You like to think of yourself as a customer service master. You’re someone who’s always there to answer every last customer question. Phone call for you? No problem. Emails later at night? Sure thing. Even that customer who loves to chat with you when a job wraps up when you’ve got another job to get to. It’s all in the name of transforming a prospective customer into someone who becomes one or possibly recommends you well after the job is done.

Yet, what happens when one or two of these prospects begins dominating your time and interfering with existing work you have to get off of your plate that day or for that matter, time with your family?

There are a few smart rules for keeping your customer interactions efficient especially if you’re dealing with someone who will take and take more of your time if you don’t take more control.

1)  “How much time do you have? Because I have ___ minutes before I have to get to my next appointment.”
It’s not being rude to set guidelines at the onset of a conversation or if you feel yourself trapped in a conversation that could be going long. This is your time, after all. If you don’t stand your ground to some degree, you’ll be caught in a cycle of catching up all day (or longer). Letting the customer know that you have a defined window in which you’ll be glad to talk to them gives them a sense of hopefully respecting that time frame. 

2) “This email explains exactly the scope of the job, the cost and the time frame. The next step would be…”
Whether it’s an email, phone call or text message, the last thing you want to do is deliver your communication to them in so many bite-sized pieces that they dissect it backwards and forwards. That could lead to a lot of separate emails for every question that comes to mind. Instead, set up the purpose for why you’re communicating, what they’re about to view and what you want them to do next. Giving them a clear, efficient path of select steps will provide a greater likelihood that the customer stays focused on what you want them to do rather than wandering into countless tangents.

3) “We can talk about some additional items you have in mind, but just to be clear, that is outside of what we originally discussed for the job. We may need to talk about some additional charges if you want to go forward. Would you be comfortable with that?”
Sometimes when you give a little, they can take a lot. That goes for when you give in to one extra customer request. And then another. And then another. Those extras can add up, especially if you aren't charging for them. Otherwise, it’s not about just eating into your time but eating into your profitability. And you do have a business to run.

Is it easy to set limits on those extra-long customer interactions? Admittedly, probably not at first. It may feel a bit awkward. But remember, you’re doing what you have to do in a professional, respectful way that maintains not only the customer relationship in front of you but many more than demand your time. And that’s just good business.