Let customer be 'right' to get conflict resolved

Q. I've tried to explain to an important customer that he misunderstood our policies when he hired my company. The customer can't admit he was wrong and is now talking to my boss, and I'm in trouble. How did this end up as my fault, and how can I get out of this hot water?

A. Implying, hinting or telling people they're "wrong" is right up there with telling them they're "inadequate," "bad" or "stupid." Using these words is the equivalent of declaring war on your customer.

As a communication consultant, I'm often called in when these "fighting words" have been used. By the time I arrive, little work is getting done because the conflict is now about everyone's wounded self-esteem. I always start out these mediations by asking each party what they'd like to fix the problem. They often don't remember what they wanted because they're now just focused on making the other person the bad guy.

Unless you want your customer on a war path to wreck your career, you need to figure out how to make your customer "right." Instead of shoving your version of the truth down his throat, simply agree the policies were confusing.

Now focus on the end result you'd like to achieve with your new customer. Be aware that your customer is not upset he "misunderstood" the policy. At this point, he's simply upset you think he's "wrong." Since you are now equally involved in proving yourself "right," which means he's really "wrong," you are in a no-win situation.

To solve your dilemma, think outside of the right/wrong box. Instead imagine what outcome you and your customer would like. Your customer wants to use your service and get what he needs without being "wrong." Your boss wants you to make your customer happy and let your customer know what your company can do. You want to make your customer and your boss happy.

Nobody needs to be wrong. Try focusing on the present; ask questions about what your customer wants now and what you can do now. Don't get into debates about what can't be changed and who screwed up.

If it's the worst-case scenario and your customer is ridiculously entitled, all you needed to do was take his requests to your boss for approval or denial. Important customers who won't respond to normal limits shouldn't be told they're wrong; they should be talking to your boss.

In dealing with mistakes in the workplace try to keep in mind that to err is human, and to focus on the end goal rather than the error is divine.

The last word(s)

Q. How do you maintain a work/life balance when you have little kids?

A. You often have to choose between a higher standard of living and time with your kids. Kids are a time-limited opportunity, work is not.

(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at http://www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)


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