Stress-Less By Setting Expectations With Customers

Set Expectations so You Can Take a Real Vacation

When you and your customers don’t see eye-to-eye on the timing of communications, deadlines and billing—stress happens!

To help you prevent frustration and feel more in control, here’s expert advice from Elizabeth Grace Saunders, CEO of Real Life E®, a company that provides time coaching and training services that help business owners feel peaceful and accomplished, about how to set expectations with customers.

So, why is setting time expectations so important?

The challenge for business owners is that if you don’t set expectations, your customers will. That means you may go for months–or even years–feeling like you’re constantly being thrown for a loop by everyone else’s whims. Most customers don’t know what’s reasonable in your business so for everyone to be happy, you need to let them know what to expect.

What’s one of the biggest problem areas?

Communication is by far one of the biggest issues. If business owners don’t set clear boundaries on when they will and won’t be available to answer customers’ questions, they never feel like they have a break.

What do you suggest to set time expectations about e-mail, voicemail, etc.?

Set limits on when you and your staff will be accessible, and as much as possible, stick with them. Also try not to set the expectation that you will answer communication immediately. If you consistently answer e-mail and voicemail in about 24 hours, customers won’t be upset if they don’t hear from you right away. (For more info on this topic, check out my blog post on How to Set E-mail Expectations.)

What about when you don’t hear back from customers?

When customers don’t communicate a decision until right before a deadline, it can wreak havoc on your workflow. You can use this type of approach to set standards for communication with your customers:

Dear customer:

I’ve attached the proposal for the work we discussed. In order to meet your deadline of Friday, December 17, I’ll need to hear back from you by Friday, December 10. If I receive a decision from you after the 10th, we’ll need to move back the deadline.

We look forward to serving you well.

All the best,

Business Owner

Are there any other ways business owners can eliminate deadline stress?

If you don’t make promises to deliver products or services “by tomorrow” or “by next week,” you can reduce stress by increasing your timeline. Also, business owners shouldn’t make commitments to a deadline until they have a clear sense of when they can complete the work. Just because a customer wants something as soon as possible, doesn’t mean that you should stay up until 2 a.m. trying to finish everything for them.

What about billing?

Try to get some or all of the payment before delivering the work. This reduces stress on both sides and makes it completely clear when payment is due. If that’s not possible, bill promptly and ask for payment due upon receipt. Then take note of when to follow up—depending on your industry either two weeks or four weeks later. Staying on top of billing and following up quickly tends to reduce stress and confusion caused by an invoice months past due.

Any other final time tips?

If there’s any part of your business that’s causing you time stress, ask yourself the question, “Should I be setting my expectations differently for myself or others?” Most of the time the answer is, “Yes!”

Thanks so much Elizabeth for this great advice! And if you would like to receive more great time tips from Real Life E®, go to

Elizabeth Grace Saunders is the founder and CEO of Real Life E® a time coaching and training company that empowers individuals who are overwhelmed and frustrated to feel peaceful, confident and accomplished through an exclusive Schedule MakeoverTM process. Real Life E® also increases employee productivity, satisfaction and work/life balance through custom training programs.

Elizabeth has appeared in Inc magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and on NBC. She was selected as one of the Top 25 Amazing Women of 2010 by Stiletto Woman and as a member of the Young Entrepreneurs Council that includes HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes and Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich fame.

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