“Be part of the solution, not part of the problem”: It’s advice so old and commonplace that surely it must have originated in some ancient fortune cookie.

At some point and time, we’ve all been told this and have certainly said it to others. So when it comes time to resolve the issue weighing on your client’s mind, is there any better advice to reach for? No, probably not. Therefore, we’ll examine what it means to be part of the client solution in our continuing our series, The 5 Steps for Handling “Difficult” Clients.

It is worth noting that before you can resolve any issue, you must first be committed to being part of the solution. That means that you have taken a mental accounting of the situation, the complaint, your client, and their value to your company. Once you have done all of that and decided the situation merits a solution, you are ready to jump in and clear away the barrier between your client and yourself. Here are five easy to follow steps on your path to resolution.

1. The Real Issue. It might seem that you know what the problem is. Perhaps your client called you to complain about a billing issue. But is that the real problem, or was that just the straw that broke the camel’s back? After dutifully listening to your client, take a moment to assure them you can both work to resolve this. Then take the time to discuss your recent dealings with the client. Look for hints of an ongoing, underlying issue that may be the real cause of disquiet.

2. What Do They Want? Albert Einstein was once quoted, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” It is incumbent upon your to work with your client to get past the initial anger or dismay to learn how you can resolve the matter. Ask them quite plainly, “How can I make this right for you?” You will often find that the answer to this simple and straightforward question is equally simple and straightforward. It just takes the act of asking to bring it out.

3. Is That Really What They Want? In very much the same way that a client may have been set off by a small issue that masks a larger one, the solution they ask for may not be the one they really want. Returning to our issue concerning billing, perhaps the client complains that his PO number is incorrect on his statement, a relatively small matter. However the level of irritation is disproportionate because the real billing issue is one of cash flow, and a Net 60 term would help them ease that pain point in a way that Net 30 does not. Without learning what the client truly needs, you will never truly resolve their dissatisfaction.

client solutions

4. Do It. Once you have learned what your client wants, you have to decide if your business can handle that sort of action. You have come this far, and you have done so by deciding that your client is worth investing in. If your business relationship out-values the cost of the client solution, then do it. Take the steps required to show your client the goodwill that they need to secure them as an advocate for you. If you can afford to make a payment policy exception for a valuable client, then surely it is wise to do so rather than risk the relationship.

5. Follow Up. No one likes confrontation, so very often we think that “Thank you, goodbye” is the end of the problem-solving process. It’s not. In fact, resolving the issue only gets you halfway to a harmonious relationship with your client. Show your commitment to your business and your client by following up with them after your agreed-upon solution is in effect. Make certain that they are as satisfied with the outcome as you are. The simple act of picking up the phone and calling can go a long way to diffusing future unrest.

Problem solving is a topic that people often avoid because you have to be in difficult situations in order to develop the skills to avoid them. Wouldn’t it be a great world if it worked the other way around? Still, every problem offers an opportunity to show your professionalism and willingness to work with your client. Very often, these opportunities are foundations for long-lasting relationships that span years or even decades. If a small bit of discomfort is all it takes to learn these skills and build toward a long-lived working relationship, then that is definitely a price your small business can afford!

Tell us: What problems have you encountered with clients, and how did you resolve them? Please share in a comment below.

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