“Ask your customers to be part of the solution, and don’t view them as part of the problem.” – Alan Weiss
Addressing client concerns often comes with the territory in the world of marketing communication. Sometimes a client may have feedback about deliverables or timelines. Other times the issue may relate to subcontractors or staff. In such circumstances, it’s essential to find a workable solution to the problem in good time to retain your client and preserve your reputation.
It is no secret that many customer service representatives have hours of training and professional experience to help them manage feedback – both positive and negative – from customers. Representatives are often taught set approaches and given scripted responses to frequent complaints and questions from customers. In this blog, we look at some tried and tested tactics from the customer service realm that professionals of all stripes can use to simplify procedures, save time and achieve optimal results.
Addressing a client’s concern isn’t about damage control. Instead, it’s an opportunity to resolve a situation in such a way that both parties are left feeling satisfied/whole. Handle the situation with care and consideration, and you will not only show your client that you appreciate his or her business, you will retain it.
1. Get the facts straight
First off, listen closely to what your client is saying and make sure you fully understand the situation and origins of your client’s concern. For example, if Jane is upset about a product, ask her to describe her concern in detail, and then check in with her about words she uses that could be open to interpretation. For example, if Stan tells you that he wanted something to be done “better,” ask him to describe his expectations and then compare what was done to what he would have liked to have seen done. You may want to ask your client to provide a metaphor or example of a similar experience to help you better grasp the situation.
2. Take a deep breath
It’s easy to be on the defensive when you feel attacked by someone else. Perhaps you blame yourself or feel like a failure because of a client’s complaint. Emotional reactions are a natural part of being human, but they can also be distracting and could lead you to miss important information or say the wrong thing. Take a deep breath, exhale slowly and try to relax. You’ll be in a better frame of mind to address your client’s concern when you feel calm and can look at the situation objectively, as we discuss next.
3. Be objective
Every client is different, and finding the best way to approach his or her concern may require troubleshooting. A helpful strategy is to pretend you’re a scientist gathering information for a research study. Imagine that the information your client provides is data and you’re there to perform experiments – using questions, answers and background information about the situation – to test out hypotheses.
For example, let’s say Ron expected his company logo to appear on an event program and is upset that it was missed. When you look back in your email correspondences with him, though, you find no mention of this request.
Hypothesis 1: Ron sent the request to the wrong email address.
Action: Ask Ron if he can send you a copy of the email containing the request.
Hypothesis 2: Ron’s email somehow ended up in you junk folder.
Action: Check if it’s in your junk mail. If it’s not there, ask Ron to re-send the email with the request.
Hypothesis 3: Ron spoke with someone else about this request.
Action: Ask him if he can recall when the request was made and to whom, along with what was discussed. Again, ask for any documentation of the request.
Once you’ve exhausted all the angles, it’s time to reach a conclusion based on the information you’ve gathered.
4. Put yourself in their shoes
While it’s a good idea to objectively assess the situation, it is equally helpful to consider your client’s perspective on the matter. Is there something else that is informing your client’s viewpoint? Would you feel the same way if you were in a similar situation or under similar circumstances? Seeing the dispute through the lens of your client’s world can add depth and further insight. It can also aid you in identifying useful language and analogies to move the dispute closer to a resolution.
5. Provide options, offer alternatives
When there isn’t a clear road ahead, it can be beneficial to veer off course by suggesting alternatives. Perhaps there is an upcoming event for which Ron’s logo (see the example in #3) could appear on the event program or other promotional materials. Or, maybe you could give Ron’s company and logo some online love through social media platforms and/or stories. Are there partner organizations you can reach out to who can provide additional assistance? There may also be other ways that you could support an upset client that shows your client that you care and are willing to take additional steps – above and beyond the original agreement – to make him or her happy.
6. Agree to disagree
There are times when it isn’t possible to reach a win-win resolution with a client. In these cases, you may have to decide if you want to bite the bullet and follow through with his or her request – even if that requires a financial loss – or walk away from the situation with an unhappy customer. Regardless of what you decide, employ tact, care and professionalism at all times. Move things towards a conclusion, and be mindful of your time once the decision to part ways has been made. But, always remember that this is a professional relationship; don’t make it personal.
Always thank your client for his or her business regardless of the outcome of the dispute. Sending a thank-you note is a nicety that should be extended to all clients, regardless of whether or not they are longstanding or one-offs.
8. Follow up
It might be a good idea to send your client a feedback form once the concern has been addressed. Create a short questionnaire that requests his or her feedback on the situation. Insights garnered from such surveys can yield valuable client information that can help you avoid mistakes in the future and up the ante in your customer service and retention plan.
This isn’t to say that you should ever tolerate harassing, bullying or discriminatory behavior. If this happens, you have every right to remove yourself from the situation. In most cases, though, using some of the strategies and approaches outlined above will be enough to address concerns and could even lead to a stronger working relationship between you and your client.
Stay tuned for our next blog post about video production for marketing communication.