Sometimes, despite our very best efforts, things don’t go the way we anticipate. A reliable product will suddenly fail, a comment will be taken the wrong way, or a third party will let us down.
Generally, however, the client at the end of these downfalls doesn’t care why things have gone pear-shaped… all they know is their expectations have fallen flat and they’re “NOT HAPPY JAN!”
If not handled the right way, these failed expectations can escalate to breaking point.
So, when the “proverbial” hits the fan and we have someone coming at us with both barrels blazing, what can we do to temper the situation and restore our client’s faith in us?
1. STAY CALM & POLITE
Regardless of how upsetting the situation may be – keep your cool. If you allow yourself to get upset, you risk saying or doing something which may inflame the situation. Resist the urge to snap back with nasty comments (or give them a Liverpool kiss).
Instead…. B – R – E – A – T – H – E.
Often the reason someone is upset, is because they don’t feel they’re being heard. All they really want to do is to get their gripe off their chest and feel it’s been taken seriously. So, let your client rant and rave for as long as it takes for them to get their point across.
You don’t have to agree. You just have to listen.
3. IF THE MISTAKE IS YOURS – OWN IT
People appreciate integrity. If your screw-up has caused the problem, then accept responsibility and own up to it. Don’t try to pass the buck.
A simple straight forward apology can work wonders, especially if you can demonstrate you’ve learnt from the experience and will use that knowledge to help prevent similar problems recurring down the track.
Even if you think the complaint is completely unreasonable or has been blown out of proportion, acknowledge and validate that your client is upset.
Simply stating “I understand you’re upset – how can we change that?” can go along way to defusing the situation.
5. ASK HOW THE ISSUE CAN BE RESOLVED
Often an apology may be all that’s required! However, if your client has a specific form of recompense in mind, this may be your opportunity to demonstrate that you can meet – or even exceed – their expectations to restore good faith.
If you don’t consider their suggestion viable, politely explain why, then counter-offer with a solution as close as possible to what they have suggested. Your client will feel they’ve been listened to and their thoughts taken into consideration.
6. GIVE THANKS
Let’s face it, when people are let down, often they will simply walk away and find someone else to fulfil their needs. If you’ve been given the opportunity to rectify a problem, it means your client is at least willing to give you a chance to redeem their faith in you – which is a good thing.
Let them know how much you appreciate them alerting you to the problem and the opportunity to make it right. What better way to show how much you value their custom and their opinion.
7. DOCUMENT EVERYTHING
Keeping excellent track of everything you say and do can sometimes help save your bacon, particularly if your angry client has their facts wrong. Retain copies of emails, letters and dated notes of phone conversations.
This doesn’t give you licence to say “Nyar nyar.. you were wrong!” but if you can back up your version of events with solid data, it can sure make life easier.
Even if you’re the one in the wrong, keep a record of the steps you’ve taken to resolve the situation just in case you need to verify facts at a later stage. It can also provide the basis for valuable training in handling such events should they happen again (or preventing them in the first place).
These steps may seem pretty obvious, but it’s surprising (and pretty sad) how often people get them wrong.
By staying calm, really listening, and finding the best solution for both parties, you may even turn a negative experience into a positive one.
Have any other ideas for diffusing a tense situation? I’d love to hear them.