In view of recent inquiries from colleagues, today I’d like to point you to one of my classic posts that relates to setting and managing client expectations through the policies and procedures you institute in your practice, and working with clients in a way that honors your standards and boundaries around self-care, effective business management, and quality of work and client-care.
Archive for the ‘Now THAT’S Customer Service’ Category
I had to go to a laundromat recently to wash an extra large faux fur comforter as my washer is too small for the job.
Ended up having an engaging business conversation with the owner after sharing with him how I had first gone to another laundromat and immediately turned around and walked right back out.
Because it was gross and filthy! Looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in years, flotsam left in the washers, garbage cans overflowing, every other machine broken, dirty water all over the floor, no attendant to be found. Disgusting! That’s when I Googled for alternatives and found his place.
So I drove over there, and let me tell you, it was like night and day!
Clean, gleaming surfaces everywhere you looked. Every single washer and dryer extra large and roomy… and NOT broken. A sparking clean restroom. A little “convenience store” counter to buy supplies and munchies if you like. And the owner there sweeping the floor, wiping down and checking machines, picking up lint.
He immediately recognized I was new and came right over to assist me. This was the Ritz-Carlton of laundromats compared to the first one I went to!
I told the owner how impressed I was with his place, how awful the other one was and how I had immediately left.
He thanked me so much and was truly touched as he takes great pride in his business.
He said it might be a little higher priced, but you pay for quality.
“Yesssss!” I exclaimed.
I added that I didn’t think it was all that expensive anyway (my complete wash and dry was only $7 total) because if you go to a crappy laundromat with broken, inefficient machines, you’d end up pumping in way more time and money than that.
Perfect example of how the so-called “cheap” comes out expensive.
He couldn’t agree more and told me how one time some guy from the other laundromat I had first gone to had come in and was badmouthing his place to all his customers, telling them how expensive this place was and how much cheaper it was at the other (crappy) place. The owner told the guy, “Hey, I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but my customers are free to go wherever they choose.”
I said, “But you know what? Don’t you change a thing. Because you have different markets. Their market is not YOUR market. I am very happy to pay well for a clean, safe place, state-of-art machines that actually work and do the job right the first time, and a helpful, friendly owner like you.”
So many great things about this:
- Knowing who your market and ideal client are (hint: it’s not the short-sighted, penny-pinching miser who cares about nothing but saving a buck at the expense of everything else).
- Understanding your value in relation to what your market and ideal client values.
- Pricing profitably so you can provide great quality and customer experience.
Be thinking about how this translates in your business:
- What can you do (or continue to do) in your business to give your clients and prospective clients a great experience dealing with your company?
- How does pride in your work and service show up for your clients?
- Do you see the correlation between pricing well and being able to take great care of clients?
- Are you pricing at a level that allows you do great work, focus on ideal clients and give them a great experience?
- How well to you understand who your market and ideal clients are? Who do you WANT to be your clients?
Stop with the “100% money-back guarantee” on your service. You’re not selling a ShamWow, for crying out loud! Your blood, sweat and tears do not come with a money-back offer.
Plus, there are theories of law at play here.
Ideally, you have great skills and do great work for clients. But whether someone likes the work or not is a completely different value from the fact that they engaged you to do the work.
By law, you are entitled to be paid for work you were engaged to do, as long as you made every good faith effort and held up your end of the bargain.
Whether they like the end result is something else entirely. And they aren’t entitled to 100% of their money back on that.
Plus, think about it. You’d have to hold those funds aside and deprive yourself of their use until the end of whatever period you’ve given.
Clients who don’t like your work have the same recourse we all do: to express our dissatisfaction and give the provider an opportunity to do better and/or stop working with that provider any further and take our business elsewhere. Simple as that.
It’s up to all of us to do our homework and choose service providers wisely, with quality in mind, not cheapness.
We usually get what we pay for in this life, and when clients cheap out, they shouldn’t be surprised when that’s the kind of quality they get in return. They just aren’t going to get a Rolls Royce for the price of a Ford, no way no how.
You, on the other hand, as a conscientious service provider of integrity who cares about your clients and doing good work can offer to redo any work that a client isn’t satisfied with.
But beyond that, you need to stop prostrating yourself and begging and bribing people to work with you.
You’re offering a service and knowledge work, not selling products that can be returned to the shelves.
