A client and business relationship can be one of the most difficult relationships to manage. For both sides, the relationship requires a lot of push and pull when it comes to finding the best performance. The push and the pull come from both high-quality service and the feedback that is required to build a successful business relationship. From my personal experiences in account management, I have seen healthy professional relationships where myself and the business owner consistently bounce ideas off each other and monitor performance.
If the relationship goes sideways due to unsatisfactory performance, poor service, or miscommunication, you need to follow the following steps to get the client and yourself back on to the same page.
Agree on The Pain Point
Whenever a relationship turns sideways, you have to understand the cause. It is fair to assume that both sides are doing things in the best interest of the relationship, while taking the service into consideration. If the relationship goes sour, it is critical to understand what the issue is and decide on the next steps. For example, if a client feels that the strategy is too focused and wants to reach a wider network, the organization must work with the client to discover what would better suit their needs. In this example, the next step is to regroup and understand what part of the strategy can be broadened and what limitations are.
The client knows their own business best; always listen to what they want and understand their goals. Keep in mind that small-medium sized business’ primary focus should be customer service to ensure that when leads come in, they are managed properly to increase retention.
After identifying the pain point, coming to a common ground on a strategy that includes a high standard of customer service is incredibly important. Once both sides come to an agreement on the next steps, there has to be commitment to the change. The main thing with reassurance is reestablishing that all parties have a shared investment in the relationship. With any healthy relationship, mutual ground, and understanding that this a partnership goes a long way to ensure the client/business is happy. When reassuring and addressing the pain point, keeping a constant stream of communication is a very good thing. Depending on the severity of the issue, touching base at the preferred method of contact every other day will be important to ensure both sides are committed to solving the issue at hand.
Re-establish the Role
Whenever a relationship goes sideways, it is common for organizations and clients to get more people involved for both outside perspectives and to better handle the situation. Getting more people involved can be helpful at times to push things forward but can also make processes messy with too many cooks in the kitchen. It is important for both parties to establish who is involved directly and what role they play to fix the issue. Reestablishing the roles helps the client understand who is responsible for what component. While it is important to establish the roles with people involved, all communication should still come from one person. The most frustrating and confusing thing a team can do is to split up the work and communication between people. Once work is split, communication breaks down and the team is out of sync. The main communicator should always be connected with the people involved, ensuring only one person is passing along accurate information.
In times of distress or strain, it is not uncommon to over promise goals or timelines to make the situation better. No matter what the situation is, it is important to be realistic and provide attainable goals for both sides. Being realistic will help with the following in terms of relationship management
- Set the expectation appropriately
- The value on the work involved
- Long-term trust and credibility
As stated above, all parties involved need to be realistic about what is being delivered. Stating a short delivery time to show a sense of urgency will leave the organization a short time to deliver a solution or resolution. A short time will also affect the quality of work as the timeline will override the work being done.
The Next Steps
After resolving the issue or discrepancy with the client, outline what the next steps are to ensure that you continue to share the same view moving forward. At this point, initiate a conversation with the client to outline what the exact expectations will be going forward and how to resolve discrepancies that might come up in the future. The next step conversation should include the following major points to review:
- Outline the recent changes to combat the initial issue
- Ensure that the issue has been handled and all goals outlined have been met
- Understand what the client hopes to achieve moving forward
- Reinstate realistic expectations for the client based on the timeline agreed upon by all parties involved
The next steps can be some of the most crucial times for repairing the relationship. If anything from the above is not agreed upon, any expectations are not met, or the service is considered unsatisfactory, the cycle begins again with the initial pain point. You need to be able to meet a common ground on the objectives so that all parties can be happy and expectations can be met.
In summary, follow the above steps to de-escalate situations or simply to help further improve a relationship. These steps do not only need to be used for situations where an escalation is involved as it can be a solid structure for maintaining or improving a relationship. Finding common ground can be difficult as expectations can vary but doing some of the small things above will help push that along.