Harry Truman once advised a friend to be honest from the start so that you don’t have to worry about covering your back later.
Good advice for politics, as well as business.
While the quality of your work will largely determine whether you succeed or fail in business, another, less exciting aspect of business can actually be just as important: how you handle client conflicts.
Dealing with an unhappy customer can often be the most trying and emotional part of owning or running a business. However, if you identify and manage your client’s expectations from the beginning, conflict can actually strengthen the bonds between you.
How to Manage Your Client’s Expectations
Get a good start: Early on, define how problems will be resolved by clearly articulating the structure of the services your clients have chosen. Make it clear that if there is a problem, it will be addressed in a professional and timely manner. Also, let your client know that issues will come up. Regardless of the nature of your relationship, it’s impossible to be on the same page at all times. Articulating this point is even more important if you’re dealing with equipment, products or other tangible assets whose performance you cannot control.
Define mutual objectives and identify roles: Let your client know early on that your work will only be as good as he or she allows it to be. That means everyone has a role to play in achieving the objectives you’ve identified. Discuss how your companies can work together to reach your client’s goals. Some clients mistakenly believe that because they have hired you, the work you’re doing is no longer their responsibility. While this may be true in certain fields, most professional relationships require a collaboration between the service provider and the client. Make sure everyone understands their role in the outcome of the project or service.
Be accountable and expect accountability: After everyone understands the part they play in the process, check back with your client frequently to gauge progress and satisfaction. This is where most problems will be identified and resolved. If you don’t check in often enough, you may find a minor outstanding issue has bubbled into an epic problem, making the conflict much more difficult to address. Checking in also reminds your clients that they have an obligation to the process, and you can avoid the unpredictable consequences that can arise from a lapse in communication. Be pro-active about soliciting constructive criticism and use the feedback to improve the process.
Maintain a customer service mindset: Make serving the client’s needs your top priority. When a problem arises, understand that it is not a personal attack and that keeping calm and listening to the client will go a lot further than arguing or defending yourself. What matters most is that you follow through on your promise to give their problem your full attention.
Although it is sometimes possible that a conflict is simply too big or too onerous for the client to get past, managing expectations along the way can help prevent this scenario from materializing. The best part of this sort of conflict resolution is that your clients will always know what to expect from you.
Even if parting ways is the ultimate result, handling the client honestly and respectfully throughout the life of your business relationship will give you the peace of mind of knowing you did everything you could to salvage the relationship.