Most of us take pride in providing great service to our customers. When we do something well, we experience greater job satisfaction and are motivated to excel. Conversely, when we are having a difficult time with a client or a conflict erupts with a customer, it has a profound impact on our day.
Conflict exists in business for various reasons. First, we must acknowledge that we cannot make everyone happy, and we will be miserable if we try. Next, there are those people in the world that are just plain difficult. However, these situations make up only a small percentage of the conflict we all experience. If we look at the nature of conflict and how we can enhance our skills to deal with it more effectively, conflict can actually provide us with an opportunity to create trust and therefore build better relationships.
Let’s take a look specifically at conflict that occurs with our customers. As individual human beings with individual interests, it is only natural that those interests might be in conflict with the interests of others. It is not the conflict itself that is most important; it is how we handle that conflict that will have the greatest impact on our relationship with our customers. Here are some common areas for customer conflicts:
Pricing: There is a misunderstanding about the pricing structure
Timing: The customer expects an action to occur more quickly than it can be scheduled
Results: The customer has an expectation about the results of an action that are not in line with the actual outcome
Change: There has been a change to a process or service that the customer was not expecting.
I’m sure that you can think of personal examples that fall into each of these categories. I’m equally confident you can remember times when you handled the conflict well and other times when you wish you could have had a second chance (an actual “do-over” or mulligan). Next time you are faced with a conflict, consider the following steps to assist you in dealing with that conflict more effectively.
1. Acknowledge the Conflict
Acknowledge that you are aware of the customer’s perceptions and concerns. In a service business where you have repeat interaction with the client, it is important to bring the matter into the open, and give them an opportunity to explain or provide additional information. Go beyond the surface facts and examine the details to uncover the root cause and not just the symptoms.
Please note that I am not suggesting that you apologize for your actions. However, I am recommending that you apologize for the “misunderstanding” or that you apologize for the customer having an experience below their expectation. With this type of apology, you are not accepting blame and you will still leave open the possibility for further discussion.
3. Listen In Order to Understand
Listening is a very valuable skill that most of us have not mastered. In today’s environment we multi-task, we move too quickly and we do not take the time necessary to truly hear the interests of others. The goal of “active” or “reflective” listening is to understand what the customer needs in a given situation. The six steps involved in active listening are:
- Create a block of time for the conversation, when you will not be interrupted
- Give your total concentration to the party speaking
- Don’t make assumptions (or jump to conclusions)
- Hear their needs (interests) and not just their position
- Repeat what you heard, the words and the feelings, then allow for clarification
- Tune into words, feelings, and body language (if applicable)
4. Think Long Term
When deciding what action should be taken, think long term. Ask yourself these questions:
- What will it cost you to keep this customer?
- What is the long term value this customer provides to your company?
- What does it cost you to find a new customer of equal value?
The answers to these questions will provide you with the information you need to reach a solution that can work for your business and your customer.
5. Confirm Resolution
Finish strong. Surprise and delight the customer by sending confirmation of the resolution and an acknowledgement of appreciation immediately. This will convey your interest in the customer and provide them with an experience they will remember favorably.
With the exception of Step 5, all the above actions require personal interactions with your customers. To create trust, we must have real time conversations where we can provide feedback, share feelings, and reach mutual agreements. While email is an effective tool for sharing information, it is not effective for building or maintaining relationships.
Debra A. Warren, PCAM, CCAM
Vice President of Client Relations at Associa®
As published in HOA Manager Newsline, February 2011