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Client Experience: How to Consistently Foster Respect

When it comes to working with clients, there are a lot of places where things can get bumpy. For me, respect has definitely been one of those places, and respect can make or break your client experience in so many different ways.

In this episode, we’re looking at the importance of respect to creating a trusted client experience, and how to consistently foster it.

Working with clients requires a high degree of trust. You need to trust your clients, and your clients need to trust you. And we all know how it goes when a client doesn’t 100% trust you and how frustrating that can be. You feel frustrated and disrespected. You probably want to burn things down and run away from working with clients at all.

One of the big reasons that people abandon their service business is that they’re stressed out by working with clients, and they think working with clients in another way will be so much easier.

The joke’s on them because no matter what type of business you run, you’re likely dealing with people. And humans, we’re a tricky and complicated lot.

Trust is the foundation of our relationships with one another, but there’s one element of trust I want to dive into today that’s crucial in your client relationships, and that’s respect.

Respect is a Foundational Part of Building Trust

When I talk about trust, it often feels super obvious, but there are a lot more layers and nuances to building trust in your business relationships. It’s not a one-time event, it’s something that requires constant nurturing.

There are five elements I’ve identified that help us build and maintain trust in our business in my TrustDNA Method – truth, transparency, time, respect and results. So while trust may seem like it’s simple, there’s a lot more to it.

This is why I want to dive into respect today as it’s essential to our client experience, and the overall well-being of our business. After all, we all know the hurt, frustration and rage of feeling disrespected.

Over the years, I’ve dealt with hundreds of clients, but there’s one thing that’s a full-on deal breaker for me, and it’s a lack of respect. I’ve fired clients over it, and I have a very low tolerance level overall for disrespect.

Before we go any further talking about the importance of respect in our business and how it helps build trust, we should define it.

In TrustDNA, respect is defined as treating everyone with fairness and dignity.  It’s easy to agree that we should all be doing this, but it definitely requires our time, attention and energy as we’re imperfect humans dealing with one another.

The other thing to keep in mind when it comes to respect is that it’s a two-way street. There needs to be mutual respect, however,  some of the current narratives and practices in the online business world do little to foster respect on either side.

It’s far too easy for people to treat service providers poorly as there’s an attitude that they’re expendable. And clients can be treated as being unreasonable or as a nightmare when it’s not always warranted.

Don’t get me wrong, nightmare clients happen. I’m talking more about your run-of-the-mill client relationships that could use a little TLC and how you can foster more respect Small things add up over time, build trust, and ultimately improve your client experience.

Respect and Client Experience

When it comes to the role of respect in your client experience, there are two key aspects.

First, by focusing on building more trust with your clients by focusing on creating a respectful working relationship, you’re making things easier for yourself. So many times when I’ve had things feel off with clients, I’ve come to recognize that there were things I could have done along the way to improve the situation.

By ensuring I’m doing everything I can to create an experience for clients that’s built on respect, and ultimately trust, if things go off the rails, I have a clear conscience.

The other part of this is that by looking at these subtle ways to build more respect, your client experience can only improve. And that’s ideal as it supports your business overall as it leads to retention, repeat clients and referrals, and who doesn’t want that?

Now, let’s get into the nuts and bolts of some specific ways to bake more respect into your client experience and business overall.

Being Clear

First, I want to talk about being clear, consistent and kind. This should be a no-brainer but this is really where things get squishy for a lot of service business owners with their clients.

When it comes to being clear with clients it’s often a matter of us being in an expert mindset so we don’t look at things from the client’s perspective. We forget that they’re coming to us for support, not because they already know what to do.

At every step of the process, you need to consider what the client needs to know and ensure they understand. For example, if you don’t tell a client how to give you the feedback you can’t get pissed off when they don’t give you feedback in the Google Doc and instead send you a long-ass Loom video.

It’s essential that you balance being clear with providing so much information that it’s completely overwhelming. A place I see far too much detail being provided is in the onboarding process. Yes, your client needs clarity on how you’ll work together, but not so much that they’re now regretting working with you because it feels like too much.

There’s a lot of respect to be gained by ensuring the client is clear, as then they feel secure and like you can be trusted to do what you were hired to do.

Being Consistent

In addition to being clear with clients, we need to focus on being consistent. Yes, we’re humans and we’re not going to be consistent 100% of the time, but there’s nothing that causes clients stress and uncertainty more than a lack of predictability.

Let’s say you’ve committed to a specific deadline for a client, and you’re very consistent at delivering on time. That builds respect for your work and helps the client trust you.

On the flip side, if you sometimes deliver on time, and then other times you blow past the deadline without a word, it slowly chips away at respect, and ultimately trust.

You don’t need to strive for perfection, but a high degree of consistency is key. I know for me, there’s a tendency for respect and trust to break down when people don’t do what they say they’re going to do. Follow-through is a key part of consistency, especially if you work with clients on a long-term basis. They need to know you’re reliable.

Because you know what? People respect and most of all trust reliable people. Do you know how I know? I’m reliable as hell. I do what I say I’m going to do, and on the off chance I don’t, I’m going to communicate what’s going on.

I may not be the most gifted content creator on the planet or the smartest content strategist, but my clients respect me and trust me. It’s not fancy but it works.

