Time spent in a client interaction that has become unproductive, is taking you away from providing a service to clients where progress can be made. Interactions can become unproductive for several reasons, some of which we as staff members can hold some responsibility for:
Failing to structure the conversation:
In simple terms do your client conversations have a clear beginning, middle and end, controlled by you? Are they structured? In its simplest form a well-structured conversation would have four steps. Fact finding (questioning and listening), Summarising, Advising and Closing. It is easy to fall into the habit of listening and advising at the same time.
This is problematic, particularly when handling angry clients. When we listen and advise at the same time, it can sound like we are not properly listening. In fact, we are probably listening to respond rather than listening to understand.
Tip: Be clear about where you are in the conversation by managing the four steps mentioned above. At the very least, separate listening and giving advice into separate distinct steps. If you have listened well, you have earned the right to attempt to close the conversation when the time comes.
Hearing a demand that isn’t there:
No one tends to like it when others are annoyed or dissatisfied with them. As children we may have experienced a parent or others being annoyed with us. That annoyance, often, was accompanied by a demand (e.g., ‘put your shoes on’). So when clients are annoyed with us, we can often assume they are making a demand.
Because a client is annoyed does not mean they are making a demand. They might be trying to just tell us they are annoyed. Try not to assume that every time a client is annoyed, they are making a demand.
Tip: If a client is telling you they are annoyed, accept it. For example, ‘I hear you feel the price increase is not justified, I will pass your comments on to senior management’. Try that, rather than being tempted to give another explanation to justify the price increase.
When you are explaining why the client may not be getting what they want, the client probably understands your explanation on your first attempt, they just will not accept it. Explaining things over and over will not improve their understanding but it will prolong the conversation.
Tip: Stay aware of the number of times you provide an explanation. Explain something 2 or 3 times but refrain from repeating the explanation over and over.
The power of silence:
If you wish to close a conversation, say less. That is not to say you suddenly stop speaking. It is more of a gradual process. The more you say the more information a client has to respond to.
- Avoid going off on tangents that you or the client introduce
- Shorten your sentences
- Leave a little silence indicating the conversation is naturally coming to an end
- Ask to close the conversation. If you do not inform the client in some way that you need to wrap up the conversation, they will assume you are happy to continue talking. For example, ‘Can we bring this call to a close Mr …. and I will add a note to your file about what we discussed today?’.
Fancy reading more? Then check out our latest blog post all about How to manage aggressive and potentially violent clients.