We’ve often written about the need for good policies—and what makes them good. Our advice has included tips on putting solid policies into place, delivering your policies in writing and verbally, and sticking to them—including thinking ahead about what constitutes a reasonable exception and, perhaps more importantly, what does not. We’ve talked about understanding the purpose of policies, too. For example, a cancellation policy that doesn’t keep you from losing money isn’t doing what it’s supposed to. What we haven’t written as much about is how to communicate your policies effectively. Because having a good policy is only the first step—how you present it matters just as much.
So you know you’re supposed to include written policies in your service contract. But how you write your policies can make a world of difference in how clients and potential clients perceive them, and in whether they respect and follow them. A policy statement should include much more than just the meat of the policy itself.
Tell Them Why
Small children pester their parents with a constant barrage of “why?” in an attempt to satiate a growing curiosity about the world. For teenagers, the question takes on a petulant edge, as in “why should I?” or “why do I have to?” At that age, interest turns from curiosity to a deeply held belief in fairness—and a surety that any rules they disagree with are inherently lacking it. I’m not sure we ever fully outgrow this stage. At least it can seem that way watching a grown adult complain about a perfectly reasonable policy and demand, beg, or haggle for an exception.
As small business owners, you know that making those exceptions can make or break you. The first step toward solving this problem is proactively answering the question, “why?” We’re all less likely to question a rule when we understand its purpose and believe it to be reasonable and fair. You have your policies for a reason—make sure your clients know what that reason is.
We’re also less likely to question a policy when we perceive it to be in our interest. So put a bit of spin on yours—tell clients how your policy is in their interest. Does it allow small classes? Guarantee their spot in your daycare? Make holiday pet sitting reservations easier? Allow you to take better care of their dog or keep him safe? Your policies are a marketing opportunity to reinforce why clients want you—what makes you different, what aspect of your service drew them in.
Write It Down
Let’s look at some examples.
Here’s a cancellation policy for dog training classes:
No cancellations allowed within two weeks of the start of class.
Here’s the same class cancellation policy, written to include the “why” and the spin:
Because we are dedicated to maintaining small classes with plenty of one-on-one interaction, we are not able to accommodate cancellations. Cancellations with less than two weeks’ notice will not be refunded, so please plan carefully. We appreciate your cooperation to help keep our classes small and effective for you.
Here’s a cancellation policy for private training, this one for day training:
Missed transfer sessions must be rescheduled, and will be charged for.
Here’s the same private training cancellation policy, written to include the “why” and the spin:
Without the critical step of transfer sessions, you will not enjoy the results of the day training done for you. Because our goals are for your dog’s behavior to change for you, and because we want you to see the best possible outcome from training, your attendance at transfer sessions is mandatory; we do not allow cancellations. Missed sessions will be rescheduled and automatically charged to your card. The importance of these sessions to meeting your goals cannot be stressed highly enough. Please schedule them carefully.
Here’s a pick-up/ drop-off policy for dog daycare:
Dogs must be at daycare by –am, and picked up between the hours of –pm and –pm.
Here’s the same pick-up/ drop-off policy, written to include the “why” and the spin:
Our clients value the careful attention we pay the dogs in our care. In order for staff to give their best to your dog, and so that your dog may enjoy a day free from stressful interruptions, we appreciate your respect for our pick-up and drop-off hours. All dogs must be at daycare by –am and picked up between –pm and –pm.
Which of the above statements would you yourself be more likely to respect? Policy statements that incorporate an explanation and marketing spin are much more palatable; clients are less likely to balk at rules when they understand their purpose and benefit. We find it’s rare for clients to complain about or ask for exceptions to policies that are written and verbally explained this way up front. Who doesn’t want smaller classes? Who doesn’t want his dog’s caregiver to place her full attention on his dog’s happiness and safety? Who wants to pay for training and not see results?
There will of course still be occasional teenagers—er, clients—who feel entitled to an exception. But when you understand your policies and the reasoning behind them, it’s also much easier to say no and explain why when they do.