Be Kind

If you look up kind in the dictionary it says “showing a friendly, generous or considerate nature”. There’s always room for a bit more kindness, especially as so many times in business we can default to it being just business.

Again, we’re humans dealing with other humans, so meeting our clients with generosity and consideration goes a long way. Don’t mistake this for being “nice” or a doormat and doing everything the client wants, but rather considering how you can factor that into your client relationships.

To help you understand what I’m talking about, I want to share an example of an experience I was on the receiving end of. I was working with a contractor on a project, and anyone who works with me knows I’m organized and I don’t do last-minute things. I asked this individual if for this one situation we could have something faster than their normal turnaround time.

The answer was an immediate, unequivocal no. It’s worth noting that it was a very small request, and this was someone I’d been very flexible with in terms of deadlines and other items.

Listen, I understand that they may not have had the capacity or something else may have been going on, but given our relationship, the response was unkind. While I’m not owed an explanation, a little more consideration would have gone a long way.

We’re humans and shit happens, which is why as business owners we need to look at how we can bake kindness including the ability to be generous and considerate into our services. We need to structure and price our offers in a way that there’s a little wiggle room, so we can create respect with clients.

Because of that small incident, I found myself trusting that person less. I respected them less. And not in a “holding a grudge” way but rather from a “is this relationship that I can count on and trust” point of view.

Your clients are the same, they want to respect you, count on you and most of all trust you, so we need to set up conditions in our business that allow for a little bit of give and take with clients.

To be clear, I’m not talking about letting clients run over your boundaries, which is what we need to dig into next.

Setting Clear Boundaries

Boundaries are a key part of respect, as for a relationship to be healthy you need to have mutual respect. I mean, who hasn’t had a client relationship where your respect for the client declined because of how they treated you? 

Respect is symbiotic, which means boundaries go both ways. WE need to set our boundaries while understanding those of our clients to create and maintain mutual trust.

Let me give you two quick examples.

First, years ago I had a client that had super clear boundaries, and that was a big part of their approach to business. They literally taught people to command respect and charge their worth. But when it came to my boundaries, it was another story. On my days off there would be emails, last-minute requests, and general shenanigans. Zero respect for my boundaries, but the team and their clients had to abide by theirs.

I fully believe that if you want people to respect you and your boundaries, you need to do the same for others. Because I can’t even tell you how downright infuriating it became to have someone that was literally teaching people around boundaries have zero respect for mine.

That relationship didn’t last long because of this lack of mutual respect. On the flip side, I have another example. Last Spring, I introduced Voxer access to members of my masterminds. Let me tell you I was nervous about doing this as I just didn’t know how it was going to go.

I put clear boundaries in place with everyone about how to use Voxer with me including what days/times they could expect a response, and to keep messages short and to the point.

Voxer has been a win for us this past year, and I really enjoy having this connection with clients. They respect my boundaries, and I respect theirs, which makes this work for everyone involved.

Mutual respect around boundaries is key, and so many times in online business it’s unbalanced. We have the celebrity entrepreneur with all the boundaries but clients are treated with little respect and their boundaries from the kinds of feedback, their mindset and more is fair game.

For your client experience, let your clients know what your boundaries are. Like I shared in the last episode, don’t make your clients guess.

As you get to know your clients, ask about their work hours, how they like to get and give feedback and other boundaries. It will go a long way to creating respectful, trusted, relationships. Establishing and maintaining trust with clients is really that simple.

A Final Word: Talking Shit About Clients

As we wrap up this episode, there’s one last thing I want to touch on which is the urge to talk shit about clients. I know exactly how frustrating and stressful client relationships can be at times, but we need to tread carefully when it comes to venting publicly.

I’ve seen so much complaining about clients in public places like Facebook Groups and on Instagram over the years, and it always gives me pause. Yes, nightmare clients happen, but there are always two sides to the story, and talking shit about people demonstrates a real lack of respect.

I always look at it from the client’s perspective and I immediately question the person’s motives, and frankly, their judgment. Yes, I know that sounds harsh, but this shit-talking about clients thing is way too common in the online business world, and it villainizes clients and the service business, model.

That doesn’t serve anyone as while I’ve worked with literally hundreds of clients over the years and true nightmare clients that warranted that type of treatment are extraordinarily rare. (And really, does anyone, even if they’re a complete piece of work.)

If you need to vent, do it in a safe place from a place of getting support. These conversations occasionally come up in the masterminds I run, but it’s always from a place of what would you do and letting off a little steam. Not creating a situation that’s about treating anyone like garbage. Remember, respect for clients is just good business.

Speaking of masterminds, at the time of the airing of this episode in January 2022, our mastermind TrustDNA, The Lab is now open. I’d love to have you join us, especially if you’re over the tired and toxic tactics of online business, and want a community and support to do things in a way that puts trust first.

TrustDNA, The Lab sign up now
Maggie Patterson Abou the Author

I’m Maggie Patterson (she/her), and services businesses are my business.

I have 20+ years of experience with client services, am a consultant for agency owners, creatives, and consultants, and vocal advocate for humane business practices rooted in empathy, respect, and trust.

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