Yesterday I was talking with a friend—actually I was only listening as she ranted about her experience with an insurance company after a minor car accident. To put it mildly, she was angry. She was spitting nails and plotting cyber-revenge via Twitter and Facebook. As she discussed how the insurance company made her feel and why, I wondered—to myself since I could not get in more than a sympathetic “um-hmm”—if there was any wisdom to be gained from her experience for project managers dealing with customers or clients.
I think there is.
Here is a summary of her complaints:
- The claims people were paper-pushers. They only wanted to fill out forms—they had no interest in what happened unless it fit a blank on their form.
- It took forever to get through the automated phone system to a real person. My time is valuable, too.
- They acted as if I was stupid or I had done something wrong.
- Every action was for their convenience and my inconvenience.
- No matter the evidence, they took way too long to accept responsibility.
- They did not care that I was without a vehicle because of their insured’s mistake.
- Their attitude was “it was my problem” and if I did not like the way they were handling it, I could sue them.
Take-aways for project managers
- Be available. As project manager, you personally cannot always be available. But, it is important to have a person designated to answer calls during business hours and a way to reach someone after-hours. “Leave a message and we’ll get back to you” is not enough.
- Listen first. When a customer or a client is having a problem, they want and need your understanding of the impact on their business. Clients may not tell you in tech-savvy words what is wrong. They may be angry or frustrated. You do not improve the situation by cutting off their story and trying to get them to rationally describe the problem.
- Do not blame the client for the problem. It’s true that the client may have done something wrong, but pointing that out will only lead to more anger and defensiveness.
- Apologize. Even if you have done nothing wrong, you can respond sympathetically to the client’s situation. “I am sorry you are having this problem.”
- Confirm that you will solve the problem. How you will solve the problem and when are details. But you should first allay their fears and assure them that the problem will be solved.
- Give them a timeline. People are less anxious and angry when they know what to expect. Be realistic about the steps you can take and when you will take them.
- Do what you promise.
- Give the client or customer feedback along the way. Contact the client by phone with updates on your actions and the status of the problem solving. Be proactive; do not wait for them to call you.
- Thank the client. Let them know you appreciate their business.
If you have had success in dealing with upset clients, share your tips and tricks in the comments section.
June 8, 2009 at 7:00 am
Thanks for the article, very nicely said.
I would add that you don’t just apologize EVEN if you have done nothing wrong, I would apologize ESPECIALLY if you have done nothing wrong.
Your clients need to know how important it is to talk to you as the project manager. If they don’t, how will you know that there is a problem to fix? The only way for you to keep up with all of the issues is if you are made aware of them. Then, of course, you have to do something about it; otherwise they won’t keep coming to you.
If it’s broke, why didn’t someone fix it?