Perimeter training is when a dog is taught to stay within a boundary. I was reading about this today and it got me thinking about setting boundaries in our businesses. Although this post is geared towards dog trainers, it applies to any business owner, as we can quickly make exceptions for clients to keep them happy. This can be an essential part of client care in certain situations, however, it is important you outline some boundaries for yourself to prevent burnout and to help manage difficult clients. During the start up phase in your business it is normal to want to accommodate every client request to help you to gain the business. I am here to tell you that the sooner you set the boundaries, the greater success you will see in your business.
Give them an inch and they will take a mile
This is a good mantra to have with every new client. Do not mistake this with poor customer service as you can deliver excellence without making sacrifices. In my experience, every client who has asked to bend the rules, extend exceptions to our policies/procedures, or wanted a service at a lower rate for whatever reason, has turned out to be a high-maintenance and difficult client. I am not saying to never do this, but wait until you have developed a relationship with them as they should earn this privilege for when it is possible.
Set a schedule
I do not know how often this happens in other industries, but it is a common problem dog trainers have with clients; being asked to work outside of business hours. Schedule yourself and set your business hours no matter what stage of business growth you are in. In the beginning, it was not uncommon for me to make exceptions to this. I would work around the client’s schedule to get the opportunity to work with them. If I did it all over, I would still do this, however, as I began to get busier, I did not set a schedule soon enough. This resulted in little downtime and I did not enjoy the work as much as I had previously. I learned I needed to set my schedule, stick to it and book within it. And amazingly, the clients never had a problem making this work and I was rarely asked to schedule outside of this.
It is vital that you have policies for your business as it sets clear expectations and guidelines for the clients regarding the services. This avoids confusion, miscommunication and helps to resolve conflict more effectively. If you have not already, develop policies for refunds and cancellations. Also be sure to provide documentation for training services that clearly outlines the expectations for the clients and requirements. This may outline equipment, vaccinations, or classroom requirements. Many of our policies have been created from disagreements with clients. We do our best to learn from each situation and how to avoid them in the future, so aim to better communicate our expectations and requirements to avoid the same outcome. They must be clear and concise to ensure there is no miscommunication and they must be presented upfront so the client is not surprised.
We all know that life happens and we want to ensure we are always being fair. This means that if a client has a viable reason that you should make an exception. This is especially true if it is the first time the situation has happened. For example, we have a late fee policy at our dog daycare. However, if a client is running a few minutes late and they are typically always on time, we are not going to charge them the late fee. If they do it again shortly after, we waive the fee, but ensure the late fee shows up as a zero cost on their receipt. They are then told we will need to charge them the next time it happens, and if it does, we must be sure to charge them. If we do not, we show them that they can ignore our policies with no penalty.
If a client continues to ignore your policies, it may be time to say goodbye. This can be done in a professional matter. We always try to refer them to another business and let them know they may better address their needs. Difficult customers drain your energy and bring unneeded negativity into your business. Protect yourself and your team and do not be afraid to remove them if they are a constant struggle to keep happy. If a client is requiring an unnecessary amount of our time and does not respect our boundaries, it is time to consider parting ways.
They will respect you more
Being upfront right at the start demonstrates that you are a professional business. By outlining your policies and being clear on expectations, clients respond to this by respecting your time. They understand that you treat everyone as equals and that they are not the only one you are working with. It creates a much stronger relationship and will improve their overall compliance. When you set boundaries and provide clear expectations, all while delivering exceptional customer service, you will begin the attract the right clients and experience greater success.
Do you have stories to share or additional thoughts/ideas on this topic? As always, share them in the comments below!