Are your Customers Always Testing Your Boundaries?

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Do you have customers who always seem to work on the ‘give them an inch and they’ll take a mile’ principle?

The truth is that most businesses have at least a couple of customers like that. Often it creeps up on you until you suddenly realise that you’ve delivered way more than a customer has paid for and you’re not quite sure how it happened. Over-servicing has a nasty habit of catching you out like that!

The good news is that there is usually a very simple solution to this. Here are a few classic examples that may feel familiar to you along with some tips on what you can do to improve things now, and to prevent similar blurring of your boundaries in the future.

Constant Availability

Technology today means that we are incredibly accessible.  It’s so easy for customers to contact us in the evenings or at weekends. And they can do it in so many ways. I often come out of a meeting to find that I have emails and voicemails to respond to, plus messages via text, Facebook, WhatsApp and LinkedIn.

Sometimes it can feel as though customers just expect us to be available 24 x 7 and by every communication channel known to man!

If this is something that frustrates you about your business then here are 2 key tips to help you:

  1. Make your boundaries clear. If you build this into your process every time you take on a new customer it just becomes a natural part of agreeing how you’ll work with them. Let them know at the outset what hours you’ll be contactable and through which channels. Clarify what your response times will be and whether that is a guaranteed service level or a general guideline. The main reason that customers push these boundaries is because nobody has ever actually told them where the boundary is!
  2. Don’t think you have to respond to everything straight away. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of believing that customers will be disappointed if we don’t react within minutes. If you’re asking a question on eBay or Amazon that may be the case but unless you’re running that kind of instant, online sales business then good customers are very happy to wait a sensible amount of time for a reply. Think about yourself as a customer – when you send a business email you rarely expect an instant response. Well your own customers are just the same. Your service needs to be good, but that doesn’t mean it has to be instantaneous!

Expecting More Than They Paid For

Have you ever had that situation where a customer has asked for a minor addition or amendment to what they signed up for, and you thought it was such a small thing that you added it in without charging them? You probably didn’t even mention to them that it was outside the scope of what they’d paid for either.

And then there’s one more really small request, and it’s still trivial, so you still deliver. But this keep happening until you find yourself in a situation where you’re hugely over-delivering. And often you feel as though the customer is really ungrateful for all the additional service they’re receiving. In fact you probably feel like they’re taking advantage of you!

Here are the reasons and solutions for this one:

  1.  Don’t assume they know. This service creep usually happens because you over-delivered but you didn’t tell the customer that’s what you were doing. It’s easy to think that customers will remember exactly what they signed up for but the truth is that many of them quickly forget the details. If you’ve given them lots of information and detail during the sales or sign-up process they simply won’t retain all of that information. Yes they’ve got your contract which lays it all out for them (hopefully!) but let’s be honest – how often do any of us look back at those contracts? What customers do instead is they keep asking for things that they think might be included and they assume you’ll let them know when they’ve reached the limit of what they’ve paid for. If you don’t tell them they’ll just keep asking!
  2. So tell them! Make it a habit to tell customers that you’re delivering something extra the first time it happens. You can choose at that stage whether or not you will charge them for the extra work. Even if you choose not to charge them, letting them know that what they’re asking for is beyond the scope of your agreement with them will quickly put a stop to similar future requests. Or at a minimum they’ll expect to be charged extra next time round. An example would be something like … “just to let you know, this isn’t actually included in the package you’ve signed up for so I should really charge you extra for it”.

They’re Just Naughty Children!

When it comes to customer and supplier relationships there’s a real element of parent and child involved. When these relationships go wrong it’s often because you as the supplier have allowed the customer to become the parent in the relationship so they’re telling you what to do. But that’s not how it’s supposed to work is it? Yes you have to give your customers great service and deliver well on what you’ve promised but it’s your business so you have the right to deliver it on your terms.

You need to step up and be the parent. When you realise that your customers are a bit like mischievous children then you also understand that’s it’s their job to test your boundaries! But it’s your job to be firm, clear and confident about exactly where those boundaries stop. This is the way to stop customers walking all over you or expecting more than they’ve paid for. Don’t expect your customers to know what the boundaries are unless you’ve stated them clearly. Understand too, that any time you work beyond those boundaries you set the expectation for your customer that the boundary has been extended.

This is something that I work on with a lot of my business coaching clients because blurred boundaries can lead to huge amounts of time being given away for free which of course massively dents profitability. if you know that you’re hugely over-servicing your clients but you can’t work out how to stop that without upsetting them all then get in touch and let’s make a plan to change things.

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