Dealing With Client Disputes

In my personal experience, I’ve found that the easiest way to anger anyone is to make assumptions about their intentions, their character, their intelligence or their actions. I was reminded of this when I disputed a small charge on one of our corporate cards this week. I received a blunt e-mail that ending with the following:

“So how does this make us liable to refund your money? We state clearly in
our terms that we do not issue refunds on membership fees after 7 days. However,
you are opening a claim nearly a month later?

I am happy to assist you within reason, but it appears you did
not attempt to understand how the service works in the first place.”
In my mind, I had a good reason for not submitting a claim until 30 days later, namely that we hadn’t received (and thus reviewed) our monthly credit card statement. I also felt that I had attempted to understand how their service works and did not find it suitable for our company. Although this gentleman’s comments weren’t blatantly malicious, they did come across as impetuous. I found myself getting emotionally charged and reading tone into his questions.

Here are five quick tips for making sure you don’t alienate your clients when dealing with a dispute with your business:

  1. Always give your clients the benefit of the doubt. Assume the best intentions. Nine times out of ten, you'll find that their intentions were good. Assuming anything else is a recipe for anger escalation.
  2. Ask clarification questions in a respectful tone. There are two ways to answer a question. You can ask a question looking for an answer or you can ask a rhetorical question, where you phrase it in a way that sounds like you already know the answer. Be careful: Rhetorical questions come across as condescending.
  3. Don’t take it personally. It’s difficult to listen to people complain about your product or service, which you probably have great pride in, without taking it personally. Yet removing yourself emotionally is the only way to ensure you make decisions based on what’s best for the business and not your own personal sense of justice.
  4. Remember that the customer may not always be right, but the customer always wins. It’s not worth winning a battle that ultimately costs you the war. The customer always wins, whether it is by finding an amicable solution or by talking negatively about your business.
  5. Make sure your client feels heard. There is nothing more frustrating than feeling like a business is not listening to you. You can make clients feel this way by making assumptions and filling in the blanks. Resist the temptation. Listen and you may discover that the problem is much different than you originally thought.

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