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Communication Boundaries: Defend Your Off-time from Demanding Clients

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“I get phone calls, text messages and emails from clients at the most inconvenient times, like the middle of the night. What are clients thinking?”

Before “The Age of Constant Contact,” when we left our work for the day, we clocked out entirely. Now employers, clients and friends have the unreasonable expectation that we should be available 24/7. Our lives should not be revolving around work and constant, immediate availability shouldn’t be expected of us.

Unless we’re being paid, our time is our own to spend how we choose. We are not obligated to answer our phone or reply to a text or email any more than we’re obligated to answer our front doors.

Prior to the invention of cell phones, etiquette prohibited calling prior to 9am or after 6pm. Now, it’s considered rude not to be available at all times. At what point did intrusions become acceptable and boundaries become rudeness?


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Just because some people make themselves readily available around the clock doesn’t mean that everyone chooses to be. When calling others (especially our own clients), considerate professionals try to be mindful of the schedules, preferences and time zone differences of others. A considerate professional does not necessarily expect anyone to answer unless they have arranged to speak. Disrespectful clients need to be trained to observe the same courtesy.

When you respond to client communications outside of business hours, you train clients to believe that you permit that behavior.

Modern workplaces are hectic, especially for the self-employed in this industry. Many of us are too busy to pick up unscheduled calls and lack the patience to play phone tag. As availability decreases and client expectations increase, it becomes easier for everyone involved to set calling hours and/or arrange a mutually convenient time to speak via email. Because you’re choosing when it’s most convenient to talk, you can prepare in advance and devote your time without multitasking.

Scheduling calls isn’t only about convenience; it’s about what callers deserve from us when we’re communicating.

By scheduling calls or only taking calls during predefined hours, you can guarantee active participation in the conversation. If you can’t be present and focused on callers, send them to voicemail and return calls when you can be. Your voicemail greeting should communicate your operating and calling hours, direct clients to your email address and request that they leave a detailed message if they’re calling to request an appointment (like their name, number, desired service and preferred date/time).

Remember, we’re talking about clients who seem to think it’s appropriate to call or text outside of business hours. Don’t be surprised if they don’t respect any communication policies or calling hours you may establish, but don’t indulge them either.

Many self-employed professionals make the mistake of using their personal cell phone as a business line. Unfortunately, most clients don’t realize they’re being impolite by calling during obscene hours, so we recommend either using a separate phone line or a service like Google Voice, which allows you to create another phone number clients can call that will forward to whatever phone you’d like. You could also omit the phone altogether and take calls through your tablet or computer. When you’re done working for the day, disable forwarding and all calls to your business line will go to voicemail.

Professionals should not allow remote interruptions to interfere with actual client interaction.

Despite what clients might have us think, true nail emergencies are very rare. Even then, the definition of the word “emergency” is highly subjective. (Actual nail emergencies require medical treatment we’re not qualified to give.) Answering the phone, or obviously responding to texts and emails while working on a client, is not acceptable. Do it between clients, but not during. Silence your phone so you’re not even tempted and the client experience is not disrupted.

It’s one thing for a client to be demanding during a service, but to accept demanding behavior outside of business hours requires more tolerance than either of us can muster as salon owners and service providers. The amount of tolerance is directly proportional to the value of that client within our businesses.

We would advise salon professionals to be very clear about which methods of communication they prefer and their policies on returning messages, emails, etc., especially those left or sent outside regular business hours. For example, if you don’t communicate during your days off, clients should not expect to hear from you until the next business day.

Conversely, clients need to be respectful and polite when requesting services; you’re more likely to get what you want acting that way than being a PITA (pain in the ass).

Also, the longer a client waits to respond, the fewer options will be available. We do not hold appointments for anyone; the first client to reserve an available time gets it.

While it may be useful for certain businesses to provide customer service 24/7, it does not make sense for a salon unless it actually serves clients 24/7. And we don’t know any salons open for business around the clock, not even illegitimate ones. Many professionals believe that success requires constant, immediate availability. It really, really doesn’t. Success requires consistency, quality and great customer service. You don’t owe anyone your personal time in any capacity.

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Jaime Schrabeck
Salon Management Consultant at Precision Nails
Celebrating more than 25 years in the nail industry, Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D. works as a licensed manicurist and owner of Precision Nails, an exclusive nails-only salon in Carmel, California. Beyond the salon, she directs international competitions, teaches classes, organizes events, consults with manufacturers and other salon owners and advises California’s Board of Barbering and Cosmetology as an expert witness.

Comments 2

  1. I had a client contact me during a funeral via text. I responded with times I could help her, but apologized that I couldn’t help her that day, because of the loss in my family. I have two days where I’m here evening hours. She needed a different evening. I again apologized, explaining that with the loss in the family, I had family in town, and though I would still work my regular hours, I couldn’t stay late on the other nights. She canceled her next appointment and never came back. I had been accommodating for her in the past, so this really upset me… but it also made me have the backbone to stick to my posted hours better. If someone can’t appreciate that I HAVE been accommodating, and respect a family grievance over a NAIL service, they will continue to not respect me and my time. This one was good riddance… and has helped me in the long run, stand true to my time.

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