Setting Boundaries for Clients
By Gail Doby, ASID
Co-Founder of Gail Doby Coaching & Consulting
You owe it to your clients to do your very best for them. You owe it to them to listen and be respectful of their needs and wishes. You don’t, however, owe them every minute of your day. For the sake of your productivity and sanity, it’s important to be clear with clients about how and when you work and to set boundaries around communication and your availability.
Clients, too, often have demanding jobs which bleed into their personal time. So it’s understandable that they may assume you can be reached 24/7, unless you specify otherwise. At the very start of a project, go over with them what are your normal work days and hours. If your client has limited availability, you may need to make exceptions for face-to-face meetings or onsite visits, but try to keep those to a minimum.
More of a problem is setting boundaries around communication. Discuss with clients how they prefer to be contacted and communicate, by phone or by email. In the case of email, establish what is a reasonable time to expect a reply, for instance, the next business day. Also, if you have a regularly scheduled time when you check and respond to emails, such as the first thing in the morning or late afternoon, let clients know that, too.
I strongly recommend that you not offer texting as an option for communicating, as it can be very disruptive and difficult to control. You may want to make an exception in cases when either you or the client is running late or is not able to make an appointment. However, once you open that Pandora’s box, it can be difficult to shut again. You should also consider whether you want to give out your mobile number to a client or have them phone into a system that redirects calls to your device.
For clients who are comfortable with technology, there are a number of user-friendly applications that allow you to set up a cloud-based folder or shared work space through which clients at their convenience can leave comments and post questions on proposed designs, color choices, products and such that you have uploaded to the platform. Some also include calendar components for sharing the project schedule and setting up appointments. This can be an effective way to keep the decision-making process moving ahead while attending to other tasks.
Exceptional client care is key to the success of any interior design business. That doesn’t mean, though, that you need to be at a client’s beck and call. Set clear expectations in the beginning, then follow through and be responsive in a timely manner. The quality of your interactions is more important than the quantity.