Most of us dread conflict. However, as business owners and managers we are sometimes forced to deal with it. While we’re constantly being told that the customer is always right, this often works better in theory than it does in practice.
Going above and beyond to satisfy a customer has long-term benefits that sometimes makes it worth it. However, in some cases caving in to customer demands (or behavior) can be detrimental to the business as a whole. For example, a customer being rude to an employee was one of the things I would not tolerate when I ran my own managed services provider (MSP) business.
The first way to solve a customer dispute is to prevent it from happening in the first place. For MSPs this means having a clear and concise managed services agreement that explains exactly what you do and do not do under the contract. It should also explain how everything will be done. Break/fix businesses can provide the same type of clarity using in-store signage and customer intake forms to set expectations.
Good internal processes help manage expectations
Second, it is important to have good internal processes to make sure the information provided above is followed the same way every time. The third proactive step you should take is to document everything. This starts with the managed services agreement or intake form, but is taken further by making sure that all work done is logged in a ticket for that specific issue or engagement.
Documenting your work is one of the critical reasons you have a PSA or ticketing system. Having clear documentation as to who and what was involved in remediating the issue can provide a much-needed factual base of information in the midst of an emotional communication.
If you still end up with a situation that calls for “pushing back,” keep the following in mind:
- Stay cool. Your demeanor can have a disarming effect on the conversation.
- Stick with the facts as much as possible. Bring data and documentation.
- Ask before telling. Sometimes the customer just needs to be heard.
- Take notes. It shows that you are listening and provides documentation later.
- Say “Yes, and…” instead of “but.”
- Restate and/or reset expectations as necessary to make sure everyone is clear on where you are and how you are going to proceed.
Listen to your customers’ complaints
Most customers do not want conflict either, and as long as you listen to their complaints and come up with reasonable solutions, they will very likely be satisfied. In many cases, going through a situation like this strengthens the relationship with the client because they know you are willing to listen and do what you can to fix their problems. In the end, however, there are some times when there can be no reconciliation.
There are certain customers who will never be satisfied. They jump from service provider to service provider, always looking for someone who will roll over and do everything they want for less than profitable prices. It is not worth holding on to these types of customers.
Quite honestly, you can avoid many of these customers by setting expectations up front. They will not want to sign your managed services agreement because it holds you and them to certain standards and agreements that they fully intend to bend or break later on.
The best thing you can do if you do feel you have to let a customer go is to properly off-board them. Having a proper off-boarding agreement should also be a crucial part of your managed services agreement as it will establish guidelines up front and help deter further bad feelings. Your off-boarding agreement should cover handing over all of the customer’s documentation, as well as requiring them to settle payment in full for the last month (or months) of service.
By doing this you will be protected and able to move on knowing you did everything you could to ensure the best outcomes—even with the toughest customer.