Dealing with Client Conflict: How to navigate the 4 stages
Every company has some conflict with clients from time to time. The way your team handles these occurrences can mean the difference between creating a loyal client for life and a disgruntled homeowner who will spread their dissatisfaction throughout the community.
Seek first to understand, and then to be understood. Stephen Covey, Author
There are the four stages to the client conflict cycle. Following are tips and tactics on how to handle a disgruntled client throughout the way.
Stage 1: The notification
This is when your client first voices his concern. You may receive a phone call but even more common is an email. (Probably because it starts the paper trail for the worst case scenario).
While email is a great way to communicate, it’s not the way to respond to problems. Even if your client chooses to complain in an email, resist the urge to follow suit. Instead, pick up the phone and set a time to meet face to face.
A friend and fellow business owner says, “If you find yourself having difficulty writing an email in response to a client, that’s a clear sign that it’s not an email issue.”
Stage 2: Remove the splinter before it gets infected
The longer it takes to address the problem the bigger the problem gets in your client’s eyes. No one enjoys facing unhappy customers, but speed is one of the most important elements in handling these issues effectively.
The minute you hear about a problem—whether directly from a client or from an employee—reach out immediately. This shows that you are concerned and dedicated to client satisfaction.
Stage 3: Release the pressure
When you finally meet with the client, keep your cool. Even if you know the client is dead wrong, don’t let your emotions get the best of you. Losing your temper will get you nowhere and could damage your relationship forever.
Most importantly, listen first. You may be tempted to try to solve the problem right away (or worse, defend your position). But by this point the problem has been festering. You need to allow the client an opportunity to vent. So let him. Don’t interrupt. Just listen carefully to what’s being said. It shows that you sincerely care about the problem and want to help.
Stage 4: The Solution
Once he’s released all the pent up emotion, it’s time for you to talk. The first words out of your mouth should be his. In other words, repeat the concerns he just voiced. This reinforces to the client that you were listening and understand the problem – it helps calm the situation.
Say, “Let me see if I understand. You’re unhappy because. . .” In addition, repeating the issue will ensure that you and the client are in agreement about the full scope of the problem.
If you’re not certain what will make the client happy, ask him. This way, he can have some input into solving the issue. Plus, in many cases the client will offer a solution that’s much less time intensive or expensive you had expected.
While we’d all love to go through life without having to deal with client complaints, that’s simply not reality. Problems will arise. So instead of putting your head in the sand and avoiding the issues, follow these tips to turn problems into opportunities!
What about you?
Have you successfully navigated a toxic situation and turned it into a happy client? Please share your stories in the comments below!