It’s 20 minutes past the time your client was supposed to arrive. And, as normal, they enter your workspace and immediately start talking about all the extra services they were thinking they would like to have added to their appointment today. How do you handle a situation like this? This person has been a longtime, loyal client. However, they are continuously late and then they always want an extra-long appointment with all sorts of services you hadn’t scheduled them for. This cuts into the time you have scheduled for other clients and typically leaves your day in complete disarray.
It’s important to realize that when you set boundaries with clients, you are really establishing the guidelines for how they will treat you. This means it’s up to you to allow or disallow certain treatments when they’re requested on the fly. It also means you have to be polite, but firm, about how you want to be treated. It means you have to take the lead in setting the tone for your business and drafting your own guidelines to operate by.
In other words, it’s time to take responsibility for what goes on inside the walls of your business. This means if you are running late, it’s your fault. And, if you allow people to show up late without any repercussions, they will most likely continue the same behavior. However, the second they realize their appointment has been shortened and they cannot receive the treatments they had planned for, they will most likely prioritize being on time for the next appointment. This is all about having boundaries, as well as having the courage to enforce them.
Here are a few suggestions for getting those boundaries in place. First, take time to identify the items that are not working with your clients. Follow this with a solution. This is an easy place to start. Write down what’s NOT working with your clients or your team, or even with YOU. You’ll probably have some obvious starting points. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Clients are calling or texting your personal phone.
- Solution: Determine what phone will be used for setting up appointments. I recommend a phone for business use only.
You don’t have well defined business hours during which clients may contact you.
- Solution: Establish hours during which you will answer and return calls. Hint: It doesn’t have to be all hours of the day and night.
You don’t have time to return emails and order products.
- Solution: Set up a specific time each day dedicated to answering emails and ordering products for upcoming services you will be providing.
Your clients arrive at random times for appointments.
- Solution: Communicate to each client how long you are blocking in your appointment book for their services and make sure to let them know this time cannot be extended due to your full calendar.
Now is the time to establish policies for your business. And, even more importantly, now is the time to communicate those policies to your clients. Share your new standards with your clients and those on your team. Make sure you do this from a centered, proactive place—not when you’re in a highly charged situation.
One reason people tend to be poor at setting boundaries with clients is they wait until they’re triggered by a situation. At that point, you’re not setting boundaries. You may already be upset with the client for them showing up late or demanding services you hadn’t planned for. Either way, you don’t want to go on a spree where you are blaming them and making yourself the victim. Remember, it is your business and you are responsible for what happens there.
This means you have to be the one to stick by your boundaries, policies, and standards. And this is where it gets tricky. It’s so easy to let one thing slip and then end up back in your old habits again! That’s a big “no can do.”
Start by posting a list of your new policies or standards by your desk or checkout area as a reminder. You also want to post important policies where clients can see them, such as on the front door and on the homepage of your website. And you will definitely want to mention the new policies to clients with a brief explanation of why they are necessary. In addition, you can send out a polite email explaining the change in policy to long-term clients. One thing you must keep in mind is if you’ve told your clients you don’t take business calls on weekends, then don’t make business calls on weekends either. No calling clients to ask if you can reschedule them because you forgot about another commitment.
Once you have established and communicated boundaries, you will need to be in tune to how efficiently you are enforcing them. If you have been a person who has traditionally lacked boundaries, then you need to be aware of this so you stay on track with your new policies. After all, it’s easy to get stressed during a busy day, which can result in allowing business standards to slip.
Whenever something overwhelms you, or a client situation drains you or catches you off guard, it’s not a bad thing. It’s simply a chance to ask yourself, “Where is there a lack of a standard? How do I need to deal with this in my policies and procedures?” In other words, you’re always going to be improving your business, and this is an opportunity to evolve and to take your business to a higher level. This is exciting!