Nothing strikes more fear in the heart of an entrepreneur than a call with an upset client and the need for a client relationship manager. I don’t care how “brave” or “nonchalant” the entrepreneur appears to the team or to social media. Everyone hates these calls.
And no amount of “complaining customers are your best learnings” memes will fix that. They just suck. I can’t fix that for you.
What makes them worse though is not knowing what you’ll say or do on that call. Going into a potential conflict with no strategy is a bad idea. But I can give you a process that will take the heat off a bit.
I call it LAVA.
Client Relationship Manager Part 1: Listen
In client relationship manager mode this is the hard part. Most people want to jump in, explain, defend, challenge. They think if they let the customer go on and on, it’ll just deepen their resolve.
Ironically, the opposite is true. When people don’t feel heard, their resolve increases. “Getting it out” actually opens people up to other ideas. So just let them talk.
Sometimes critique is hard to hear. Here’s a tip that will help you through it.
If you find what you’re hearing is starting to create an emotional reaction, take out a piece of paper and pencil and write down what is being said. This one step will “slow everything down.” It occupies your mind with transcription, slows your emotional reactions, and if done in person or on video, demonstrates to your customer that you’re taking things seriously.
Client Relationship Manager Part 2: Acknowledge
Practice this phrase: “I want to acknowledge what you’re saying/experiencing/feeling.” Acknowledgment is not agreement. Give this like it’s a gift to your customer. No caveats. No “if, ands, or buts.” If you’re not clear, ask questions until your customer says you understand what they’re saying.
This client relationship manager technique will do wonders for your client to feel validated even if they aren’t rational and will be redirected into a healthy way.
Client Relationship Manager Part 3: Validate
Find something – anything – that you can validate in your customer’s complaint. Use the phrase, “I want to let you know that this frustration you’re experiencing is totally valid.” If you’ve done something wrong or dropped the ball, say so.
Don’t avoid apologies. It’s not “macho” or “powerful” to avoid saying you’re sorry or that you’ve made a mistake. I don’t buy into this bull about saying “thank you” instead of “sorry.” Apologizing is powerful. As a part of the client relationship manager system ask the customer how they would recommend solving the problem.
Part 4: Address
Take some kind of action and commit to it on this first call. Use the phrase, “I will commit to you that I’ll do….” This is where most entrepreneurs drop the ball. They say sorry, but don’t do anything about it.
If you feel the customer’s recommendation is doable, then say so. There’s nothing more powerful than saying, “Absolutely, I’ll make that happen.” If you can’t, then explain why and offer an alternative.
If you don’t know yet how to react because you need to do some research or fact-finding, say so. But commit to coming back on a certain date to finish the conversation. You can always at least begin to investigate.
With this 4-step process, you can follow a regular pattern with each and every challenging conversation with a customer in this client relationship manager process. Have this process documented and follow it every time. Follow up as you promised to close the loop and you’ll find these conversations easier.
Again, no one likes conflict. (Unless you’re a sociopath, in which case….) But don’t get psyched out or avoid these conversations. Use LAVA to cool things off.