Friend or Client? – Maintaining Proper Boundaries With Customers And Clients
For many business owners, a big part of being successful is understanding how to interact with people. Building a relationship with customers and clients helps ensure the continuance of the business relationship. However, is there a line that should not be crossed that takes the relationship from business to friendship? Can you be friends with customers and clients?
Friends vs. Customers and Clients
Small business owners often consider their clients and customers their friends. They may see these individuals every day. Through conversations, they learn about their clients and customers, their families, and intimate details about their lives. They may vent about their lives or share details about their family. Unfortunately, sharing often turns into an implied friendship that can prove problematic.
If anything goes wrong with the service or product, your client or customer may assume that as a “friend” you will correct the issue to their satisfaction. While you may do everything within your power to ensure customer satisfaction, there are limits.
A business owner should not be expected to bear the costs when a customer or client decides he suddenly does not like the terms of the agreement and wants out. If you have a written contract, both parties are legally bound to the terms of the contract. Your “friend” may expect you to void the contract without question. However, voiding the contract may not be in the company’s best interest. The lines of the relationship have been blurred.
Regardless of how you act, you will either lose a friend or a customer. Neither possibility may seem appealing, but it is probably inevitable.
Blurring the lines between client and friend can have worse consequences than an argument over contract terms. Depending on the type of company, this can create an ethical or fiduciary problem.
Setting Clear Boundaries Protects You and Your Clients or Customers
Sometimes a client forgets that he paid you to provide a service or product. Instead of addressing the fact that he really needs a friend, he takes advantage of the fact that he is paying you to chat, email, text, or otherwise involve you in his personal life. He may want to meet for coffee or grab lunch instead of meeting in a professional setting.
A client or customer could be lonely, or they may think that you are interesting and want to be your friend. Whatever the reason might be for trying to cross the line from client to friend, you need to stop and consider the consequences. If you allow the interaction to go on, you are implying that you want to be friends too.
Begin by setting clear boundaries and keep those boundaries throughout the business relationship. Some tips to keep in mind include:
- You can be friendly without being personal. Do not discuss your family or personal life with clients or customers. Do not open that door. If your client tries to open the door, steer him to another subject.
- Do not meet for coffee or meals. Keeping all meetings in a professional environment leaves little room to believe that you are meeting for a social occasion.
- Decline to attend personal functions, such as weddings or birthdays. Formal business functions, such as charitable events, are more acceptable because those are networking events.
- If a client wants to connect on social media, always direct the client to your public, client-facing social media account.
- Avoid doing favors. Gently explain that the request is outside of your business relationship.
- If you want to give clients or customers gifts during the holiday, give each person the same gift. Do not feel as if you need to give a gift to a client or customer who gives you a gift. The key is to treat all customers and clients the same.
If a client or customer refuses to respect the clear, professional boundaries you set, you may need to terminate the business relationship. The blurred lines between customer and friend can become a financial liability for your business. Your “friend” may sue you when you fail to perform as he or she expects. If the lines have been blurred, it could be difficult for a judge to untangle the mess. If you go to court, you want a clearly defined relationship that leaves nothing to interpretation, just like the terms of a well-drafted contract.
Contact a Florida Business Law Attorney for Help
Business matters can be complicated. There are numerous issues that business owners face each day that could significantly impact the future of their company. When you have questions about business matters, contact a business law attorney in Coral Springs for help.
Attorney Matthew Fornaro provides comprehensive business law services to clients throughout Broward County. From setting up a business to dealing with business litigation, our legal team is here to help you protect your company’s best interests.
To request a consultation, call 954-324-3651 or contact us online.