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In previous business meetings with a customer, I mistakenly allowed the customer to leave to see to some task during our meeting and while waited for him. The customer now considers temporarily leaving our meetings to go do something and then come back an acceptable behaviour.

I need to write an email telling the customer that in the future, interrupting the meeting will not be allowed any more and if it happens again I will have to stop the meeting and reschedule it for another time.

How can I politely write this in an email ?

[Edited to add]

  • It's a meeting in person on the customer's premise
  • We don't bill for the meeting (by the hour), the only bill is for the product we deliver
  • I have to notify them with enough time before the meeting, because the customer has his own customers to serve, so they will have to do enough scheduling themselves beforehand to prevent such interruptions from happening
  • I don't think you should do this in an email as the written word is usually taken more harshly. Cover this in person at the beginning of the meeting. – paparazzo Apr 21 '15 at 13:17
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    Is this "the customer", that is the one who pays the bill, or is this some some lowly employee who can't be bothered staying in a meeting with you? – gnasher729 Apr 21 '15 at 14:20
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    No you don't HAVE to do this by email in advance. You have let this go on for a while and now you have decided it will no longer be tolerated and must issue an edict my mail. That is not the best way to handle this. What if they email back sorry cannot clear my schedule. Sorry there are unscheduled calls I must take. If this is something you are not going to tolerate or you will drop the customer then have that discussion face to face. Is your boss on board with this behavior will no longer be tolerated? Are you also the account manager? – paparazzo Apr 21 '15 at 14:22
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    This is why we always bill meetings and on-premise work by the hour. – Heinzi Apr 22 '15 at 7:23
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    "We don't bill for the meeting (by the hour) = I think I found the problem. (Seriously, if you're not billing for your time--or at least not billing the 'project rate' to cover large time over-runs, there's no reason for the client to value your time--as there literally is no fiscal value to it.) – DA. Apr 22 '15 at 16:11
46

My answer would depend a bit on what your role and the customer's role is, but I'd go with something like:

"Dear Customer,

Just confirming our meeting for (date) (time). In order to make most productive use of our time, would it be possible for you to ensure that there are no interruptions during the meeting?

Many thanks,

Me."

If this is the first time you're mentioning the issue to them, then I wouldn't take it any further than that. If there's a recurrence of the issue after you've raised the issue, that's the time to escalate the issue.

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    @user3340627 are you actually prepared to walk off the customer's premises over this, and what do you anticipate the consequences would be? The worst thing you can do is make the threat and then fail to follow through. Also in any case you might want to try the nice approach first, and only start mentioning sanctions if that doesn't work. – Nigel Harper Apr 21 '15 at 12:22
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    @NigelHarper Parenting 101. Don't threaten something you aren't prepared to follow through on :) – Jane S Apr 21 '15 at 12:31
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    @user3340627 I would correct your 2) to Only threaten if you intend to follow through. You (and your boss if you have one) need to decide if it's worth potentially offending and losing a customer. – David K Apr 21 '15 at 12:47
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    10 minutes is a very short time. If I were that customer and the consultant walked out after 10 minutes because I had to attend to something urgent, I would not be a customer anymore. Walking out on a customer is a very aggressive move. Moreover since the billing is not per hour, it would also waste my time to leave and come back over a lost 10 minutes. Best thing to do would be to insert a line item in the contract for visits and bill these by some time increment. – teego1967 Apr 21 '15 at 14:03
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    If I'm on-site, that is billable time. If they choose to waste the time they pay me for, that is not my problem. – Simon Richter Apr 21 '15 at 17:04
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If you are an engineer or product support I urge you not to attempt deal with this issue. Instead refer the problem to your manager or the account manager. Advise them of what is going on and how it is affecting your ability to perform your job. If they agree this is a serious problem then they will address the issue with the customer or give you direction on doing so. Be prepared to be told that the customer wasting your time is not worth risking a multimillion dollar contract. In the event your company is not willing to address this issue with your customer instead look for ways to mitigate the problems created by these interruptions.

The reason I urge caution is that I have witnessed careless words by engineers and support people that have cost companies large contracts. Support people especially find it hard to weather the storm following the loss of a customer because of something ill advised they said. It may be in your companies interest to have your time wasted just to keep the customer happy.

  • I agree with you 100% – user3340627 Apr 21 '15 at 15:26
35

I used to deal with this when upgrading financial systems at customer sites. I would not email them. It seems passive aggressive.

What I finally did worked great. Customers that did this, I simply scheduled my time in blocks at their site. So I am there from 12-1 PM. You want to leave for a half hour? Cool then. I am gone right at 1 PM. It never took more than 2 times for customers to see that they were wasting their own time.

