Our customers, whether internal or external are our lifeline. We depend upon them to keep our businesses and projects alive and high functioning. They are precious to us and leaders must treat them with respect and dignity. The kicker is that sometimes our customers become out of sync with our organizational goals or team vision. A company may start to focus on new products or offerings that may not be acceptable to every customer. When that happens there can be friction between us and our customers that can even elevate into greater tension.
I recently experienced this with an organization that I am working with. Due to some of the challenges they are facing from the pandemic, some of the external customers are feeling frustrated. They want to see changes that the institution cannot offer in a financially responsible way.
Some of the comments from the customers are:
“I don’t feel heard or listened to.”
“You aren’t considering my needs.”
“Everyone else is doing this. Why can’t you?”
“I am going elsewhere because you can’t accommodate me.”
Upsetting? Yes. However sometimes leaders need to make hard decisions that may not always meet customer priorities. Of course, we strive to provide the highest level of customer satisfaction. But what if we can’t meet all of their requests and they start to bully us?
Here are six ways to lead an upset customer turnaround:
1. Listen First To Completely Understand
Whenever our customers express their concerns or feelings of being upset, the first order of business is to keep quiet and just listen. We may want to jump in with explanations and our suggestions, yet instead try to just hear what is causing them to be frustrated. What has changed for them? Why does that matter so much to them? When we give our customers our full attention we will come out of the conversation with the most accurate information.
2. Stand in Their Shoes
To lead through an upset customer situation, we need to be empathetic to what they are experiencing. There are many reasons why a customer may be reacting negatively to a change that we implemented.
- They may be fearful of how the new product will work or if it will be as effective as the old one.
- They can feel confused about why we changed our processes and sharing our thinking may be just what they need.
- They may share some issue that we had never thought of and seeing it through their eyes may help us rejigger some things.
3. Brainstorm Together For Mutual Decisions
The best way to overcome conflict with a customer is to come up with mutually acceptable solutions. To do that, brainstorming different possible alternatives can set the stage for success. Encourage the customer to toss out their ideas and suggestions and then throw yours out into the mix. Be creative and openminded, knowing that later you can partner to refine the solutions.
4. Speak To Your Core Values and Issues
This step can be tricky when leaders want to please their customers. In the organization I am working, there are definite values that drive our actions and behaviors. It is critical to have a clear understanding of your team or company core values.
- Be clear on your vision and mission. All actions must fold into those.
- Stick to the issues rather than focusing on the people.
- Share your core values and how that may be impacting your decision-making.
5. Show Respect With Words And Actions
No matter how heated things get, lead by using positive language that displays respect and kindness. Even if the customer tries to push us to doing something that is unethical, explain why you are following a different path. Never allow a customer to compromise your self-worth.
6. Walk Away Graciously If All Else Fails
In the event it becomes impossible to come together with a path forward, thank the customer for their patronage and their business. Additionally, it can be critical to share the following in order not to burn bridges. We never know when your roads will cross again.
- State that you are sorry that you could not come up with a way to move forward together.
- Be clear that you understand why they are upset and respect their concerns.
- Be hopeful that in the future you can work together again.
How have you led an upset customer turnaround? What other strategies have you found successful?