Relationships Are just a Mouse Click Away

There was a time, it seems long ago, when we shopped at the general store. When you knew
the owners and all of their kids by name. You shook hands with everyone that came through the
door, and spending the morning chatting over coffee was part of your routine. It was a time
when relationships meant everything. As society began to expand exponentially we felt the
small town connections slowly disappear. We began to notice that our handyman wasn’t a friend
of a friend anymore, our tailor was now a faceless clerk in a mall, and the butcher shop, the
bakery, and the produce stand were replaced with one corporate leviathan. What happened to
our relationships of old? Are they gone for good?

I’m happy to say they aren’t. Today’s entrepreneurs are building genuine and valuable
relationships that are the cornerstone of a successful business, helping each other in-person
and across the digital landscape.

We are in the midst of the revitalization of the relationship, which is evolving from handshakes to
mouse clicks. For a while, consumers wanted more, faster, cheaper, and they found it online.
Now our relationships are on the rebound, both online and in person. Today, more and more
consumers are focusing on who you are and who the business is. People want to know your
story, what you believe in, your mission, your vision. Relationships are back! And they are
growing at breakneck speed. The digital marketplace and social network platforms are
expanding our opportunities to create new relationships. Customers want to know the
businesses they are using. In choosing a company to do business with we are making a choice
to support more than just the business.

A great way to build business relationships is to offer someone something without expecting
anything in return; knowledge, a pointer, an experience, or a personal story that creates a
connection. The public wants to get to know you, it’s important to let them. SRQ Exclusive’s
members represent a diverse field of talented, local professionals that are a valuable resource
for community businesses and entrepreneurs. Real relationships with your customers, suppliers,
employees, and your community are, and always should be, your biggest and best asset. You
can spend a lot of time and money growing your brand, advertising, and amassing huge
inventories but none of that is as important as growing strong relationships. As we build bonds
with one another we create the foundation for loyalty, trust, and the opportunity to build new
relationships. The small town feel still exists today in some places, it’s just not the norm
anymore. Working together, building relationships, and helping others build relationships in the
community, is what we should all be trying to accomplish both personally
and professionally.

The digital age has brought us all new opportunities, but we must promise not to lose sight of
what is right in front of us, each other.

How to Deal With Difficult Clients

Over the course of business we’re bound to cross paths with a client who makes us want to scream, hide, or throw our computer out the window. Heck, we might have been that customer. I know I’ve come close when stuck on the phone with the cable company for three hours.

If everything in the business world flowed in perfect harmony there’d be no need for signed contracts, bidding, refunds, or pressing three to speak to a representative in retention. That’s not the world we live in. Business happens.

First, let’s identify some different types of problem clients.

  • The know-it-all:
    • This type of client thinks they know everything about your business. In fact, they’re pretty sure they know more than you do.
    • The know-it-all is more than happy to tell you how you should be doing things.
  • Piece of cake:
    • This challenging client assumes that everything you do is easy. They have no real understanding of what it takes for you to be successful.  
    • By thinking everything is easy, they  assume your work can be done fast and cheap.
  • The world is on fire:
    • This person is in a constant state of panic because everything is an emergency.
    • They think everything needs to be done immediately for them. This is the client who stares at their inbox waiting for your reply.
  • The nickel & dimer:
    • This client is always looking for a rebate, discount, or any type of price reduction.
    • They will often harass you for a deal or pit you against another firm, threatening to go elsewhere.
  • Just plain nasty:
    • Some clients just aren’t nice people. They’re often condescending and rude.
    • This can be the most challenging client to deal with and may take extra care.

Are any of these types of clients recognizable? Have you come face-to-face with any of these creatures in the wild? If you have, I’m sure you’ll agree that they [the pain in the @#!%] can have a serious impact on you and your business.

Trouble clients can put a drain on you, your staff, your reputation, and your finances. They may pay late, demand discounts, or not pay at all. They can be especially demanding and take up your staff’s valuable time, time not spent working with grateful clients. Difficult clients can cause unnecessary stress, anxiety, and high blood pressure. And with today’s technology, your reputation is now a click away from being at risk.

