In an ideal world, two parties from different industries would be able to come together and say, "Hey, let's collaborate!"
Then, after discovering they're the perfect fit for each other, they would agree on every move, create the perfect business relationship, come up with the perfect result, and the customer would recommend the company they worked with to everyone they meet at every conference forevermore.
The ideals of customer success are just those: ideals.
Unfortunately, here on Planet Earth, things don't always go as planned. Sometimes, you and your customer won't see eye-to-eye. But the last thing you want is for your professional relationship to be strained.
So, because it's a best practice within the customer success framework to anticipate and mitigate potential issues, we'll discuss some conflict resolution tips with your customers at a couple levels: How to avoid conflict with your customers before it happens, and how to deal with conflict when you're in it.
Conflict Resolution Tips with Customers
- Draw on past experiences to set expectations.
- Communicate clearly.
- Acknowledge the people's specific needs.
- Say you're sorry.
- Help people how they want to be helped.
- Don't interrupt.
1. Draw on past experiences to set expectations.
Chances are, you're not a perfect company. Maybe you've had issues with customers in the past where you couldn't meet in the middle on certain strategies or ideas. Maybe you found that what your customer wanted wasn't actually what they needed.
Or worse: Maybe you found that you weren't the one listening or being as flexible as you should have been.
So how do you avoid the conflict that will probably arise from this? Identify what did or didn't work with past customers, and really sit down and flesh out what can and can't be done for your customer with the timeframe you're working in -- or map out possible conflicts with them and talk about their concerns up-front.
This means you're going to have to engage fully with each customer. And in order to do that, you must set up a communication schedule that accommodates their needs and the mediums through which they prefer to communicate (i.e., email, Slack, Trello, etc.)
2. Communicate clearly.
Communication is integral to everything you do in a successful customer relationship. It's the mark of a mature company -- one that, regardless of its experience, countless interactions with customers just like this one, and general expertise -- to ask questions.
What does your customer really want? How can you frame your product or service as a means to an end for them? Where do they struggle? What are their goals for the upcoming quarter, six months, a year? Be curious and be open to their ideas, as well as their periodic feedback.
But here's the crucial next step: Ask yourself what your goals with this customer are, and align your goals and theirs. You'll be able to help them achieve what they want, and their success will empower you and your business practices. And there you have it -- symbiosis.
3. Acknowledge people's specific needs.
For example, say you're a marketing company. Your typical best practice is to encourage all customers to be active on social media, but one old-school customer -- who's done just fine without it -- doesn't see the point. You keep pushing, but they've started to get annoyed.
Instead, take a step back and assess the field. Based on their own customers, does this old-school customer actually need an active Twitter feed? Maybe not. Set up a LinkedIn and go with that they want to do. Just because something works for one organization doesn't mean it's going to work for another.
4. Say you're sorry.
If you messed up (see above: no company is a perfect company), saying "My bad, won't happen again" won't cut it. If your relationship with your customer is less-than-stellar, it's bad for you and them both professionally and personally.
Instead, acknowledge any mistake or disconnect and pull a "Sorry, and … " on them. Add on to your apology: Tell them how you're going to fix it and how you're going to avoid situations like this in the future.
Come with a plan of action, with steps to reverse damage and steps to move forward. Let them know you actually care about exceptional results and their company's well-being.
5. Help people the way they want to be helped.
That plan of action we talked about? It can't be all about you. Help your customer in the ways that make sense for them. Communicate with them through the mediums they typically communicate.
When you're trying to remedy a situation, it will need to be a collaborative process. Conversations that result from this collaboration might be awkward, but they will be valuable in the long run.
The idea here is to create a loyal customer or an advocate. And as it turns out, it's less about consistently delighting your customers and more about reducing their workload that will make them feel more comfortable in your hands. (That's why the "Sorry, and … " approach works well.) So, help them how they want to be helped -- take on their stresses and turn them into opportunities for growth.
6. Don't interrupt.
This is a good rule of any relationship -- not just customer relationships. When people have an issue, or they're delivering feedback, or they simply need to voice their frustration, don't immediately jump in to step over their words with your solution.
Even if you have the exact right answer or response to provide to a customer, let them finish speaking before you jump in. It shows that you care what they have to say and that you're listening -- and not just trying to be right, or hustle them off the phone. By pausing for a few moments, then helping them, you can still get the information they need across without increasing any anger or frustration they might already be feeling.
Let's face it: We don't live in an ideal world. Sometimes customer relationships get strained, and conflict arises, you both have to decide if the relationship is worth working on.
Most of the time, it is. Work as partners to fix problems -- that way, you can connect in a way that leaves less room for error in the future.
To learn more, read about the value of customer empathy next.