WHY IS Conflict Resolution IMPORTANT?
Customer Success is built on a balanced relationship of “value given” and “value received.” When this balance is disrupted, real conflicts can occur, or potential conflicts can be perceived. While it’s ideal to preserve the balance and avoid conflict, it’s highly likely that there will be times within your relationship with your customer that harmony is elusive, and something must be done to restore the equilibrium of the relationship. It is essential to know your full customer lifecycle and have a plan for resolving conflicts at all stages of it. And of course, it’s better to avoid a conflict than to have to resolve one. So, knowing how to de-escalate tensions is as important as being able to resolve real ones.
WHO NEEDS TO KNOW HOW TO DO Conflict Resolution?
Conflicts, and perceived tensions, can arise at any time in a customer relationship. Therefore, conflict management is a fluid skill that should be in the arsenal of all customer-facing personnel. In fact, many healthy organizations make sure everyone in the company has training in conflict mitigation and resolution. Moreover, since CSMs are on the front line with customers, they should be extremely well-versed in Conflict Resolution.
GUIDELINES FOR Conflict Resolution
We all mitigate and resolve conflicts regularly in our peer and partner relationships. The difference between resolving an argument with your customer and resolving a conflict with your partner is that you’re not peers or equals when you’re contractually bound in business. You both may want to preserve a harmonious relationship, but you (the vendor) also are more invested in keeping them as customers than they may be in keeping your solution. So, you must know how to take the lead in managing the relationship and keeping harmony.
Here are some basic guidelines for Conflict Resolution in Customer Success Management:
- Be sensitive, but not overly sensitive. Most conflicts can be avoided by not escalating them. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be sensitive to your customer’s concerns, but consider letting them vent before looking to “resolve a conflict.” You may be able to mitigate the conflict simply by letting your customer articulate their concerns. If their concerns are minor, then simply validating them may be all they need from you.
- Know your customer. Is your customer (the main admin/user) a straight shooter? Maybe she’s a little passive aggressive in how she articulates herself. Perhaps he’s just loud, or she’s someone who “has no filters.” Knowing how your customer communicates helps significantly when you are determining whether you actually have a conflict, or whether you just need to let them vent. It should also inform how you respond to them and manage real conflicts.
- Keep your focus on your customer’s success. Remember that you and your customer are both committed to the same thing: the attainment of their business goals with your solution. Listen carefully to understand how their concerns directly or indirectly affect their ability to be successful with your solution. If the tension that’s existing is impacting the attainment of their goals, then take the time to reconsider your approach to facilitating their adoption of your solution.
- Seek to de-escalate by remaining positive. Negativity begets negativity. The simplest way to diffuse tension is by remaining positive. Affirm your customer’s concerns and your ability to address them. Don’t escalate conflicts by matching their negativity with yours, or by appearing hopeless in being able to resolve their concerns.
- Always be listening. Some conflicts are not addressed head-on, but fester over time. While you don’t want to be overly sensitive, do pay attention to trends in how your customer communicates and what they say. If you are able to proactively address a concern before it becomes an issue for them, you’ve essentially avoided a potentially more negative conflict (which may be more negatively impactful on the relationship) than the original issue was.
- Take responsibility. If the conflict stems from an error you or your organization has made, step up and apologize. Taking full responsibility builds great trust and can be the most important thing you do in resolving a conflict. Customers are willing to wait for a resolution if they perceive that you are holding yourself accountable.
- Choose your words wisely. Take care to not offend or patronize your customer. While you want to validate their experience, you also don’t want them to perceive that you’re just giving them lip-service. Use “I” statements to demonstrate you’re listening. Avoid clichė expressions that don’t pertain to their specific concerns.
- Be prepared by having a real solution. Conflicts don’t go away until a solution is put in place. If the reason for the conflict is real, then the solution must be equally real. Once you’ve identified why your customer is upset or perceives a tension in the relationship, you must be the one to facilitate the solution. You are the leader in the relationship, and, therefore, you must be the one to provide and facilitate the solution.
Here are some additional resources for Conflict Resolution that may be helpful in developing your personal approach to managing and resolving conflicts with customers:
- 14 Conflict Resolution Skills to Use with Your Team and Your Customers
- 5 Conflict Resolution Strategies
- How to Deal with Difficult Customers: 10 De-Escalation Steps
WHAT DO WE LEARN THROUGH Conflict Resolution?
So much is learned through conflict and the peaceful and tangible resolution of conflict. Don’t be scared of conflict with your customers. In many ways, a customer relationship that never encounters any conflict is untested, and you don’t know how it will survive a real conflict if it does occur. Consider tensions an opportunity to get to know your customer better, and the resolution of those conflicts an opportunity to demonstrate your competencies in meeting their needs – even under strains. The relationship will likely be stronger once the conflict is resolved.