“It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.”
~G. K. Chesterton, British Writer, Poet & Philosopher

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all just get along? Both personally and professional? All the time?

HEY! WAKE UP, STOP DREAMING! What world are you living in?

In an earlier post, we talked about what happens when employees don’t get along with each other. But what happens when an employee is threatening a relationship with a customer or client?

Let’s be honest, personality conflicts happen all the time, and as an owner or leader, you need to recognize the signs as early as possible to head off any defections, either by the customer or the employee. Sometimes it’s a one-time incident, but other times it may be an ongoing clash. It could be an account manager doesn’t connect with a customer, or maybe a sales associate has quit and a longtime customer was given to another rep with a completely different style of doing business.

Conflicts between employees and customers cost your business in many ways: lost productivity, absenteeism, increased stress and tension, reduced morale and of course, reduced profits.

The last thing you want is for the customer to head to your competition. What’s a leader to do?

As with most relationships, communication is key. Ignoring a problem certainly won’t make it go away (wouldn’t that be nice?!) and the longer you wait, the bigger the problem gets in the eyes of the customer.

Here are some helpful tips:

  • Look for subtle hints, such as a customer who isn’t purchasing as much as in the past or a sales rep who is not producing as much as in the past. It could be one month was just slow, but if it persists, you need to find out why.
  • Take charge. Don’t be afraid to get directly involved. This is not something you want to delegate to lower level managers or supervisors.
  • Talk to the employee. Get their side of the story to determine any reasons for the drop in productivity.
  • Talk to the customer. Actually pick up the phone and talk. Let me rephrase that: pick up the phone and LISTEN. No emails. Really listen to what is being said. And to be honest, face to face is best. If it’s a high volume customer in another city or state, a road trip or plane flight may be in order. It will be worth it in the long run. Your customer will appreciate you taking the time, energy and commitment to try and make things right.
  • Don’t try to fix or solve anything right away. Try to find the root cause of what is triggering the situation.
  • Be empathetic. This is good advice for pretty much any situation.
  • Review all possibilities to avoid the same situation in the future.
  • Accentuate the positive aspects of the relationship.
  • Focus on moving forward. Reaffirm the value of the relationship.
  • Follow up in a timely manner.
  • Make sure there is constant training for all employees.
  • Document issues with employees for the future, in case the same thing happens down the road.
  • Check in with key customers on a regular basis.
  • Pay attention to transitions. When there is movement, re-districting, retirements or transfers amongst employees, keep a close eye on new working relationships.
  • Monitor employee-customer relationships on a regular basis.

The goal of any business is to keep employees and customers happy, satisfied and feeling good about doing business with and for you. Making sure lines of communication are kept open after a conflict is resolved is the best way to achieve it all. Keep an open door policy by making yourself available to your customers and employees. The rewards are endless.

Paul Rutter is a customer loyalty, repeat business and customer service expert, a keynote speaker, corporate trainer and business author. He has had the unique opportunity to live with his customers and co-workers for months at a time traveling the world, and shares his experiences with land based businesses. For more information on More Than Perfect® Service, contact Paul at Paul@PaulRutterSpeaks.com, follow him on Twitter on @RealPaulRutter or visit him on Facebook/PaulRutterSpeaks.

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