Just the words “conflict resolution” raise most leaders’ blood pressure while the mere mention downright paralyzes others. Be encouraged, though. Conflict can be a good thing, and the resolution of it doesn’t have to be difficult!
How Conflict Can Occur in the Business Growth and Marketing Industries
I wish I could say I have very little experience in this area, but the reality is I’ve had my share of client conflict resolution. Being involved in marketing is a challenging task and not for the faint of heart. Companies are protective (legitimately so) of their brands. They expect a high return on investment for the lowest possible investment.
Agencies are tasked with learning the brand and internal team intricacies very quickly and often without sufficient guidance. This is a recipe for conflict.
8 Winning Conflict Resolution Steps Your Business Can Take for Improved Relationships
Your particular client conflicts could arise out of very different circumstances, but the process for resolution can, nonetheless, be similar.
Here are 8 steps I’ve tried to follow during my career:
1. Commit to having good relationships. This is where it all starts. Your organization has to actually make a conscious choice to value client relationships. Businesses must make a commitment to care about the results they generate, the perceptions they create and even the reviews they garner. If this commitment is not made and then passed down by the top leader, your team members will, even very subtly, take for granted your customers. This will lead to lost revenue.
2. Seek to understand the situation. Alright, we’ve got a client conflict! It’s now time to dig deep and gather all the facts. Talk to multiple people in your organization. It’s not that you don’t believe the first person’s story; it’s just that each person will have a unique perspective on why there’s conflict. Trust me, this will prove helpful when talking to the client. Be warned, you’ll probably find some area of fault from your side. Take responsibility for this and make the necessary changes to avoid this with other clients.
3. Consider their perspective. Now that you have the full story from your team, take some time to put yourself in your client’s position. If you were the client, how would you feel and how would you like to be treated? Based on what I know, I role-play the resolution conversation in my head, trying to anticipate other potential issues and concerns the client may have. Preparation is key! (Yes, I said conversation! We’re calling, not emailing.)
4. Disarm first, and then listen. In stark contrast to the widely accepted “listen first, speak second” mantra of conflict resolution, I recommend addressing the stated conflict immediately upon the start of the conversation. It could go something like this:
“I recognize you’re frustrated or upset, and I want you to know I understand and am here today to solve this problem. We’re on the same team.”
The point is I want the client to know immediately that I’m here to solve the problem, not to argue about it and exacerbate the situation. When the client knows this, their side of the story will be tempered, and the tone of the call will be much more productive.
5. Explore options together. Treating your clients as valued partners, you should be open to mutual negotiation. If a disservice was done, open the dialogue to hear what the client believes would rectify the situation. You’ll be surprised. They often just wanted to be heard. Additionally, if the client bears some fault, this must be addressed and corrected. This is a relationship, and culpability often isn’t just one-sided.
6. Focus on the end goal. One conflict should not be cause to end the relationship. If the details of the conflict can’t be fully resolved, lift the conversation to focus the client’s attention back on the end goal of the campaign or engagement.
This is true in our personal lives as well. All married couples have dealt with some type of conflict yet this does not change the fact that they love each other and have committed themselves to building a life together.
7. Communicate the chosen solution. After the conflict has been resolved verbally, reiterate the plan for resolution in writing to ensure both parties are in agreement. Make certain, as well, that your team knows the resolution plan and carries it out with fervor, demonstrating company-wide agreement.
8. Don’ts. I’ll end with some things not to do. The biggest is don’t avoid. A client who has to wait an excessive amount of time to have a resolution conversation will be exponentially harder to appease.
I mentioned this one above, but it’s worth mentioning again: Don’t email as the first contact point of resolution. Email eliminates many elements of communication vital to understanding and solving the conflict. In-person contact is best, followed by video conference, which is followed by phone contact.
Finally, always maintain control of your emotions. You can’t afford to get angry. Agree to disagree but losing your temper with a client will prove costly.
My hope is that you encounter very little conflict with your customers! But if and when you do, you are now armed with a process to handle. If I can provide you with any specific assistance in this area, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.