It happens to the best of us. An upset client calls to complain about a product or service, and you're completely caught off guard. How do you react? Do you fly off the handle right along with him? Or do you respond in a calm, thoughtful way that salvages and even strengthens your relationship? Author Maribeth Kuzmeski says that a high-pressure scenario doesn't have to blow your client relationship sky-high-in fact, you can use it as an opportunity to truly connect with your client and keep him around for the long haul.
"Conflict is a normal part of business, and we all need to learn how to deal with it in the right way," says Kuzmeski, author of The Connectors: How the World's Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life (Wiley, September 2009, ISBN: 978-0-470-48818-8, $22.95). "Some clients are just plain difficult. And yes, 'easy' clients can also become dissatisfied for a variety of reasons. The good news is that there are effective ways to handle conflict and resolve issues-and these methods will actually strengthen your relationship.
"Remember that quite often, unhappy clients will not even tell you that they have a problem," she adds. "They simply move their business elsewhere. So, if a client thinks enough of you to give you the chance to repair a bad situation, take it. Play an active role in making your customer happy so that you can be sure to keep him or her on board with you."
Creating clients for life is all about building relationships based on real human connections, and that's the message found in Kuzmeski's book. The Connectors describes how some of the world's most successful professionals develop better, more profitable connections. And a big part of the way they do it is changing the way they think about conflict.
As much as we all hope for smooth sailing in our interactions with clients, conflicts are bound to occur. If they never happened, anyone could be a great connector. It's what you do when there's a problem that separates the (proverbial) men from the boys. Here are a few tips that will help you keep your business relationships from going bad...and rescue those that have started to sour.
Extend a peace offering. It's easy to reach out to clients when things are going well. However, it's all too easy to avoid them when hard feelings are present. Don't succumb to the temptation. Proactively reaching out to your clients can squash any negativity they may feel for you. Even the simplest of gestures can be effective: Offer an apology when you've made a mistake. Then, make things right by extending a peace offering. It doesn't need to be anything extravagant. It can be as simple as a hand-written note, a refund, or a coupon.
"I know the peace offering works on clients, because it has worked on me," says Kuzmeski. "At one point the relationship my firm and I had with a technology consulting group had turned sour. They had missed numerous project deadlines and just weren't satisfying my expectations. I stuck with them, though, in hopes of repairing the relationship. Then one day, my contact Jeremy and I discovered we had something in common-a love for hockey! In fact, one day I mentioned that my son's favorite team was the Pittsburgh Penguins, and that he and I would be watching them play in the Stanley Cup later that evening.
"Well, the Penguins ended up winning, and much to my surprise, Jeremy sent my son copies of magazines featuring their big win, a copy of the actual Pittsburgh newspaper from the day they won, and a few other items," she adds. "None of what he sent cost very much, but the impact of his gesture was significant. My son was beyond thrilled. He couldn't believe that one of my contacts had sent something for him! As for me, it immediately changed the way I felt about the company. My feeling was, 'Really, they can't be all that bad. I mean, they are hockey fans, and they were nice to my son.' Jeremy may not have known it, but he extended a peace offering that helped preserve my company's relationship with his."