I’m lucky to work with fantastic clients.
Whether in my design business or my coaching business, I have rarely had unpleasant clients. But let’s be honest, if we’ve been in business anytime at all, we’ve all had those moments with clients that weren’t ideal. Even the nicest people can become stressed and demanding at times, especially when they are paying a lot of money for your service, or dealing with a tight deadline, or making an emotional purchase.
But I want to throw something out there for you to think about: Maybe it’s not the client’s actions but yours, that are causing the problem. Now before you roll your eyes or tell me that I just don’t know your particular horrible client, give me a minute to show you 10 ways that you just might be part of the problem. But the good news is that you can be the solution, too. These tips don’t just apply to interior design clients or coaching clients. No matter what business you’re in, these ideas can help you make your relationship with your clients better than ever!
1. You aren’t setting boundaries.
If your client starts calling, texting, or emailing you at all hours of the day and night, what do you do? I’m not talking about an emergency, but just general questions. If you answer those calls and texts, you’re saying that working at this hour is right for you. We want to provide the very best customer service experience to our clients, but not at the expense of our personal lives. Remember that you’re a professional, and what professional (doctor, lawyer, teacher) responds at 11pm on a Saturday unless it is truly a life-threatening emergency? You should have something in your “welcome packet” that spells out exactly when you will be available to your client and then address this verbally with them in the very first meeting after they have signed a contract to work with you. This way you’re setting the expectations from day one. Then the first few times they contact you after hours, you have a few options. You can respond with a “Thanks, I’ll get back to you with an answer tomorrow/Monday.” That will help set the tone and will train the client that you don’t work 24/7. I think it also works well to not answer the text after hours at all and then respond with an email or text the next work day. Then you can answer their question or set a meeting time for finding a solution to their problem. If the client continues to text, call, and email after hours, you can sit down with the client and explain that you love working with her, but that you need time with your family, too. I think if you set boundaries personally and you aren’t checking your texts and emails after hours, then it will take care of itself. And once you set boundaries, stick to them. If you give in, you’re giving people permission to contribute to your lack of balance.
2. You’re acting like a friend.
Let me explain that – it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be friendly, but you aren’t friends with your clients. At least not at first. Yes, there are a few clients that become my close personal friends, but they aren’t all that way. And the ones that are my dearest personal friends are great at respecting our personal/professional boundaries. I think it’s important to remember that these amazing people are your customers first and foremost and you are their service provider. Staying professional helps prevent many potential issues. For example, you might start thinking that you want to “help them” or give them a “deal” by not charging for all of your time or service. Or on the flip side, you might start relaxing your standards or customer service because they are your “friends”. Neither option is a good idea. They paid you for a professional service and that’s exactly what they should get, including deadlines that are met and you keeping your word. This is business and you are in it to make money. They are engaging you to get their money’s worth. Remember that. And if your client happens to actually be a friend of yours, try to separate the two relationships in your mind as you work with them and even let them know that while you are working together, you are their service provider, not their bestie.
3. Your contract isn’t clear.
Everything that could be an issue should be spelled out ahead of time in your letter of agreement or service contract. How many revisions will you allow to the interior design? How many coaching sessions do they get during a specified time and do they get email support too? Exactly when will you get paid? Anything that could be an issue over the course of your professional relationship should be addressed in the contract. And you should go over it line by line with them before you both sign. I know this is a pain, but most people don’t actually read contracts they sign and it will save you from major challenges and disagreements in the future.
4. You aren’t disciplined.
So you have the contract, and everything is all spelled out. But did you let something slide because you didn’t want to confront your client with an issue? Or did you let your own processes drop because you got behind? Did you miss a deadline, or three? Did you cancel or reschedule a coaching call (or several) because you didn’t feel up to it? Did you decide not to teach your afternoon yoga session and clients showed up only to find a sign on the door that you weren’t there. You have to be very disciplined in your business and you have to be a person of your word, including with deadlines, appointments, and schedules. It isn’t always fun or easy to do what you say, but it’s part of being a business owner or at least a successful business owner and also part of being an emotional adult. If you can’t keep your word to all your clients, be careful what you promise. Say no when you are already too booked so you don’t overcommit and under deliver. It may sound exciting to say yes to every knew “opportunity” that comes along, but ask yourself when it’s time to follow through, will you really want to.
5. You didn’t own your mistakes.
We ALL make mistakes, it’s just the nature of being in business. But it’s how you deal with those mistakes that makes or breaks your company. Good communication is absolutely key and offering an action plan to make things right will result in a long-term loyal customer who trusts you. If you are an interior designer and have to buy that sofa that came in the wrong size, so be it. Donate it to charity or put it in your own home. The way you deal with mistakes is going to decide if your client is reasonable, and how they are going to talk about you in the future to other prospective clients! It’s that important, so always make it right. Think of it not as lost dollars, but as an investment in a long-term, profitable client relationship.
