compared to phone, more interactions can be done per service agent. But you’ll also have a lower barrier for contact, so you can expect the number of customer interaction to rise. You’ll need a dedicated real-time communication team to support this.

Empower frontline employees.
In real-time communication, speed is king. Zendesk stated that customer satisfaction in live chat dropped after 30 seconds of waiting. Since you’ll be having so many customer inquiries requiring fast responses, it’s essential to empower your frontline employees to resolve issues themselves. The number of cases that require involvement from higher up should be minimized.

Set up communication guidelines.
That doesn’t mean your real-time communication should be a free-for-all. On the contrary, it takes directed effort to maintain a consistent voice across all channels. Like The Economist maintains a style guide for its articles, you should require a style guide for your real-time communication as well. On what level of familiarity will you communicate? If you’ll speak in English, will it be British or American?

Play together with your other channels.
In the world of conversational commerce, one-on-one conversations will cover a much wider area of topics than before. That’s why your frontend employees need to be well aware of all external communications. Whether it’s social media, content, email, or performance marketing – your real-time communication channel needs to be in sync.

Track key metrics.
One key benefit of written communication is that it can easily be tracked. Most live chat solutions, for example, have standard integrations with analytics solutions like Google Analytics and Kissmetrics. With them, it’s easy to measure key indicators of quality communication: first response time, handovers per issue, service ratings, etc.

Conclusion

We really do seem to be at the brink of another revolution in the relationship between businesses and customers.

You can start reaping the benefits of real-time communication today, by taking the first steps with website chat, messaging support, and chatbots. Happy chatting!

About the Author: Pascal van Opzeeland is CMO of Userlike, software for website and messaging support. He and his team share tips about customer communication on the Userlike Blog.

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