November 1, 2020

Rachel Strella

Another Week, Another Big Fat Lesson


Over the past few months, we’ve had some clients who asked for more than our contracted scope of work. When this happens, our customer service core value kicks in and we jump at the chance to serve. What we’ve found, however, is that going above and beyond can lead people to expect it all the time.

As a chronic people pleaser, I struggle with setting boundaries. It’s common for me to say, ‘Sure, whatever you need!’ However, I also run a business and when I see the invoices submitted by my team, I realize I can no longer justify the ‘can-do’ spirit unless some of our clients start paying more for these requests.

You win some, you lose some.

In an attempt to rectify this situation, I started taking baby steps toward these new-found boundaries. With a few clients, I was pleasantly surprised by their reaction. They understood that some of their requests fell outside of our agreement and that we would re-visit their plan if you wished to pursue more of these types of projects. What a relief!

Not all customers were cooperative, however. With one particular client, I had communicated the scope creep more than once. I started to feel like a broken record because the volume of the requests continued, despite my pushback.  So, I was hopeful when I was asked to provide a quote for the services that we were delivering so they could make an informed decision on how they would like to proceed.

I was mindful when I crafted the proposal for the work, giving them a favorable discount as a current client. I sent it off and hoped for the best.

Then, I waited.

I hadn’t heard anything back and the work continued to mount. I followed up. I was only told that they weren’t interested in paying more. That was it.

After much thought, I decided to try another approach. I offered to keep my fees intact and complete more work than my current contract, but less than what was expected over the last few months. I also explained the benefits to them by doing it this way.

Then, I waited.

I still hadn’t heard anything back, and again, the work continued to mount. I received a request for another project on a Trello card and decided to leave a note stating that I was waiting to hear back about my proposed plan before proceeding with the request.

No response.

A few days later, I received an email from the client. It was a termination notice.

One experience yields four lessons.

I will admit that I was shocked. I gave them what they asked for (a quote) and when that didn’t suit, I offered to adjust my services to a reasonable level that would fit their budget. I was fair. And what did I get? I got fired.  Instead of paying us for the work we were doing – or even discussing the options I presented, they quit.

I spent some time stewing on this situation. I was angry. But, once I calmed down, I realized a few things.

First, I have myself to blame. I allowed this behavior. That is my fault and I accept that responsibility, entirely. In an effort to serve the customer, at all costs, I needed a reminder that I am a customer, as well – to my team. And my team deserves the respect of our clients, who are to act as our partners.

Second, it’s too late to request a change in the working relationship, once you’ve already over-delivered.  Going above and beyond has its share of drawbacks and this is one of them – especially when you’re not being paid adequately for the services you provide. As scary as it is to draw that line in the sand, it’s necessary. The earlier, the better.

Third, sometimes it’s better to cut your losses. From the beginning, this client did not understand the function of social media. They treated it as another advertising outlet. I had many conversations explaining the importance of building relationships online as well as the long-term gain from our efforts. They claimed they understood, but I never saw that lightbulb moment that occurs when people do really get it. That forced me to try even harder. And frankly, it was wasted effort. It is better to get rid of what’s not working, rather than to try to change other people.

Finally, I wonder – would the client have handled this differently if I were a man? I believe women are natural people pleasers, which is how I got in this situation in the first place. But, a decade of experience as a female business leader has shown me that assertive women are not often greeted well. There are exceptions, of course. One of our top clients is an astounding male leader. He’s one of the most encouraging men I have ever had the pleasure to work with. But, he's also one of the few, from my experience.

When I tried to establish healthy boundaries with some of our other male clients, I was ignored, depreciated, or accused of picking a fight. Most people don’t change, so I realize my options are limited on how to resolve this issue. There are times I have tolerated it and times I stood up for myself, but unfortunately, neither got me closer to my goal. There isn’t enough time to adequately address this issue today, but I am curious if other women have experienced this, as well.

What I will do differently, moving forward.

I will forge change in the areas that I can control. I will set boundaries but continue to deliver exceptional service within the scope of my contract. I will go above and beyond for those clients dedicated to our partnership, but I will be very careful not to give into unrealistic expectations. I will educate the client about social media, but I will not be afraid to make the decision to cut my losses if it’s not working. And, finally, I will make sure I feel really good about entering any client relationship. There’s a lot to be said for trusting your gut and I will rely on it, more often, to help me decide on the best fit for our services.

What have you learned this week?

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