In my previous article, I quickly touched on five tried-and-true methods for dealing with “difficult” clients. Sometimes a brief list of steps can come in handy when you are in a pinch. However, the truth is that those five points are far too important for a mere sentence or two in a list. Therefore, we will begin examining each of these in more depth, beginning with “Listen.” Why is listening such an important part of conflict-resolution management?
Whether your organization is a small personal affair or a multi-national corporation, the one certainty is that you have clients. Whether you call them “guests, “clients,” or “customers,” if you are in business, then by definition someone is your paying you for your services. That means eventually you will have a client who is not happy. From that moment on, your business is about resolving the issue, and that means it is time to listen.
It is important to understand that listening is different from hearing. When we hear someone, we are merely completing the physical circuit of sound leaving one person’s mouth and entering another person’s ear. Sometimes it seems as if the signal stops there and the brain never becomes involved. In his 2011 TED talk, Julian Treasure tells us that we spend approximately 60 percent of our communication time listening. However, we retain only approximately 25 percent of what we hear. To avoid that sort of communication failure, follow these five steps to ensure successful listening that leads to a successful resolution.
1. Strike a Pose. Whether you are meeting with your client in person, via a web conference, or using a good old-fashioned phone call, body language matters. Proper posture, proper eye contact, and a good smile will serve you well. It’s been said a thousand times, but when you smile, it comes through in your voice and will help put your client at ease.
2. Use Your Ears, Not Your Mouth. When I was a child my grandmother said, “The good Lord gave you two ears and one mouth so you could listen twice as much as you speak.” Whether she knew it or not, Grandma was hitting on an important point of conflict resolution: You have to sit and listen to your client to understand their situation and not interrupt them. Listen carefully and speak only once your client has finished.
3. Empathize. Although you have a definite role in this scenario, you must empathize with your client. This should not be too difficult because, at one time or another, we have all been in the role of “dissatisfied client.” With that in mind, you must try to put yourself in your client’s shoes. It is important that you abandon your role as vendor and imagine yourself with your client’s expectations and having those expectations unmet.
4. Acknowledge. This is easily the hardest part of listening. Nevertheless, this stage of resolution is about accounting and taking inventory of the issues at hand. Whether or not you agree with the points your client raised, you must let them know you understand that they believe these points are valid. That happens by acknowledging each of these points, even if it means setting your own feelings aside for a moment.
5. Repeat. Once you have faithfully listened to everything your client has to say on the matter, it is time to make certain you understood correctly. The surest way to do that is to repeat back the list of issues your client raised. This step may seem unnecessary or even time consuming, but it is an essential step in establishing clear communication.
It is easy to say that nobody enjoys dealing with the occasional dissatisfied client. Of course, nobody enjoys playing the role of dissatisfied client, either. For this reason, listening is an all-important beginning to resolving the matter and transforming a dissatisfied client into an advocate.
Following these steps will guarantee that your attempts to transform a tense situation into a success are off to a good start. Of course, listening is just the beginning. In the future, we will examine the other four steps with a similar level of detail. Each step will bring us all closer to being experts in transforming dissatisfied clients into advocates who will promote your business!