“It’s not you, it’s me” are words you’ve heard a thousand times in a hundred different romantic comedies. Of course in real life, you know that “It’s not you, it’s me” really means “It’s you.” But in business, it’s important to investigate any time there is a client complaint. Unlike Steve Jobs’ famous email telling an iPhone 4 user to “Just avoid holding it in that way,” the small-business owner has to show more understanding.
Next up in Redshift’s continuing series examining the details of the 5 Steps for Handling “Difficult” Clients, it’s time to look inside your own business to make sure there is not a problem within your organization. When a client brings an issue to your attention, it is easy to assume this is a one-time conflict and therefore must be related to this unique client and their use of your deliverable, but how can you be sure? Following these five easy steps will help you navigate the depths of conflict resolution to determine if the crux of the issue lies within.
1. Don’t Assume. When you deliver to your client, you probably feel that you have given them a great a product and value. So when issues or complaints arise, it is easy to assume that they just don’t get it. Maybe you think they do not have your technical skill, so they are using it wrong. Or you assume they don’t have your sense of style, so they are viewing it wrong. But all of that requires you to assume something before you know the real facts. And you know the old saying about what happens when you assume something….
2. Step Back. When the fires of discontent are stoked between your client and yourself, try to step back. To truly be able to solve any problem, you must be able to emotionally remove yourself from the situation. Letting go, at least partially, of your sense of professional pride and commitment to your brand lessens the heat of the conflict. That places your problem-solving mind in a third-person mode where you can better see all points of the conflict and the path to resolution.
3. Role Play. Take a few moments to step out of your own shoes as the “vendor” and stretch your toes for a while as the “client.” Try to relate their comments and feelings to those you have had in your own dealings when you were the client trying to deal with a problem situation and your own vendors. That is a great path to bringing the empathy, which could be the key to resolving your client’s complaint.
4. New Eyes. Sometimes we just cannot see the other side. When the wall of conflict between your client and yourself is too high, get a new set of eyes. Ask for advice from a trusted friend or partner. Often a fresh perspective is just what is needed to see a solution that you had unintentionally hidden from yourself.
5. Be Unforgiving. Once you have achieved the cosmic combination of empathy and understanding, and you do, in fact, find the problem lies in your business, it is time to be unforgiving. Take whatever steps necessary to excise the cancer that is causing problems for your clients and make certain it does not happen again!
It is never easy to admit that you, or your organization, has done something wrong, but it does happen. In the end, both you and your client are only human and therefore capable of error. So if your corporate soul searching does turn up points that have led to your client’s dissatisfaction, admit to it. Honesty and quick resolution are the greatest tools to transform any dissatisfied client into a committed and satisfied advocate for your small business.