When you are wowing your clients with customer service and delivering on your promises (these two are a bare minimum for success, so I’m just assuming they are happening) you expect to have happy clients sending you thank you emails and referrals.
But… some people just aren’t happy, no matter what you do. Or your team made a mistake. Plus, misunderstandings happen all the time, software fails, and equipment breaks down. With all the factors that weigh in on the client experience, there’s a chance you will need to know how to effectively and swiftly resolve conflicts with clients.
Reacting negatively to complaints or the poor handling of customer concerns could mean the loss of a client, but more importantly, escalated conflicts can damage your reputation. A client who has a negative experience is highly likely to share that experience by leaving a bad review, and dissatisfied customers typically tell an average of 15 other people about their negative consumer experiences (American Express 2017 Customer Service Barometer). You want to have a say in these conversations as much as possible.
Whether you or your team is at fault or not, need a conflict resolution plan in place before any problems arise. This ensures you have the right processes in place, and everybody knows what they should be doing before faced with handling a disgruntled (or even angry) client.
If you have a minute to deep dive into the impact of customer satisfaction on the health of your business, especially when your customer base is a comparatively smallish roster of clients, then check out this in-depth article from a leader in customer service, HelpScout: 75 Customer Service Facts, Quotes, and Statistics.
How to Create Your Client Conflict Resolution Plan
To effectively resolve client conflicts, you and your team should have an established client conflict resolution plan that solidifies the process long before your first angry email comes in. You have contracts for new clients to sign (because… of course you do!) and part of that contract should detail how both you or your client can terminate the relationship and what that looks like.
With the transparent terms of your contract, you have a framework for resolution and can follow these steps to get your business’ client conflict resolution plan in place:
1. Designate who is responsible for communicating with clients.
When situations escalate with your clients, let your team know the exact process and words you want used to get that client connected to the right person with as little work as possible on the client-side.
(Hint: If you’re the boss, you should be resolving client conflicts. Not only does it guarantee you know what your clients’ experiences look like, but customer satisfaction is diluted when delegated. Disgruntled clients just get more disgruntled when they have to talk to someone, who has to talk to someone else, who has to get approval from yet another person to do something before the second person gets back to that first person so that that first person can get back to the client. That’s a tough sentence to read through, so imagine how infuriating it is to the client to live through.)
2. Engage in active listening and be humble.
Even when the client is at fault, you should strive for a professional tone that leans way towards empathy and is void of any condescension. Your client needs time to speak their mind, share their story, and explain their frustrations uninterrupted. Sometimes people just want to be heard, and you’ll need all the information available to resolve the situation. Active listening means you’re repeating back their major issues to show you understand the core of the problem.
3. Clear up misunderstandings and disconnects with the facts.
Your client has explained their experience, and you listened without argument, so they know you understand what their problem is. Now is when you clearly state the facts that detail your business’s side of the interaction. Do this without emotion, especially if your client is highly emotional about the situation. If you’ve had clear communication with the client up to this point this is where most misunderstanding can be quickly resolved.
4. Be ready with a few solutions that are acceptable to you for most common complaints.
Listening to the client, acknowledging that you heard their concerns, presenting a solution, and explaining the process of what will happen next is a simple 4-step resolution plan you could put in place right now. When the client knows the direct path to getting past the conflict, they are more likely to agree to a resolution.
5. Stick to your terms and avoid haggling.
It’s important that the client sees your solution as THE compromise between where they are and where your business stands, and not an opening to haggle. Your willingness to participate in a friendly engagement with the client is a fair attempt to resolve the problem, so be confident in staying firm. If the client is still demanding more than you are offering, be prepared to follow the termination terms in your client’s signed contract.
6. Document your client resolution plan and share it with your team.
When everyone has clear instructions on your processes and how you expect them to optimize their interactions with clients and prospects, you shrink the margin for error and misunderstanding. Your client conflict resolution plan could easily be just a few sentences, [just make sure everyone is on the same page.
Client Conflict Resolution Plans - Have it Before You Need It
Your first line of defense with a client conflict resolution plan will always be proactive client management. Proactive means there is a new client onboarding process, a clear set of expectations and consistent communication from your business to the client. Look at conflicts as an opportunity to display your professionalism and expertise while building greater trust with your clients to get closer to the win-win situations that make you glad you’re the boss.
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