  • This seems more like a comment on the selected answer rather than an answer on its own. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 21 '15 at 17:34
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    @ReallyTiredOfThisGame It seems like a legitimate answer to me - schedule a time block instead of an ever-extending appointment. It might just need a little rewording to highlight that more. – David K Apr 21 '15 at 17:43
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    @DoktorJ - I meant passive aggressive by using aggressiveness of an email (which for a customer seems really aggressive to where I would never think about it) at a time when it doesn't make sense. After the fact and before another visit doesn't make sense. If you book a specific time block, they know you have to leave at the end of the time. You don't have to seem pissed that they were gone for a half hour, you just leave as you normally would. – blankip Apr 22 '15 at 15:07
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    @user3340627 - Exactly. It doesn't come off that you are mad or anything like that which might hurt your relationship with them (as an email might too). Just make sure that if you schedule time in a block that you leave right at or pretty close to the scheduled time or they won't take this serious in the future. – blankip Apr 22 '15 at 17:05
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    This is exactly how I've handled similar situations in the past. Yes they're the customer, but they aren't your only customer. Once they understand that then things start to go a bit smoother. You don't need to start billing them for meeting time. Just be clear that there is an end time for the meeting and that it'll be a couple days before you can get back to them. – NotMe Apr 22 '15 at 18:31
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This sounds like an excellent way to lose a customer to me. If the person left and didn't come back for an hour, yes you might be justified to let his secretary or some other person who is available know that you need to go and that the meeting will be rescheduled.

But over small interruptions, that is just plain unacceptable. When you are providing training in their space, these small interruptions will happen much of the time. They, after all, have to do their real jobs at the same time that they are attending your class. The fact that the production database is down (or whatever the problem is) is more important than your training. It is best to smile and pause for them if they are high enough or move on with the rest of the group and help them catch up later. Most people are polite enough that if the emergency looks to consume lots of time, they will ask you to reschedule.

Frankly that this worries you is an indicator to me that you have no business in a direct customer contact situation as you don't see the customer's needs as primary over your desires..

  • But as you said it would worry you if the client takes an hour and comes back. That's what i'm talking to about. Of course the customer has all the right to do what he has to do if it takes 10-15 minutes, but to hold-up multiple meetings for 30 min-1 hour becomes a problem – user3340627 Apr 21 '15 at 14:45
  • I am using that as an example of teh type of thing that can come up. anything that pullssomeone out of a meeting at most places tends to be somethign urgent from the perspective of their business. You won't know what pulled them out so it is best to assume that it iwas something that neededed handling. At any rate itis irrelevant, he is paying you not the other way around, so he gets to set the rules not you. – HLGEM Apr 21 '15 at 17:30
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    @HLGEM OP indicated that he's working on a fixed-price contract where it's important that the consulting company does enforce mutually agreed-upon rules. Perhaps the interruptions really are to put out fires left and right or perhaps the customer is simply not respecting the consultants' time because he doesn't have to pay extra for it. Suggestions for both scenarios can be given that amount to more than 'deal with it'. – Lilienthal Apr 21 '15 at 20:47
  • @Lilienthal, you don't enforce rules on customers. At least not at his level. He can ask his manager to talk to the customer because you are spending too long in training him due to interruptions, but really how are you going to get him to stop? WIth a fixed price contract, what incentive do they have? – HLGEM Apr 21 '15 at 21:13
  • @HLGEM ReallyTiredOfThisGame's answer covers the issues with authoritity though it should indeed be considered by all answers here. Regardless, a fixed-price contract does not equate to indentured servitude. The company should have discussed the impact of unexpected delays and the myriad of other things that can go wrong during such a project and have adjusted customer expectation accordingly. If a single developer loses a few hours during the project over meetings then that's a cost to be absorbed by the consulting company. [ctd] – Lilienthal Apr 22 '15 at 8:57
2

Consider including in your quotes an amount of time for client meetings. After that, you can then charge for consulting.

They key is to convey that your time is important and only so much of it is included in the price of your product. This way, they know in advance and can decide whether or not to do business with you.

If it was such a big deal (as in you had somewhere else to be), why didn't you leave and schedule at a different time?

  • Actually that's what i had done in a one occasion, left and rescheduled, i just need to communicate with them, that they also have to consider to adjust their schedule for the training, and not the other way around, to consider the training as the "fill-in-the-gaps-of-their-schedule" type of meeting. – user3340627 Apr 22 '15 at 15:49

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