We all have to work with various stakeholders but working with the full bell shape curve of customers can be difficult. This commentary focuses on 10 tools for resolving conflict in the workplace with customers. The old adage is “the customer is always right” for exceptional customer service. However, you know the customer is not always right. So, what can you do? Here are ten tools to help you when resolving conflicts with customers at work.
Compassion includes remaining calm, confident, and competent. Compassion has to be learned. It does not come naturally. Compassion comes from the prefrontal cortex. With practice you can become more compassionate. Empathy is natural occurring in the brain from the anterior insular cortex. Even an infant has empathy. When a baby hears parents arguing the baby cries. Empathy comes naturally. You need to lead with compassion and listen with empathy. Remaining calm is not a natural reaction when being attacked. The pre-frontal cortex needs to override the reptilian brain’s natural response from the amygdala to fight, flight, or freeze. With patience and practice and you focusing on improving your skills related to compassion this can make a real difference.
2. Positive self-talk
You know what you are doing. You know what you need and have to do. Reassure yourself with self-distancing and telling yourself with your name “’You can do this ‘your name’. Stay focused ‘your name’. ‘Your name’ be there to help”. By being positive with yourself and affirming that you can do this will help with the actual implementation going forward. Give yourself positive self-talk with you your name.
3. Listen actively
Listening actively means to provide 100% attention to the situation and the other party. Really listen. Paraphrase, summarize, ask open ended questions, and empathize. Put yourself in their shoes. Demonstrate that you feel their pain. Be prepared to take action to address their pain. Ask open ended questions that require the other party to provide more detailed answers to allow the other party to vent and clarify. When a person has been listened to, they are far more receptive to listening to you. Here are three of my favorite open-ended questions to help you.
- “What would you like to have happen?”
- “What would it take for you to feel satisfied?”
- “Are there any other concerns or problems?”
4. Accentuate commonalties
Share that you can relate to the other party. If you can share how you can relate to them on a personal level this helps. When you can relate to each other this can significantly diffuse a situation. If you have had a similar situation that they too can related to this can really help. Emphasize how you can relate to their situation.
5. Be tactful and polite
Always be tactful and polite. Please and thank you go a long way towards understanding. Being courteous and respectful of the other party demonstrates that you too recognize the other party as a person worthy of respect. Respect is key towards developing trust and understanding. Be conscious of where the other party is coming from and be tactful.
6. Focus on the problem
If you made a mistake, apologize. When you apologize state that you are sorry, you will not let it happen again, and ask what you can do to make it right. Offering what you can do to make it right can be extremely hard. However, ethically, it is what the other party really wants. You can only do what you can within your control. You may have to make this clear too. Acknowledge what you know. Be honest, transparent, accepting, and responsible. Continue to work with the person to address their concerns.
7. Avoid the two stinky twins of BO and BS
All too often in our society there is a focus on blame. Blame does not help. Avoid the two stinky twins of BO that is blaming others or BS that is blaming self. Instead focus on the problem and do not blame yourself or anyone else. What can you do to help alleviate the problem?
8. Look to the future
What might the future look like? Whatever has happened has happened. What can you do to make things right? This might be in the immediate future looking at the short term, or this might actually mean a future event or series of events longer term. Keep an open mind relative to the time horizon. With angry customer, generally their concern is immediate. When that is the case, focus on that issue. At the same consider how much better the situation might be in the future.
This is a time to think outside the box. Ask the other party to help with ideas. Encourage brainstorming with the other party. Promote collaboration. What can we do together to fix this problem? Use those open-ended questions from above and consider others pertinent to your situation. Then really listen and look for opportunities to capitalize on insights provided. A greater discount next time? A refund? Additional work on the project at no charge or limited charge? Be creative and listen.
10. Celebrate success
When it comes together, celebrate the success. Way to go! It may not feel that way to everyone. If both of you feel good about the solution, give yourself and the other party a pat on the back. Perhaps you can celebrate with lunch, a drink after work, with a gift of time, or something meaningful. Cultivate good client relationships and understanding. This goes a long way towards repeat business and others promoting your services based on this success.
Patience, perspective, and perseverance are key. We do not know what is going on with the customer or why. We can only see what is happening from our end. Instead of jumping to conclusions and being judgmental, check your assumptions. Focus on being interested in them. Apply these 10 lessons and see if these may help both you and them. Remember you are only human. Do the best you can. After a difficult session, take a break. Know you did your best. Are there lessons learned that can help you with the future? We are all always learning. Resolving conflict with customers in the workplace can be hard. Using these tools can make a major difference for you. Good luck.
About the author
Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at email@example.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]
About the author
Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]