Her client said she wasn’t responding to messages quickly enough. Her reaction was perfect

That’s the question a web designer was recently faced with when a client started pushing her back communication style.

Larionne Mariah, who recently spoke to @thebrandhero on Twitter shared part of her conversation in a tweet:

The excerpt begins with an apparent complaint from a client, who says that due to the cost of the project ($5,200), they expect Mariah to reply to their messages as quickly as possible.

“Hi, you paid me to run and complete a project for you, not to be available to you 24/7,” Mariah responds. “I’ve been communicating with you all the time, haven’t I?”

The customer agrees, but says he expects “full attention” for the fee paid.

Shortly after, the customer sends another message:

“What’s going on? Why did I get my money back?”

“I’m sorry, but I think you should find another team that matches the kind of availability you expect,” Mariah said. “I can’t make concessions like that. Good luck!”

The tweet was posted less than 24 hours ago, but has already received nearly 20,000 retweets and more than a thousand responses, many of whom choose one side or the other (customer or supplier).

Just to be clear, I’m definitely on team Mariah for this one. But the viral tweet and the ensuing debate prove that there is a vital need to discuss this topic.

First things first: If you run a business (or lead a team), you need to respond to your messages, be it customers, partners, or employees.

But, as Mariah’s message thread pointed out, she… used to be fast responding. Even the customer had to admit it. The problem then comes when there is a clear discrepancy between the expectations of both parties. (This is a problem you will encounter not only between customer and supplier, but also between employers and employees.)

So, how can you tackle this issue ahead of time and make your partnership happier?

Here are three steps that can help:

Know the (unwritten) rules.

Believe it or not, there is a set of unwritten rules that many follow when it comes to writing communication:

In most cases, people expect an email to be answered within 24 hours (and much faster in some cases).

If you’ve agreed to use SMS, Slack, or another IM service, they’re probably looking for a much faster response, sometime within a few hours, and certainly the same day.

Of course, not everyone follows these rules, and you should not feel compelled to do so.

And that’s why it’s especially important to make sure you…

Set boundaries.

As an entrepreneur or business owner, it can be difficult to balance work and, well, everything else. And the current pandemic has further blurred those boundaries for employers, employees and customers alike.

Here Mariah has certainly done well – recognizing and prioritizing her own limits. She defined how much was too much and decided the best course of action was to give the customer a refund and move on.

If you don’t set limits, it’s easy to do more than you really want to – or be able to persevere. This can lead to overwork, interference with personal life or even burnout.

In contrast, setting your boundaries can help save your business — and your sanity.

Of course, no one wants to invest the time it takes to acquire a client and start a project, only to have to let them go before the project is completed.

And that’s why it can be very helpful to…

Communicate expectations.

Everyone, whether you’re a large organization or a solopreneur, has their own standards and expectations when it comes to written communication.

But, as this experience shows, it pays to both codify and clearly communicate these standards.

  • What forms of communication will we use? (email, IM, SMS, etc.)
  • How long should it take to respond to an email? (one day, two days or more)
  • How long does it take to reply to a Slack message? (one to three hours, same day or more)
  • How do we deal with weekends and free time?

Whatever you do, don’t assume that you know what the other party wants, or that they are happy to accept your standards. Instead, spell it from the beginning.

So keep in mind that when you decide how and when to communicate with customers, partners, employees and even employers:

3. Communicate expectations.

Doing this will help you find the right partner, avoid misunderstandings and ensure smoother relationships.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not Inc.com’s.

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