Have you ever watched a duck swim? You have, probably—but have you paid close attention to the mechanics of it? Even when ducks are moving along at top speed, paddling furiously under the water, they appear completely serene above the surface.
When it comes to working in a virtual environment, I fancy myself a bit of a waterfowl.
I’m a strong believer in the duck management philosophy. Inherited from my college mentor/lifelong den mother/all-around bad ass business woman (Hi, Sharla!), it’s the idea that you should always appear cool and unruffled on the surface, even when you are paddlin’ like hell under the water.
At Don’t Panic, our team members wear a lot of hats. We’re writers, editors, virtual assistants, social media managers, producers, and more. But no matter what role we fill on a given day, there is one constant: each and every one of us has a customer-facing position. And as the leader of those customer efforts, here’s what I have learned about how the duck mentality creates an unstoppable customer experience.
Ducks in a Row
I’ll set the scene. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
[Friday afternoon, approximately 1:00p EST. Becca sits at her desk, ignoring the moody huffs from the dog, who is perturbed she isn’t allowed into the backyard right this second to harass squirrels. A Sococo chat comes in.]
Contractor: Hi! I wanted to check in because I’m all out of hours for the week, but Client X just emailed with a 3,000 word assignment they need by the end of the day. It’s supposed to go live Monday. What do I do? Can you cover?
[As Becca begins to type a response, she notices she has just received an email labeled as URGENT. She clicks away from the chat window and into her email account.]
Client: I was supposed to fly home this evening at 6p. Would like to get on the flight that leaves in 45 minutes instead. Can you fix??? Emailed my VA three minutes ago, but haven’t heard back. Heading to airport now, send me confirmation this is done asap.
[Becca checks the clock. She’s heading into an afternoon-long meeting in five minutes. And the dog just busted her way through the screen door to get to the squirrels. Cool, cool.]
This is not an entirely uncommon Friday in my life/the lives of our contractors—but then, we call ourselves Don’t Panic for a reason. We know how to calmly handle the unexpected.
If every day were perfect in the life of a virtual assistant, we’d clock in for a couple of hours, schedule a few appointments, book a rental car or two, log offline and spend the rest of the day sipping lemonade and watching Shondaland shows. But life is full of mishaps and adventures, and clients often need help with last-minute, unexpected projects. That’s why they hired us!
Ducks Fly Together
It’s our job to approach those sometimes overwhelming, always urgent situations with a sense of calm, regardless of how fast we’re paddling below the surface. Imagine how it would feel as a panicked client in a moment of crisis to be met with an equal sense of fear and anxiety from your VA. It’d be awful, and you wouldn’t feel comfortable handing off the job!
Instead, even when I’m working furiously to make the impossible possible, I try to always approach my clients with a smile and a friendly voice. A quick, “Yep! We can make that happen. 🙂 I’ll report back when this is done,” note can go a long way in creating a sense of assurance and calm with someone stuck in a tight spot.
Of course, it’s not good for your well-being to always pretend you’re feeling on the up and up when internally you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off. (Duck with its head cut off? I’m mixing up my bird metaphors.) That’s why in these moments, we rely on our flock! Email for back-up, vent your concerns to an office pal, have a brief office dance party—do what you’ve got to do internally to relieve the stress and get your head focused to tackle your client’s to-do list.
Keep Calm and Paddle On
At Don’t Panic, we pride ourselves on our longstanding, super-positive relationships with our clients. And I think one of the biggest contributing factors to the strength of those relationships is each contractor’s ability to say, “Yes! I will make that happen!” when our clients are in a pinch. Sure, we’d prefer to have ample notice (Please! Give us ample notice!) and plenty of spare time, but in a crisis, we’re on your side.
You lost your wallet and think it’s at a random rest stop somewhere off I-70? Yes, Jess will help you find it. You would like an elaborately designed infographic to go live on your blog asap? Jenn can do it today. You want someone to download your archive of 15,000 tweets and pull your top 100 tweets from the last six years? Shannon is in.
And that trust, the knowledge that a tough job can get done and will get done, is what makes this team of quacks capable of providing awesome experiences for our customers.