Steps to Dealing With Difficult Clients

  1. Respond quickly to the client. Making a client wait to hear back from you will only make the situation worse. They’ll begin to feel like you don’t care or worse yet, that they’re not important enough for you to reply. This is not the stage where you are replying with solutions. You are acknowledging there is a problem and that you are available to the client to begin the healing process.
  2. Stay calm. Take any problems with your clients seriously not personally. Even if they make personal comments, understand they might be speaking emotionally and not rationally. You’re the voice of reason, don’t be offended and be patient. Your body language, word choice, and tone of voice can influence the client. Very often the client will mirror your behavior and begin to settle down if you remain calm, cool, and respectful.
  3. Listen. Paraphrasing one of my favorite quotes from Stephen Covey, “Listen with the intent to understand not the intent to reply.”. Your client wants to vent, complain, and most of all be heard. Practice patience and refrain from replying too quickly. Ask for details and seek to clarify any situations or confusion. Be appreciative that they’re coming to you with this and acknowledge the need for fixing the situation. Do not apologize or agree to any fault just address the need for repair.
  4. Identify the problem. After thoughtfully listening to your client’s problem you’ll want to confirm that you’re on the same page. Repeat the problem back to them and ask for their confirmation. Clarify any misunderstood expectations or communications that may have transpired. Make sure you completely understand what the client’s problem is.
  5. Come up with solutions. If you’re wrong, admit it and offer an apology. If the client is wrong don’t finger point. Use the wording from contracts, bids, or policies to explain (not accuse) where the confusion may have come from. Assure the client that you will work with them to ensure a fair resolution. Whatever the solutions are, make sure you get the client’s agreement that they are acceptable. This can be done with a confirmation email or a new contract agreement.
  6. Cut ‘em loose. Sometimes you just have to release the beast back into the wild. Yes, you can fire a client. When you’ve exhausted all efforts of making them happy the best decision can be to cut your losses. Make sure you have all contractual work finished, be polite, and perhaps recommend a company that can better service their needs. Give them the ol’ “It’s not you, it’s me.” You never know when they’re going to talk about you and you want them to have positive things to say even if you weren’t a good fit.
  7. Learn. Some of the best lessons for your business can be learned from a difficult client. Humility is your ally. What could you have done differently to make the situation go better? What could be done in the future to keep an incident from happening again? Are there training lessons to be learned? Should you tweak a system? Good or bad, there’s always a takeaway for next time.

Problems are going to happen, it’s inevitable. The best way to deal with a difficult client is to try to avoid a problem to begin with. Easier said than done, I know. Review your systems, scour your reviews, and ask the clients you have good relationships with for their feedback. By doing a bit of work periodically you might just see the potential of a problem before it happens. Being proactive will save you time, money, your reputation, and a whole lot of headaches.

Over the years, a majority of my best customers/clients have been born from an initial problem/incident/situation. It wasn’t me giving away the farm or bending over backwards to make them happy. It was listening to what they had to say, treating them with respect, and remedying the situation fairly that became the foundation for a strong relationship.  

Are You Listening?

“Hi, how are you today?”    “Not much.”

Wait! What?- Most of us have been on one or both sides of this interaction at some point.

Everybody wants to have their say. But are we so eager to speak at times that we forget to listen to others? Hearing is automatic, it just happens. Listening is on purpose, it’s a skill that needs to be honed. It is a skill that far too many of us don’t put enough emphasis on. Can you reflect on a time when you had something important to say but felt like the person was just not paying attention? I hear you, it’s frustrating. More importantly, what about the time when someone was speaking to you and you stopped to look at your phone because it dinged?

Listening may be one of the most important interpersonal skills to excel at. Studies show that we may only remember 25% of what someone said to us immediately after hearing it. If we practice our active listening skills regularly we stand to gain a lot.

Wouldn’t you like to…

  • Improve your relationships
  • Increase your productivity
  • Avoid misunderstandings
  • Increase your job effectiveness

Sounds like a win!

Active listening requires more senses than just hearing. We listen with our eyes, posture, and yes, our mouths. Eye contact is crucial (that means don’t look at your phone) to show that we are engaged. Open posture and an occasional reaffirming nod gives the speaker confidence that we are paying attention. Inserting a “mmm hmmm” or “uh huh” shows that we are supportive, and listening to what they say.

You’re probably ready for your turn to speak, but hear me out. All too often we are busy planning what we are going to say next without waiting for the other to finish. If we are preoccupied with our response we are back to that 25% again. Ask for clarity if there is something that needs more explaining, this will strengthen your understanding and recall. Remember key points and summarize them back to the speaker in their words, they will appreciate how well you paid attention. No one likes to be interrupted. Hold your tongue and wait your turn.

If all of this has fallen on deaf ears then please do just one thing.

Think about how you want to be listened to and give that respect to others.

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