One of the things I love about etsy are the clever, inventive ways the vendors come up with in saying thank you. This is obviously something that is cultivated as part of the etsy culture. From beautiful uses of natural materials to creative packaging to (like today) an adorable little bundle of extra beads with “Thank you” attached.
Sure, some may think it’s “just” a thank you, but that stuff is not lost on clients and customers. It’s delightful and memorable and there is obvious effort and style involved, which is what makes it more meaningful.
This kind of effort can make even more of an impact on the clients of services (where our “product” is a service which is basically invisible). I am not a fan of automating “thank you’s.” I detest it, in fact. Because the message is, you are not worth me putting myself out enough to make an effort. And it’s the personal attention and effort that is the secret sauce and makes the meaning.
What clever, creative, inventive ways can you dream up and instititute as part of your brand culture to say “thank you” to your clients for their (continued) business?
What does being of service really mean?
So often, I see Administrative Consultants thinking it means being “instant assistants” and working with clients as if they were employees. They make unrealistic (and ultimately undeliverable) promises of “24 hour” and “on-demand” service.
Being of service—true service—means being able to deliver consistently and dependably at a humanly sustainable pace. Listen, you aren’t going to be of service to anyone running around like a chicken with its head cut off, all stressed out and making mistake after mistake due to being hurried and harried and not giving yourself enough “space” to breathe and think clearly.
That’s exactly where you’ll end up attempting to be an “instant assistant,” bending over backwards trying to impossibly meet every constant demand. That thinking lacks foresight, business sense, and just plain doesn’t work.
What does work is being intentional in your business. What does that mean? It means examining your business, bringing every process, system and action to conscious thought, and making sure each contributes to your ability to deliver long-term, value-rich, purposeful, consistently reliable service.
Why are you doing things the way you do? What are your systems? How do your processes facilitate your workflow? In the big picture, do they allow you to run a dependable, sustainable practice? Do they contribute to your service and consistent dependability to clients? What systems, policies, processes and flows will? What ineffective policies and processes do you need to say “no” to in order to deliver bigger value and superior long-term service?
Being a great service provider doesn’t mean killing yourself. Being a great solo professional service provider means being a conscious business owner and effective (not instant) manager of your client workload.
(originally posted February 24, 2007)
I often see folks in our industry who think if their business and work isn’t hard, they haven’t “earned it.”
Consequently, I’ll see them making things (both consciously and subconsciously) much more difficult and complicated than need be.
This is a terribly self-sabotaging/self-defeating mindset to have.
There are lots of people in our industry who are working with 10 or more clients and yet are earning so poorly (less than $10,000 annually!) that they could actually make more money in a job.
It’s not difficult to get clients when you charge very little. The problem is that administratively supporting that many clients is a daily hardship that keeps them imprisoned at their desk and not making any money to boot.
The Case for Success
If you feel guilty about charging or things being easy in your business, here’s what I want you to understand: You can not be of consistent, reliable, top-quality service to your clients if you are struggling to keep up with the work, making it difficult and complicated, and not earning well on top of it.
If you have to work with more and more clients because you aren’t charging enough to earn what you need, you are doing them a disservice. Because the more you spread yourself thin, the less personal care, support and top quality work they get.
Building your business so that it is easy, profitable and financially successful is a BENEFIT to your clients.
When you make things easier in your business for you, you actually improve your service to clients. That is of tremendous value!
When you can easily take care of clients, you make your business more profitable (which means you will be able to stick around for them for the long-haul) and you create dramatically more time and space to give superior service and support. All of which allows you to charge a premium for your service so that you can make more money while working with fewer clients AND have more time and money for your own life.
Sometime last year, I happened upon a greasy spoon in some out of the way corner of our city that I never knew existed. My guy and I absolutely love down-home food (especially of the breakfast persuasion) and we giggle like little kids whenever we find a gem like this.
If you blink, you’ll miss the place entirely. It presents such an unassuming face from the outside. But the minute you set foot into the small, crowded room and are warmly greeted by the friendly waitress, you know it’s something special.
You would think that a teeny tiny space might be a little off-putting, but somehow it just works. You feel like you’re in a cozy cocoon bundled up with friends, even though you don’t know a soul there. The tables have pretty, embroidered cloths on them and each is brightly accentuated with a vase of fresh meadow flowers. Customers sitting at different tables laugh and chat as if they’d known each other for years.
