An angry customer will inform many more people of their dissatisfaction than a satisfied one. This is how it is; there is no way around it. Besides, who doesn’t like to receive good customer service? It is relatively easy to have happy clients when service runs smoothly. But how you manage those not-so-positive experiences will make a difference and can even bring you the benefit of winning an advocate and, in addition, save you a lot of headaches and stress. So, it is worth learning to manage the conflicts and complaints that arise in your daily practice.
First of all, when facing and managing a conflict with a customer, whether they are right or wrong, you always need to take into account that “the client’s perception is reality.” Understanding this is paramount. However, a conflict does not always imply a problem as it may become an opportunity. There are three main objectives in good conflict management:
- Keeping the client.
- Exceeding the client’s expectations when solving a conflict and in future relationships.
- Solving what originated the conflict itself.
As with everything else in life, prevention is best, and problems can be anticipated by managing expectations and good communication.
Anyone who deals with customers face-to-face knows how to identify who needs more or fewer explanations, which client is more or less impatient, which clients are more or less emotional. The key is to detect the emotions behind each pet owner. Still, as a rule, these are: fear of losing their pet, linked to suffering for the money they have to spend, sometimes mixed with feelings of guiltiness, frustration due to previous failed treatments, shame for not understanding medical jargon, and endless private problems they always bring to the examination room. When solving a conflict, swiftness is crucial. The sooner you take action, the more likely it will turn into something unimportant.
How can it be done?
- It is essential to bring the client away from a full waiting room to allow privacy for dialogue.
- Never take the conflict to a personal level; always keep calm, with a positive and open attitude and body language (do not cross your arms or legs defensively, align yourself with the client’s body position, good body posture, show the palms of your hands, look at the other person’s forehead and eyes, avoid nervous tics with a pen or the stethoscope…)
- Listen with full attention until the other person has finished, without interrupting them, to identify the key emotions (ANGER, DISAPPOINTMENT, FRUSTRATION, FEAR, AGGRESSIVITY…) and make an empathetic gesture or frown from time to time.
- Apologize without personalizing. Focus on objective facts, on what has happened and not on the client’s or your own opinions.
- Look for something to agree on with the client so that they feel they are being heard and that they are important. Once you have identified the critical emotion, show your empathy, and adjust your message to prove it.
- If it is possible to provide an immediate solution, make it a top priority.
- Avoid using terms like “but,” “never,” “always.” Preferably use “AND,” “POSSIBLY,” “MORE FREQUENTLY,” “PERHAPS,” “SOMETIMES,” as good conflict management is always positive.
You must seek to re-establish and strengthen a committed relationship with the client. It is not about “winning the argument” or “being right.” Well-managed conflicts always allow self-analysis + self-criticism = wich leads to self-improvement. But be careful; you must also know how to identify lost cases and customers you are not interested in keeping.
And now the keys for specific cases:
- We have messed thing up, and we know it. Immediate apology. Constant and frequent communication by different means to make them feel cared for. Extensive follow-up to exceed their expectations.
- CLIENT WITH NO MONEY to pay for the service. Offer something tailored to their budget, adapt expectations to planned results. Never mention or point out the client’s financial status but do justify quality/cost.
- DENY SPECIFIC REQUESTS. Denying is accepted, but always in a positive manner! “I would love to do it. However, we will need to do it this way because of the advantages it brings to (pet’s name!), such as…”
- IMPOSSIBILITY TO OFFER THE SERVICE due to real limitations on your side. Use 3.
- They rejoice in destructive communication (interrupting, blaming, exaggerating, removing attention from what is essential, insulting). DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME! The troll will not return as a customer. Say NO to trolls!
- And now we enter into dark territory, when there is a PERSONAL OVERTONE: like flirting, doubts about the competence due to the service provider’s age-experience and when we encounter intolerable situations like racism/ sexism/ homophobia/ any other kind of discrimination. First we must classify these comments internally to see if there is any ambiguity (or, on the contrary, if they are specific). We must also determine if these are repeated events and if there is some aggressiveness involved. Above all, keep CALM, react to FACTS, to comments, and not to the individual, seeking to REFOCUS conversation to preserve the DIGNITY of BOTH people. This technique entails 4 phases:
- We ignore them.
- If this doesn’t work and the behavior continues, we indirectly point out that this is inappropriate without focusing.
- If this still doesn’t work, we speak directly: “please, do not say…, it makes me feel uncomfortable/sad/it distracts me from…”
- If there is no change in behavior, we must warn them: “if you continue in these terms, (despite wanting to) I won’t be able to help you or your pet.”
- If this still doesn’t work, stop and say goodbye, refer to the company policy.
Nonetheless if, at any stage, the behavior stops completely, try to get back to normal.
So, as you can see conflict management and controlling one’s emotions and body language is both an art and a science! So yes, it can be trained and learned. But, in the end what’s truly important is the peace of mind you will obtain, knowing you have done great, in a controlled, empowered way and with a positive result for both parties.
Do not disturb!