From time to time, your relationship with a client might go south. An associate might fail to show up, or an email might get lost. You might even get distracted and let their customer service slide. Now you need to repair that relationship… but how?
If you know what’s damaged the relationship, take the blame. It doesn’t matter if you were in the wrong or not; as Dr. Phil liked to put it, “Would you rather be right or be loved?” (well, “loved” meaning “trusted as a solutions provider”). Of course, if you notice that things go wrong a lot in the relationship and you’re always taking the blame, it might be wise to reconsider the relationship.
If you don’t know what’s damaged the relationship, ask. Chances are, your client will be happy to tell you (unless they pull that weird passive-aggressive “I shouldn’t have to tell you” stuff, in which case, see above re: reconsidering the relationship). If you’re unsure of how to begin that conversation, try, “I get the sense that we haven’t lived up to your expectations recently. If that’s the case, could you please let me know how so we can correct it?”
Once you’re aware of the problem, fix it. Fix it fast, fix it so much that it hopefully won’t get broken again and fix it without a lot of fanfare. You may be proud of how fast and how well you solved a problem, but calling your client’s attention to it only reminds them that there was a problem in the first place.
Then, make reparations to the client. How extensive the reparations need to be depends on the situation, but at the very least they need to be in a slightly better situation after you’ve made the reparations than they were before the problem started. It needs to be better so they don’t feel that they might as well have not used you in the first place, but not so much better that it makes more sense for them to complain than for things to run smoothly.
Perhaps most importantly, do all of this in person or over the phone. Email is great for transmitting neutral information, but relationships of any sort involve at least some emotional component, and one thing email does not do well is convey emotion. Plus, a personal visit will impress upon the client how important their relationship is to you.
After things have been set right, follow up on the solution and the reparations. Check in weekly, biweekly or monthly, as appropriate, to make sure the solution is working out and that the client still feels generally positive about their choice to continue working with you.
And perhaps most importantly, find any and all lessons that can be learned from this experience and apply them to all of your client relationships moving forward.
Of course, the best course of action is to keep misunderstandings to a minimum. Don’t over-promise or, worse, over-commit. Before anything is agreed upon, make sure you and the client have the same understanding of what’s being offered, both in terms of the offering itself and the standards to which it will be held. (Hmmm… sounds like communication again!)
We can’t promise that these steps will repair every business relationship, but they certainly can’t hurt.
Have you experienced fractured client relationships? How did you repair them? Let us know in the comments!