When the menu is brought to you (along with some iced water to sip on while you peruse your choices), you can’t help but notice the personal care and attention that went into the details. The pages are stitched together by hand with some happy-colored yarn. On the cover is a photo of the owner and a letter (written as if to you, personally) about her joy in bringing good food and good spirit to her customers. The love she has for what she does is undeniable and you immediately feel cared for.
After ordering, you notice a little guestbook with pens and crayons next to the flowers. You look around and see that every table has one. You open yours up and begin reading all the precious, sometimes hilarious, notes left by previous customers raving about the food, the owner and the atmosphere (or commiserating about their hangovers). On some pages there are drawings by children whose parents, I’m sure, were grateful to have something with which to occupy their attention.
Before you know it, your food arrives and you are unexpectedly delighted by the portions, which are neither meagerly small nor gluttonously indulgent. They are just perfect and you feel you are getting way more than your penny’s worth. As soon as you sink your teeth into the first bite, you realize the food lives up to every promise of the delicious aromas that have been teasing you.
You learn from the menu that everything is made fresh each day from scratch–right down to the jam, which you can purchase to take home with you–and locally grown whenever possible. You realize you will never again be able to stomach another processed, assembly-lined Denny’s meal in your life now that you’ve had this humble, yet sumptuous, repast.
As you bring your head up for air (which is difficult to do as your dish is just soooo good), you notice a couple maps on the wall, one of the United States and one of Europe and the rest of the world. Hundreds of little pushpins are tacked all over each map. A note to the side that asks, “Where do you call home?” invites you to push your own pin into your home town. How fun! As evidenced by the maps, customers here come from far and wide.
The other thing I should mention is that this little home-away-home only serves breakfast and closes by 1:30 p.m each day (except Sundays and Mondays when they are closed). They focus on doing that one thing so spectacularly well that they’ve gained a devoted flock of customers from around the world standing in line outside the door.
As I finished my hearty, satisfying first meal there, I couldn’t help but think about what an extraordinary service and marketing example this little hole in the wall sets for businesses of any kind. Big companies could take quite a few cues from them!
Look at the creative way they used guestbooks to generate testimonials and reviews. See how they build a sense of community in a fun, interactive way with their pushpin maps. Notice how all the attention to small details evokes the feeling of home and family. The owner makes a personal connection with her photo and her message on each and every menu. You really feel the warmth and enthusiasm she has put into her labor of love–her restaurant, her customers and her cooking–and it’s contagious.
Think about the last time you did business with someone where the experience was so wonderful it really sticks in your memory. How did that business deliver that experience to you? What was it they did that made it so memorable? What were the little touches that really brought it home for you? What could you be doing in your own business to have the same effect on your clients and customers?
I don’t have all the answers on this topic; none of us does. This is a journey each of us experiments with and sees and feels for ourselves. The point is that soulful business inspiration abounds in our world every day! Be conscious and aware of your own experiences as a customer. What kind of wonderful ideas can you adapt and implement in your own business to delight those you serve?
My main issue around retainers is that toward the end of some months, I’m less than half way through some of my retainers (meaning, clients still have about half their hours unused). Then I get worried that the last week of the month is going to be a flurry of activity trying to get all the hours in. My clients know where they stand with my hours, and they also know that unused hours don’t roll over. However, I let this issue bother me and take up space in my head. How can I handle last minute requests on the very last days of the months from clients who haven’t utilized their retainers? –DB
This retainer issue is really all about standards, policies and procedures (and establishing sustainable business practices and workflows), and setting and managing client expectations around those things.
Here’s what I do in my practice…
- First, I set a standard in my business around how I work. I did not go into business to run around at non-stop hectic pace like a chicken with its head cut off. Okay, that was maybe a bit graphic, but you get my drift, lol. That kind of work pace also doesn’t serve clients well because that’s the kind of environment where you miss details and make dumb mistakes. And an overworked, stressed-out you is no good to anyone. So, my standard around the work I do for clients is that “I will create an work environment that gives me plenty of breathing room and allows me to do my best work for clients, consistently, reliably and at a humanly-sustainable, even-measured pace so that ALL my clients and their interests are given fair and equal importance.”
