What Are You Doing to Train Your Customers?

If your clients are jerks, chances are, it’s your fault.

The nagging client? You did that. The one who looks over your work with a fine-toothed comb? That’s on you, too. The one who never pays on time? You can only blame yourself.

Certainly, there are situations where clients are just crazy all on their own, but more often than not, businesses have inadvertently trained customers to behave in a certain way, and it’s not always for the better. Every interaction with your customers influences their behavior, whether you know it or not. Used proactively, customer training can be a very good thing. By encouraging and rewarding positive behaviors, you can train your customers to behave the way you really want them to. Which is why you have to intentionally train them to be the clients that have a positive impact on your business. It’s all about consistency, managing expectations, and rewarding positive behavior.

These are just a few of the ways you can influence your customers for the better:

  • Make your policies known. People who know the rules tend to follow them. If your clients don’t know you’ll charge them a late fee, they may not be highly motivated to pay your invoice on time. Although you shouldn’t overload new clients with a long list of rules, a quick note (or contract when appropriate) can help them better understand what to expect from you in certain situations. In some businesses, it might make sense to create a welcome packet for new clients that helps to explain and establish how things work. If a known policy is challenged later, like a client who wants rush work for free, you can always reference back to this resource later to point out that there is a fee associated with rush work.
  • Enforce your policies. It’s one thing to say your invoice terms are net 30, but if you don’t actually call to collect until day 45, your clients know they can push things a little bit. Be clear with your terms, and when they’re not met, politely remind them of their misstep. They’ll be less likely to abuse you in the future if they know you won’t let them get away with it.
  • Deliver consistently and keep your promises. Have a clear process that the customer understands ahead of time. If you’re tired of answering emails about when clients can expect a deliverable, you need to work on setting up expectations. Before they have a chance to nag, let them know when you’ll be delivering, and then actually deliver, time and time again. This can go a long way to improving customer confidence and reducing anxiety (both for you and the customer!). Create and share work processes that your entire company can follow so that there is consistency whether customers are working with you or the new guy.
  • Communicate consistently, too. Answer emails 24/7, even on weekends? Don’t be surprised if your customers are upset when one day you take longer to get back to them. It makes customers nervous when they don’t know when or if they’ll hear from you. If you sometimes return emails within the hour, and sometimes return them three days later, they’ll never know when they can depend on you. Return communication within a predictable time frame so they’ll know what to expect.
  • Always give the squeaky wheel the most attention? You’re just setting yourself up as a pushover for whiny customers. And if you neglect your laid back customers to deal with your needy ones? They might just turn into squeaky wheels themselves to get your attention. Be fair with your time and attention, and remember that every time you let a difficult customer challenge your policies, you’re only inviting them to do it again later.
  • Say thank you. When your client does something you appreciate, like paying on time, let them know! Show them that you appreciate what they’ve done with a quick email of thanks or a small bonus gift. Your client will feel good that you’ve recognized what they’ve done. These are easy ways to encourage all the right actions.
  • Work with your target clients, and avoid those that aren’t quite right for you. In a tough economy, businesses may not be in a position to be choosy about clients. But by taking on only the clients that mesh well with your business, you’ll keep attracting the right kind of customers that you really want to work with. Naturally, existing clients tend to refer the same type of clients. Don’t invite more difficult clients by continuing to work with your most high-maintenance customers.
  • Any time you interact with a customer or client, carefully consider how you’re influencing their future behavior. Be confident, clear, and consistent to work with, and it’s possible to create well-managed customers that are easy to work with.