Customers, or clients, can be a real pain.

Getting paid, or at the very least getting paid on time, mismatched customer expectations, quality disputes, poor customer reviews, payment retentions, bad mouthing and all manner of headaches can befall business owners in their day to day dealings with clients.

It’s easy to blame customers for not playing by the rules or for being ill informed and unreasonable.  The truth is though, it’s largely our fault as business owners and managers.

We have to take responsibility for our sub-par dealings with clients. Otherwise, our clients end up running our business and that’s not likely to end well!

We really need to think differently about the issues we’re experiencing with clients.

Too often we mindlessly blame our customers, suppliers (and staff) for the problems we experience in our business but it’s up to us to change it.

How? By following this simple, 5 step process.

1. Map out your engagement process
2. Set expectations early
3. Script interactions
4. Allocate responsibility for each step
5. Stick to your process!

Map out your engagement process

Without a procedure there’s no guarantee of consistency or repeatability.

The other benefit of physically mapping out your process is that you can literally give it to your clients and staff and explain it to them as well.

Yes, you want to give this (or a version of it) to your clients and run them through the process so they are educated about what to expect.

Set expectations early

We’ve all had a time where our expectations weren’t met, namely because nobody communicated those expectations from the start.

Think personal relationships.

Too often people ‘drift apart’ because they went into a relationship with a certain idea about how things would be and then, when those ideas aren’t met, they lose interest or end up in a dispute.

The same goes for business relationships.

Afterall business relationships, including those with clients and staff, are between people so the same rules apply.

Script your interactions

Many business owners cringe at the thought of scripting their interactions with clients.

They fear it makes exchanges robotic and lifeless.

The opposite is more often the case though, with the focus placed on the client and actively listening to them.

With the key aspects of the conversation scripted out, clients also have a consistent experience which is especially important where referrals are part of the business.

Another benefit of scripts is the ability to delegate and train staff in their use so the right people are saying the right things at the right time.

Allocate responsibility for each step

By making sure everyone is clear on their part in the process, clients receive an experience that matches their expectations (or exceeds them).

Delegating appropriately also eases the load on key sales, design and estimating staff and ensures the right people are doing the right tasks.

Follow the process you’ve created

Time and again, business owners invest time and money into developing processes and procedures only to stray from their use.

Clearly this isn’t a conscious choice but the reality is there are a lot of great processes gathering dust or hogging hard drive space that just don’t see the light of day.

The old adage that nothing changes if nothing changes still holds true so if you’re already converted to the need for a client engagement process, at least stick with it’s use! It’s important to seek feedback on the process from clients, staff and other stakeholders so you can refine and redeploy your process.

Customers expect businesses to innovate and keep things fresh so be sure to survey clients and staff regularly.

By approaching client relationships with an intent to educate, position and lead through a process, expectations have a much greater chance of being met and exceeded.

In return, all parties get what they want and the pain of client interactions reduced.