How to Set Boundaries with Clients: 6 Simple Strategies

Last Updated: 

June 7, 2023

Have you ever come across the phrase “the client is always right; the client knows best”? The quote is attributed to Carl Rogers, a therapist, who talked about patients knowing how best to describe or instruct doctors on their ailments. 

The almost identical term and well known phrase “the customer is always right”, coined by the famous store owner Harry Gordon Selfridges is also very popular. Both phrases have been used to convince employees to put customers and clients first and provide a higher quality of service. If you follow the rules of marketing this would result in brand loyalty, higher sales and ultimately better revenues. 

Key takeaways on setting boundaries with clients

  1. Define Clear Terms and Put Them in Writing: Establish written agreements that outline the scope, duration, price, and additional charges to ensure clarity and mutual understanding.
  2. Have a Good Idea of Your Boundaries: Understand your company's culture, values, and preferred ways of working to set and protect your boundaries effectively.
  3. Put Your Employees First: Prioritise the well-being and support of your employees, as their satisfaction and dedication will translate into better service for clients.
  4. Appoint a Client Liaison: Designate a dedicated individual or team to handle client interactions, build trust, and ensure effective communication while minimising disruption.
  5. Say 'No' When You Need To: Set reasonable expectations and communicate limitations with clients, even if it means turning down certain requests. Clients respect honesty and clarity.
  6. Be Willing to Walk Away: If a client becomes abusive, refuses to pay invoices, or poses a significant risk to your business, be prepared to take legal action and terminate the relationship. Protect your values and boundaries.
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Why This Mindset Does Not Always Work

In the case of Harry Selfridge, “the customer is always right”, the initial promise was directed at patrons. This was to convince them that they as customers would always have a positive and good experience. While simultaneously trying to give employees a new perspective and mindset to provide that higher quality and service.

Some have argued that this mindset can lead to poorer customer service, due to the stress that employees may experience while trying to fulfil the customer or clients' wishes and keep them happy. 

The other fact not so often cited is that:

  • Some clients and customers are too demanding and may be difficult.
  • Some clients can be deliberately abusive toward employees making unreasonable demands. 
  • Some Customers or clients if not managed correctly will hurt your business.
  • Some clients are wrong, they often think they know better than trained employees.

This is why it is so important to set good boundaries and have a strategy for managing clients.

Strategies For Setting Good Boundaries With Clients

1. Define Clear Terms and Put Them in Writing

Terms and conditions are not just useful for products and services, but setting these for clients will help all parties be clear about what to expect and when. A written agreement that explicitly states and defines the scope, duration, price, and extra charges for any extra services will ensure that all parties know their responsibilities toward each other. Once written its good practice to where possible or appropriate to get both parties to sign the agreement. It is also your responsibility as a business to stick to this agreement and follow through on your promises.  

2. Have a Good Idea of Your Boundaries

Knowing your boundaries as an individual and as a business is important. Ask questions of your team and employees about the culture you have as a company. How you like to work, the best ways to communicate internally and externally, who, what, when and why. Once you have learned these, put strategies in place to protect and support your employees. A business that holds to its values and has its employees buy into and champion those values will encourage clients and customers to respect those boundaries. 

3. Put Your Employees First

Despite conventional wisdom of putting the client or customer first, put your employee first. The strategy behind this is that by putting your employees first, they in return will put clients and customers first. Almost all businesses have one or experienced a client who is unreasonable and belligerent. Despite employees providing high quality service these types of clients are always problematic, having your employees back and supporting them will always pay off in the long run and benefit your business. Happy and supported employees will go the extra mile and provide good service and make your customers happy. 

4. Appoint a Client Liaison 

Even when clients are manageable and easy to work with it is good to appoint an individual or a team that specifically handles and manages all client contact. Someone that the client can build a good relationship with and trust, to ensure that appropriate communication is passed on and delivered. This ensures the minimum amount of disruption to your business and your employees especially when you have troublesome clients or customers who may like to call or communicate frequently and cause disruption. It is also important to support these client facing individuals so that their boundaries are respected. Outlining when they are reachable, by want means they can and cannot be contacted, enforcing good practices like ensuring that they are not answering emails or calls over the weekend and other non-business hours.

5. Say ‘No’ When You Need To

It may be hard to do especially if they are a big client and bring in the most revenue, however, when you say ‘no’ in a positive manner it shows the value for yourself, your business and your client. Setting reasonable expectations from the start and communicating them effectively is always something that clients and customers will respect in the long run. Short term disappointment will likely be overcome by long-term client satisfaction and value. 

6. Be Willing to Walk Away

There is a fine line between providing value and being taken advantage of. In worst case scenarios if a client is being abusive, not paying their outstanding invoices, or hurting your business. Then there is no other remedy than to file legal action and walk away. This shows value for yourself, your business and your employees. It also communicates a clear message to everyone that this kind of behaviour and boundary pushing or overstepping will not be tolerated.

Remember that having a good strategy of client and customer boundaries is also about setting and protecting the culture you have established in your business. This culture helps you achieve your company goals and so creates value for you, your clients and your customers. 

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