Setting healthy boundaries with Clients [How do you do it?] Set them before you get in trouble

customer service Nov 26, 2021

Setting Healthy Customer Service Boundaries

by Victoria Lewis

Have you ever felt like the more you give the more people take or no matter how much you give, it is never enough?  Being in the customer service industry can often leave us feeling underappreciated and wondering if it is really worth all the stress. If that resonates with you, I want to share with you some of my top tips to restore your faith in humanity. 

What is reasonable for the customer to expect?

When you are looking for the answer to that question the answer will not only depend on who you ask, I believe it will change depending on the circumstance. What I really mean by that is, are you the one who is providing customer service or wanting to get good customer service from someone else. Far too often we ourselves can seem hypocritical when it comes to this topic. This may be difficult, but can you take an honest look at yourself and say if you have ever expected a company to go against their policies for your own self-interest? 

What is customer service anyway?

I think we all have an idea that customer service means "serve me".  Years ago there was a saying going around that bragged, the customer is always right. Well, that was before we created a country full of narcissists. So, to really get into this, I needed to find out what other people thought Customer Service meant.  So of course, I googled it. I actually was surprised that I went 3 pages in and still didn't agree with any. It seems to me that a more useful definition should be what I found on Wikipedia for their definition of Customer Support:

They said, "Customer support is a range of customer services to assist customers in making cost-effective and correct use of a product. It includes assistance in planning, installation, training, troubleshooting, maintenance, upgrading, and disposal of a product."

How to make your customer service foolproof

Using my own business, for example, when I meet with a potential client, I lay out all of my processes, policies, expectations, and they have the choice to agree to follow them or not. If they don't want to do things my way, pay my prices, or follow my professional advice, they simply will not be a good fit for my company and we will not be able to serve them.   Now on the customer's side, I have laid out their expectations and I do need to follow through with what I said I would. Sounds simple and clear cut right?  I wish.

There have been too many times to count where a client will ask for things that are not in their package or want to meet outside of services hours, say they thought certain services or products were free, the list goes on...

Like anyone would, my 1st impulse, is to be offended, but then I quickly realize that won't help the situation so then, I ask myself, was it clear in written form, did they get a copy of all our policies and services, did I cover it in our meeting, do I need to adjust something?

Well, 99.9% of the time the answer is yes.  It really isn't my fault.  Now, before I make it seem like I think I/my business is perfect, on the contrary, but because I have asked myself these questions a million times, which is whenever I have run into these problems, I am quick to add a new clause to my contracts, create a system, or develop a new process to limit the times it will be our fault, which inevitably costs us money and/or time.

I have also learned in my business, to continually remind my clients of what is in their packages, what our policies are during specific phases of their planning, and when they ask for something outside of their services, I give them an alternative for them to do it themselves 1st and let them know if it doesn't work for them, I can send them a quote for how much it will cost. These few steps have eliminated about 80% of the client asking for things outside of what they should. 

Where do you start?

Figure out where most of your issues are coming from and consider adjusting the way you handle them. A good example is, I was getting a lot of DM from people who didn't want to pay our rates but instead wanted to negotiate our services. Even though I know that is many people's preferred method of communication.  I started to tell people our process is for them to send me an email and I would send them a form to fill out to get information on our services.  Although it certainly cut down the number of leads we were getting, it actually filtered out the leads that were not going to buy in the first place and saved me a lot of aggravation. 

The ugly truth about some people.

Because I am an extremely logical person, I analyze everything. My process of thinking is usually from what is morally right and wrong. With that being said, it typically takes a while for me to see things from a different perspective, and even then, it takes me more time to believe that people could have a sinister intention. Even though I hate to believe it when you remove all possibilities of human error and misunderstanding that is exactly what you are left with. 

It is hard to accept, but some people actually enjoy trying to push people's buttons, get stuff for free, manipulate to get what they want and they will sometimes stop at nothing to get it.  Believe me, I have experienced more than my fair share of these situations. This is exactly why I have narrowed it down to not be my fault 99.9% of the time. My contracts, my planning process, my staff training, my systems all are created to protect our company from having difficult client situations.

This is what business should do.  Create clear expectations on both sides.

Now the question is if you create these same types of guidelines, will YOU stick to your own policies? I can tell you honestly, it is hard.  That is why I hired an assistant that I send everyone through. Because I own the business, it is easy for them to ask me to do something outside of our agreement. Having that extra layer of someone to go through does help reduce those issues as well. 

Customer service or support isn't easy, it takes a while.  There is not 1 formula that fits everyone.  It is important for you to know that every company no matter how big or small has the same issues.  Don't take it personally.  Instead, think of it as an opportunity to see how you can clarify a policy so it doesn't end up the same way.

Lighten up a bit!

With that being said, that may help you avoid future situations, but might not make you feel better right now. I want to leave you with something that may make you chuckle a bit.

I recently watched a super funny YouTube Chanel that pokes fun of people who are over the top and expect things not only for free but the seller/service provider, give even more than free. If you could use a laugh or even just validation about how crazy people can be check here out: Charlotte Debro.

I have people all the time call me and ask for free services.  I also have clients push the envelope quite often.  I don't know if they are thinking, "It doesn't hurt to ask." You know what I think, it can hurt to ask.  The things I may have done for free as a surprise or to be kind, now, since they aren't in their package, I am not going to do.  It can be very insulting and even hurtful.  

You know, it never fails, the times I think I should put my foot down and stand firm on my policies, but bend the rules for one reason or another, it always turns into me kicking myself and saying, I should have known better. 



As business owners, we have to remember, we have policies for a reason. They should be put in place to protect us, our peers, our team members, as well as our clients. 

Rember that boundaries are there to protect us, our business, or staff, and the client. If you see a fence around something, it is to keep people out or something in.  That is exactly what our boundaries are made for. 

To set healthy boundaries, take some time to see where you seem to continually get into trouble or are faced with stressful situations. 

Action Steps:

  Ask yourself

     1.  How did that happen?

            a. Did they assume something that wasn't clear?

            b.  Did you give in a particular area and now they want more?

            c.  Did you leave something up to individual interpretation?

     2.  How can you avoid it in the future? 

           a. Can you send reminders?

           b. Can you have them initial a clause in your contract?

     3.  What are the red flags you can look for to avoid the problem?

          a. Are they testing you early on by asking for things that seem small?

          b. Are they pretending they don't remember contract details?


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