Clients who want you at their beck and call can do more than just frustrate you—they also prevent you from giving exceptional customer service to your other clients. So, it’s critical to (tactfully) nip that behavior in the bud before it becomes a major issue for you.
As such, here are four practical tips to prevent needy clients from derailing your business:
1. Establish communications preferences and response expectations from the start
If your clients don’t know when your working hours are, how to best reach you or how long they can expect to wait before hearing from you, they’ll be left to interpret it for themselves. You might want to include these details on an FAQ page on your website, put them in a contract or provide them to clients in some other form. Regardless of how you communicate expectations, clarity is the key to establishing a business relationship that will work for you.
In particular, consider setting some rules regarding texts from clients. Text messages tend to be especially disruptive—and most people expect recipients to respond immediately. That combination can cause you to lose focus on critical tasks you’re trying to complete and quickly result in you falling behind on your work. Another drawback is texts are more difficult than emails to put “on the record.” Also, they make it tough to decipher the tone of the message. A brief, to-the-point text sent during a time-crunch can come across as brash and insensitive.
2. Explain the difference between “urgent” and “non-urgent” situations
If you leave this up to your clients to establish, you may find everything is an emergent situation. A question in October about upcoming changes to the vehicle mileage deduction next year is something that doesn’t demand an immediate callback, whereas a client receiving notification of an imminent audit by the IRS requires quick attention. Make sure your clients understand which types of inquiries and issues constitute an emergency and warrant a fast response.
3. Set a precedent to reinforce the boundaries you’ve set
Let's say you've told clients you will usually respond to non-urgent questions within the next two business days and that your hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Resist the urge to answer non-emergent emails, phone calls and texts over the weekend or at 10 p.m. on a weeknight. Even when it might be convenient for you to respond off-hours, breaking your own rules will set a precedent that...well...your rules are meant to be broken. If you expect clients to respect your boundaries, it's vital that you respect them, as well.
4. Be selective about who you accept as clients
Before accepting new clients, screen them to determine if they'll be a good fit. You should not only check to make sure the services they want will match what you provide, but also tune into possible signs of "high maintenance" tendencies. When a prospective client has worked with several accounting or tax firms in the past and tells you that none of them were competent, ask why. You'll want to figure out whether the providers were really that incapable or if perhaps the client had unrealistic expectations.
Also, consider prospective customers’ attitude and demeanor; if they’re showing disrespect or seem argumentative, proceed with caution. Most people put their best foot (and face) forward at the start, so if they’re difficult now, it could indicate a rocky road ahead.
Naturally, as you serve clients, you'll face the occasional challenge. But by taking measures to keep demanding ones from becoming a drain on your time and patience, you can alleviate many of the potential problems. You should expect clients to need you—after all, that's why you're in business. However, "needy" ones ultimately will prevent you from having the time and focus necessary to grow your business and deliver exceptional service to all of your clients.