October 2013  
UpWrite Press Writing eTips

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become.”

—Buddha

Word Pair of the Month: imply, infer

This month’s words are similar in that both refer to an indirect understanding of something. However, they are different in that the understanding is shared or derived from opposite positions—either the giving end or the receiving end. While imply means “to suggest,” infer means “to deduce.” Writers and speakers imply, meaning they give out information, hinting at something. Readers and listeners infer, meaning they receive information, drawing a conclusion from it. (Here’s a hint for keeping these words straight: When you infer—you draw in the information.)

October Writers’ Forum Question

How do you handle “flaming” letters and emails from customers or clients?

Customer complaints are part of the game when you run a business, but with the advent of the Internet and social media, sometimes unhappy customers can make their comments a little too public—and a little too nasty. Here are some interesting responses about how to handle such public complaints when they get a little hot.

Sarah Chase is an HR manager in Newark and offers this sage advice:

The bad thing about social media is that people get angry and write without taking time to cool down and monitor their language. This often results in some really vicious flaming about a disappointment in a product or a service. We are lucky that our company is a face-to-face, client-based business, and we try to head off such comments by maintaining a close relationship with our customers. We encourage them to contact us directly with any concerns. However, sometimes someone just wants to vent “out loud.” In that case, we respond calmly, publicly expressing our commitment to satisfaction, and asking the customer to please contact us directly so we can solve the problem. The public part is important. Let other viewers see that you want to deal fairly with every customer. Then do it.

Shawn Davidson of Pittsburgh sent similar advice and added this:

The quicker you can deal with problems, the easier it is to defuse them. We have one person on staff whose job it is to handle this type of situation. We also try to head off issues by having an emergency plan for complaints, including possible problems and best responses. This saves us a lot of time.

Bethany DuBois in Baton Rouge suggests the customer is always right—even when loud:

My advice? Be contrite. Say, “I’m sorry” or “How can I help you?” Sometimes all a customer wants is to know that someone is listening. Whenever possible we try to connect with that person on a human level, whether it’s with a phone call or by email. Explain the company’s side or position, but bend the rules when necessary to make a customer happy. Generally we make sure that the resolution is presented in the same forum in which the complaint was issued, so others can see how we handled the problem.

Finally, Susan Wu of San Francisco notes that some flamers are simply hard to placate:

Be professional, be cool, be sympathetic, but if the flamer continues to rail against the company, be firm. Your best defense is a decorum policy published on your site or blog: “Any offensive, obscene, derogatory, or inappropriate comments will be deleted from posts.” This declaration protects you from being accused of freedom-of-speech infringements. As long as you have stated your terms up front, you have the right to eliminate and block really outrageous comments.

A Final Thought

Does your shoulder ache? It could be mouse-inflicted muscle fatigue. Just that little movement of inching the computer mouse across a pad can cause serious shoulder pain. One solution is to place the mouse pad way forward on your work surface so you can rest your entire arm on the desk while you move the mouse. If you’re a right-handed person, use the mouse on the left for a while (vice versa for lefties). And always take time to rest, stretch, and shake your hand every so often. This can prevent muscle pain and carpal tunnel syndrome—problems that repetitive tasks can cause.

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