A lot of client work can be made better by simple gestures.
You have to acknowledge and empathize in advance their issues. It’s not enough to be technically correct in your position – it could be an unfortunate circumstance that means that there is a delay, or something is less than optimal.
But the way you say it is everything, and it’s so much harder than it looks.
The Wrong Way To Handle Things
The way that places like Comcast/Best Buy deal with it is to admit nothing. Stonewall. They say things like “I’m sorry you feel that way,” or “I understand you’re upset,” as a front-line, catch all response to any circumstance.
At best, these phrases are disingenuous. A phrase like “I see you’re upset,” doesn’t really share empathy. It’s become more of a gas-lighting response to issues.
The Right Way To Deal With Customer Service Issues
So there are going to be issues that come up on a regular basis with most companies – even good ones – will have failures of effort, systems or even communication.
If you do 200 + projects, each of which has 100+ touchpoints,, then you’ve got 20,000 instances. You’ll misfire on a few.
First, don’t go on trial. Sometimes customers are truely shitty people. They are sharpshooting everything because they are (a) antsy, or (b) they’ve been burned. Or (c) an expectation that was unspoken was not met.
Trying to get them to vindicate you – in your eyes – isn’t useful. Rarely will you stand your ground and suddenly convince them of your point of view. Even if you succeed 10% of the time, 90% of the time you’ve pissed them off. This is a tough part of the issue, but it’s an economic decision. They will often make narcissistic and obtuse self-centered remarks.
Generally, it’s best to simply ignore that nonsense.
Second: tell them what to expect – and stick to it. And tell them what to expect after that, too. Sweeping it under the rug (i.e. a missed deadline that goes unspoken) isn’t a respectful way to treat customers/vendors/partners. When you’re behind just tell the truth, acknowledging the deadline issues.
Third: restate their mutual expectations. This means that you have to salvage all you can. “Sorry we delivered in red! I know you wanted blue. We can get red Monday at 4 if nothing goes wrong. I’ll call you monday morning to confirm we’re on track.
Then a question: as long as we do that, does that work for you?
An ounce of Prevention
People are generally reasonable and patient.
Even when they don’t call you on it, they know what happened. They aren’t dumb, but they don’t call you on everything.
Meaning: when you aren’t acting exactly correctly, you expose yourself to a customer service debt. That sometimes can get wiped out by overdelivery in the product (i.e. Apple has crappy customer service, but nobody minds because shiny). But only sometimes. What generally happens is an overreaction to the one thing that pushed them over the edge.
-your contract needs to be sent twice. Because the first version didn’t have all the details right.
-a scheduled call is 5 minutes late. Mild annoyance but nobody says anything.
-a delivery has a typo somewhere. Easily corrected. unspoken.
-you’re sick one day – the flu
-an email has a bunch of irrelevant information on it that the customer doesn’t care about. Noted.
-client is sick and can’t get back to you.
Nothing bad happens for a week or two. Then there’s a more substantial situation happens, say, a milestone slips, a detail is missed.
Then there is a disproportional client response. To the one detail.
Because they aren’t reacting to that detail at all. , they are reacting to everything – all at once- but they may only be talking about one issue at a time.
Things don’t happen in isolation. People don’t just wake up mad- when they hired you they had high hopes.
The solution is to make impeccable the new baseline. And it’s not complicated to do that. You just have to be realistic about your commitments, both internally and externally.