- Next, I translate that standard into the policies, procedures and protocols that enable me to work to that standard. For example, one policy is that I do not do same-day work requests. That’s because it creates the wrong kind expectation in clients that the minute they send you something, you’re going to drop everything you’re already doing to get it done. You can’t run and manage a business that way! And trying to do so will keep you from earning well. Likewise, when all your clients expect you to jump at the drop of a hat, you will very quickly end up disappointing them because there will be a day (sooner than you realize) when you won’t be able to deliver on that kind of promise because everyone wants their thing done NOW. This is what we call an unrealistic expectation. If you expect to work with more than one client, that’s simply not a standard or expectation that you will be able to maintain. So my procedure for that policy is that work requests must be given with a 3-day lead time. That means, clients need to plan ahead and give me at least that much time to get things done. Period.
- At the start of our business relationship, I given all clients my Client Guide which is simply a document that communicates all this information in positive, client-centric language so they see that they are dealing with a smart, professional, well-run business (which inspires their confidence in you) and that ultimately your policies, procedures and protocols are what allow you to take exceptional care of them. For clients, it’s a guide that tells them everything they need to know about how to get the most from your relationship: how things work in your business, how you will work together, what info they need to know and procedures to follow, how work requests are to be submitted, how those requests are managed and handled, and what to expect. For you, it’s a way to educate clients upfront and thereby set and manage their expectations the way you need them to be.
- I also hold a new client orientation with new clients to go over this guide, explain anything that needs elaboration, and answer further questions. These upfront steps go a long way toward a smoother and happier relationship moving forward and make working together much easier.
With regard to your specific situation, here’s how that would work if you also had a policy like mine where all work requests need to be submitted with 3-days advance notice.
- You add language to your retainer contract that specifies that with regard to end-of-month requests, they must be submitted at least three days prior to the last day of the month (our retainer contract comes with this language). The idea is to make sure clients understand that they can’t submit something on the last day, for instance, and expect that it is going to be covered under that month’s retainer, much less get done that same day. You need to have three days heads-up so as to fit things into already scheduled work and not be forced into last-minute, rush requests. If they don’t provide the proper notice, then it goes onto next month’s work and counted against those hours.
- Create a Client Guide (get my Client Guide template from the ACA Success Store) for all this information, and then distribute it to all your clients (new and current) from this point forward.
- You could stop selling hours entirely and instead use the value-based pricing methodology for administrative support that I teach. This way, you aren’t selling hours-based retainers so no one is scrambling at the end of the month to get all their hours worth. Instead, it focuses both you and the client on accomplishing goals and objectives (not using up hours), which is infinitely more productive and results-oriented.
- Of course, if you are still using hours-based retainers with clients, it the client’s responsibility to use them and plan accordingly. Just because they wait until the last second to drop the ball on you doesn’t mean you have to jump. The trick, however, is to communicate this standard/policy/protocol with them upfront, have it in your contract and Client Guide, and go over it with new clients in your orientation with them (as well as educate current clients).
You have to be able to manage the work that comes in and have time and breathing room to do it well, on your terms, at a humanly sustain pace.
When we’re rushed, we become sloppy and make mistakes, which is bad for your business reputation. It cheats your other clients out of your un-harried time and attention. It can also very quickly lead to resentment, which isn’t good for any relationship. It creates poor operating conditions which in turn negatively impact the quality of your work and service all the way around.
You’re not an indentured servant. You have a right — an obligation even — as a business owner and human being to care about doing good work and about how the work affects your morale, business image and operations.
Make sure you are instituting the protocols and procedures that allow you to create those conditions that lead to great service – for all your clients – and which take care of you as well.
If there is a pattern of clients not utilizing hours and/or waiting until the last second every month to scramble, that is something that could benefit from some deeper examination.
- Are these ideal clients? Are you taking on any ol’ client just for the money? Consider that un-ideal clients also prevent you from getting better clients. If this is a pattern in your business, it could be that there is room for improvement in prequalifying clients, being pickier about the clients you choose, clearly identifying exactly who you like working with, who you work with best, and the kind of person who benefits most from working with you, and/or better educating clients about your policies and procedures, how those things work and (just as important) why they’re in place.