6. You’re not communicating effectively.
How do you communicate with your clients? It’s so important to constantly keep your client updated on the progress of their project or their personal coaching progress and what you’re doing to keep everything rolling. You should have a scheduled weekly update via email or a digital platform if you are providing a service like interior design or architecture. If you are coach or consultant, be sure to follow up promptly after all sessions and meetings with notes and a plan for next steps. And don’t underestimate the power of regular phone calls and meetings, too. This is often when clients talk about continuing with you for future sessions or starting a new project. Clients want to know that you’re doing everything you can to make their project (or make them) a success. If you don’t keep them updated, clients may think you aren’t working enough or that you have dropped the ball in some way, or that you have taken all their money and you are using it to vacation and drink fruity cocktails on a beach somewhere! Not communicating with your clients is going to add a lot of stress to your relationship and with potential for stress in business anyway, why make it worse. A lot of the stress is totally avoidable if you communicate consistently and clearly. My first business coach told me that if you are keeping all your current clients cared for and in the loop, the only incoming calls and emails you should have to your business are new clients. I think that’s a great goal to have, don’t you?
7. You’re texting with your client.
Speaking of communication, be careful about texting with your clients particularly for making decisions. You want a record of any approvals that are made, any explanations that are needed, any appointments that are scheduled and especially any issues that need to be addressed. If your clients are in the habit of texting (or you are), it works great for appointment reminders, giving directions to meeting locations, and non-critical comments. But be sure you regularly (as in after every session of texting about key information or at least at the end of every week) send a wrap-up email that reviews any decisions or conversations made by text in the previous few days. That way, you can put that email in your client folder and save it for any future issues that may come up. I also take pictures of texts if there is ever a time that clients approve things or send important information by text so I have a copy of it for future reference. I email those images of the texts to myself and put them in the client file as well. And this isn’t just to protect me. It’s to protect the client, too. As much as I may not like to admit it, there have been times that I agreed to something by text and then remembered it differently. Having images of our text exchanges held me accountable, too.
8. You didn’t really listen.
You may remember me saying this before, but sometimes we listen to our clients (sort of), and sometimes we really hear them. Did the client tell you what her budget was, but you thought “she’s definitely got more money than that”? You didn’t listen. Did he tell you that he has four dogs and then you presented a stunning silk sofa? You didn’t listen. Did the client tell you what issue they had with their business or their life but you had an agenda of what you wanted to coach them on instead, you didn’t listen. The key to having a satisfied customer is listening and then delivering top-notch service on what you heard.
9. You got angry or frustrated because you didn’t manage your thoughts.
Yes, clients can say things that if we allow it, can make us mad, frustrated or sad. But what we need to know and understand, is that their words didn’t actually make us feel a certain way, it’s our thoughts about those words that caused our feelings. That’s right, only we can make ourselves feel a certain way. So what we made those words mean to us is what triggered our feelings. For example if a client said “Oh I thought we were meeting at 10am and it’s 10:15”and we made that mean that they were angry or disappointed or thought we were irresponsible, then we of course we will feel bad and that can lead to an unpleasant situation. We have to be the person in control of our own thoughts and feelings in any situation, even confrontation, with our clients. It is always more pleasant to err on the side of thinking they didn’t mean anything negative. It’s also important to realize, even if they are mad, they can’t make us feel any way, unless we allow it. It’s easy for clients to feel stressed when they are spending a lot of money or making changes personally that put them out of their comfort zone. And yes sometimes they may say things that seem unpleasant. You have to be the calm, cool, and collected person, even when that’s difficult, if you don’t want your emotions hijacked and a lot of time wasted thinking about what they said and what you are making it mean. If you get angry, it will only escalate the situation and add stress to both their life and yours.
10. You took it personally.
So the client didn’t like your selections, or she said that your subcontractor didn’t finish the cabinets correctly. Or you’re a coach and she says you didn’t solve her problem or help her feel better. That’s business, not a personal attack on you. And even if it was mean as a criticism, so what? That’s business and life! Yes, you sweated for hours over the selections and you love every single one, and maybe that subcontractor is your favorite cousin. Or you know that you gave the client the best tools and information you possibly could to help them help themselves in finding a solution to their problems, they just didn’t use it to do the hard work on themselves. Likely the client isn’t saying you’re an idiot if they point out a problem or say they want something different. It’s business, not a judgment on you as a person. But even if it is, that’s their belief, not yours. The less you take things personally, the more you’ll be able to guide your client to the right thing. And at the end of the day, you can’t make someone feel a certain way, other than yourself. So if they go home mad, as long as you provided great service, there is nothing you can do about how they feel, so as Taylor Swift would say…”shake it off”.
So out of these 10 areas, how did you score?
Are there ways that you can help avoid the crazy in your projects or help your clients be less challenging? Make a plan for implementing these tips to make your business better this year. And let me know in the comments section below which points resonated with you the most.