A client called me last week to coach her through a delicate situation with a customer. Her customer had entered into a legal agreement, and at the last minute, wanted to change the terms of the agreement without consent from the other party. This would have jeopardized the entire transaction. Furthermore, her customer insisted that she had told my client about her decision prior to signing the contract (which was not true). My client was on the hook to talk her customer out of a really bad decision, even though her mind was made up.
I devised four strategies to diffuse the disagreement, and create a win-win situation that protected the integrity of the legal agreement AND made everyone happy.
When you and your client don’t see eye to eye, and you need to find a way to move past the obstacle to save the relationship AND do right by your client, follow these steps:
1: Stay in the Present, Not the Past. The default defense when we disagree with someone is to go backwards and play the blame game. Nothing ever good comes from constantly rehashing what got you to a bad place. Instead, focus on where you are right now, and where you want to be in the future. Paint the picture of resolution. Release the blame. Embrace the solution.
2. Focus on Collaboration. The word “we” is never more important than it is in a disagreement. The most dangerous words are “I” and “you.” In disagreements, these two little words can cause a lot of divisiveness and distance. To disarm defense, ask, “What can we do to move past this?” Communicate to your client that collectively, you are both committed to problem-solving. Being “right” is way over-rated, especially when there is a lot at stake.
3: Create a sense of Urgency. Often in customer disagreements, time is not on your side. The more a client becomes emotionally disengaged or disenchanted, the greater the likelihood they will terminate the relationship. Small bumps in the road quickly escalate into impassable boulders when not addressed quickly and completely. Remember that there is ALWAYS another company out there ready to take your place.
4: Come to the Table with a Solution. Before you prepare to diffuse the problem, find a viable solution that you can present to the customer. If they don’t like the way you are doing something, or don’t like what you are suggesting, find another alternative.
Finally, DO NOT ARGUE OVER EMAIL. Email serves a lot of great purposes. Resolving conflict is not one of them. Actually pick up the phone and have a voice-to-voice dialogue. That being said, I am a big believer in paper trails to recap important conversations. Immediately after you’ve resolved a disagreement, recap the discussion and the agreed-upon solution, and share with your customer. This removes any ambiguity, miscommunication, and misunderstanding.
Your goal is to have this situation completely diffused by the end of the conversation, and to ensure your customer knows you are on their side. It’s impossible to avoid all disagreements with customers, and quite often, they lead to great discussions with lessons learned on how to serve them better. However, as a rule, there’s simply no room for drama in your healthy business relationships.
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