Setting Boundaries and Implementing Change with Customers

It’s so cliche to start off a blog with “I always hear from business owners that…” But I really do hear this from business owners.

None of you know how to set boundaries.

I barely know how to set boundaries.

When you’re a small business owner, so much of it feels like feast or famine. You’re slammed with non-stop sales for a month and then it’s nothing until the summer. The ebbs and flows teach us bad habits as we start to scale and business gets a little more steady.

The habits you learned working 70-hour weeks one December, carried into over-extending as an everyday practice. I’m here to tell you that isn’t sustainable.

We are so dedicated to pulling in sales, working close to the money, whatever you’d like to call it, that we don’t want to disrupt anything by using the word, “No”.

The problem is never setting boundaries really doesn’t do anything but make your customers angry and make you unhappy. Worse, it stifles business growth as you attend to every exception you made for your customers.

So here’s a full blog on how you can learn to set boundaries, why you should, and how to enforce them without pissing off your entire customer base.

Respect your time and understand its worth. Your business is likely small enough that you still work on the retail floor everyday. Maybe you have one or two other people that work with you, but you’re still very much “in” the business. While every member of our team is important, your time as a business owner is most important.

When you work on the floor you can help to facilitate sales, but consider how much your time is worth trying to find partnerships for your product, purchasing new product, planning your marketing, and increasing the potential of your business. When you work on the floor, you are sacrificing all of these other opportunities.

Now think about a time when you've made an exception for a customer at the detriment of your own time. You sacrificed all of those opportunities for a relationship with that customer.

Not that it isn't always worth it, but I’m sure you can think of a lot of situations where you went above and beyond for a customer and hindsight let you know that maybe it wasn't the right decision.

Communicate clearly and concisely. When you decide to set a boundary, communicate it in a way that your customers will understand without explaining yourself. Your customers need to know you won’t budge. 

If you decide to change your packing times for online orders, you need to tell your customers they will be waiting a little bit longer. Tell them how long exactly it will take to get their orders, why you are extending the timelines, and how it will affect them specifically. It’s better they know, than thinking there is the ability to skip the line.

Stay in control of the relationship with your customers. We’ve all heard it because it’s true. If you make an exception for one person, you’ll have to do it with everyone. Plus, once you break the seal it’ll be much easier to make more personal sacrifices later on. It’s a slippery slope, the easiest way to avoid it is by never starting.

Set expectations, set them early, and be consistent. We do this easily with our opening hours. This is a boundary we never allow customers to breach.

However, what about fulfilment times? How many of you are working through the night to pack orders so you can hit this target of next day deliveries that has been perpetuated by the fact that you’re doing it so now it’s what customers expect?

If you had just worked within your means and then communicated to customers that it’s a 48 hours fulfillment window, maybe they wouldn’t have such high expectations.

Instead of working yourself to the bone, let your customers know that you've had an increased volume of orders. Make note that any orders taken after a certain date will now have a longer lead time.

Stop feeling guilty about saying no. When you say a polite “no” to a customer, it feels like you’re shattering your entire relationship with them.

As a business owner, especially when you’re still active in the business on a day-to-day basis, it can feel like saying “no” to a customer request is treasonous. However, if this customer truly supports your product or store, they’ll understand why an exception can’t be made.

Afterall, they’re asking you to change how you do business specifically for them. When put into that perspective, it doesn’t make as much sense to bend over backward.

Understand the value of a complaint. If you set a boundary and then receive a complaint, it can be hard to stick with the change. But, you need to really take stock of this complaint. Context always matters, including when a customer expresses their opinion.

Have you heard this complaint more than once? Does this customer usually complain? Do you know this person and their purchasing patterns? Don’t dismiss all critique when you’re setting your new boundaries and making changes, but do understand the context.

Show empathy and understanding, but don’t budge. You made these choices to allow your business to grow. Maybe you’ve limited the days that you provide delivery and customers don’t want to wait as long for their order.

You can be understanding, acknowledge their wait, thank them for their support, and still kindly let them know that you can’t make an exception.

Plan ahead. It’s always about planning. Every decision, change, plan, you make should be figured out weeks in advance. Thinking about announcing a new product? Don’t forget all of the steps that need to take place before you tell your customers. Wanting to make a permanent change to hours that you know may upset some customers? Plan to launch the messaging early and ease into the change a day at a time. 

Always make sure that you give your customers plenty of warning, a brief statement of reasoning, and time for them to voice their feelings ahead of time. Keep in mind that the next few weeks after any big change will be painful. Give your customers time to adjust their behaviour and learn to love the path your business has taken.

This is why communication plans are so important to the boundaries you set for yourself and your business. A communication plan is about what you’re going to say, how you will say it, and how you are going to prepare people to hear it. Make sure you plan for customer response and be ready to take alternative measures should there be more of an uproar than you expected.

Nothing is too much to handle if you plan for it. It may seem overly careful, but I always say that you should plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Here is where you can find the communication plan template. Let me know how you use it for your next big business move!

Click here for the template

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