- What are you doing to help clients utilize your support? Sure, it’s their responsibility to use their hours, but if you’re passively waiting to be told what to do, you’re not truly being an administrative partner. This is where my Client Consultation guide can help you. It’s incumbent upon you to be proactive, take charge of the process and figure out how to help client make use of your service as well as identify what areas of support you’ll help them with. One way to do that is by taking what you gleaned from your consultation conversation and regular meetings and coming up with a plan of support for them. This provides both of you with clearer direction and helps clients more easily give things over to you.
Beyond that, it’s up to clients, which leads to another side of the coin to consider:
If you end up with a client who has a pattern of not being able to follow your protocols, who consistently is not utilizing the service they have paid for, you may need to evaluate the fit of the relationship.
Someone not in business or solo practice might think, So what? It’s business, it’s money. But they don’t realize how awful it is to work with someone who simply isn’t using the service.
I don’t know of a single colleague who enjoys taking money from someone who isn’t utilizing their support. It’s completely de-energizing and unsatisfying.
We want to make money, yes, but we truly want to be of help and service at the same time. We want our gifts and talents to be needed, valued and used.
So if you find yourself with a client who isn’t using your support, and you feel you’ve done everything you can to help them give stuff over to you and they still can’t get with the program, it might be time to consider letting them go because it’s not doing either of you any good.
Are last-minute work requests at the end of the month something you’ve experienced with your own retainer clients? Does any of this help give you some direction on how to remedy that? Be sure to check out the comments as there is some excellent continued dialogue on this topic (and leave your own comments and questions, too).
I have enjoyed learning about becoming a better administrative support business owner through your newsletter and forms. My question now is I have a client that wants me to manage his membership database and newsletter formatting and sending. Is there a system that you have used or recommend for this? His database contains over 800 email addresses and names and is done as an excel spreadsheet. His newsletter content is coming from another source and it is expected that I manage that. Any Hints? Recommendations? Thanks –BD
I’d need a bit more information about the context of his membership database to share any thoughts there (e.g., who is added and how and when, and what are his objectives for collecting and using the information?), but as far as ezines, I always encourage clients to go with a list management, autoresponder and distribution tool such as Aweber.
Managing ezine subscribers via an excel spreadsheet is so inefficient and archaic.
Tools like Aweber not only automate the function of opting in subscribers, it provides the tools to create ezine templates, schedule them ahead of time for publication, utilize autoresponder capabilities, allow subscribers to manage their own subscriptions and the client to leverage and maximize their networking and marketing to a greater, more consistent degree.
With Aweber you can use one of the many basic ezine templates they provide for free, modify one of their templates or upload your own ezine format in HTML. It’s super flexible and easy to use.
You can also upload as many issues ahead of time as you wish and set each of them to publish automatically according to whatever dates you have indicated.
The broadcast messaging allows you schedule ezines or any other kind of one-off communications you wish to go out to your lists. And you can have as many lists as you wish: one for your ezine subscribers, one for your members, one for teleseminar registrations, etc.
The autoresponders are another great tool you get with Aweber. With autoresponders, you can set up a series of follow-up communications to go out automatically in sequential time intervals rather than specific dates.
For example, some people use autoresponders to offer e-courses. Subscribers who are interested will opt-in to the list and the autoresponders will issue the first lesson, then the second lesson 7 days after that (or however many days interval you indicate), and so on.
Aweber’s tracking, reporting and analysis tools are incredible, and it’s got the highest whitelist ratings and best delivery rates of all the other services.
So you see, simply storing names and contact info in a spreadsheet really doesn’t do much for you. With an autoresponder/list management service such as Aweber, not only are you streamlining all the work and processes that go into list building, but also automating and making dynamic use of the information and actually putting it into action. I would definitely encourage your client in that direction.
Aweber will allow him to import an existing list, but it must be washed clean first of any obsolete email addresses and the subscribers will have to confirm their desire to opt-in again.
Moving to any new system like that he can expect to lose some of the people on his current list (some experts say the rule of thumb is about 50%) so it’s not entirely painless.
However, you want to help him understand that communicating or trying to maintain a relationship with folks who aren’t interested in the first place isn’t effort that is well-placed.
Aweber will help him build his list back up and what’s better is that he’ll be gaining people who really do have an interest and want to hear from him (as opposed to continuing to send out messages to people he’s merely collected business cards from who may not have any interest in his business or hearing from him).