I’ve had several opportunities to practice and fine tune how to manage and handle when things go wrong with customers and they become angry, impatient, unhappy, threatening and even create a headache (literally). No matter how hard you try, there will be times when issues will arise and you have to perform and step up to the plate.

Whether it’s a client who pays for your company’s services or it’s people within your own organization and you have to support certain business functions, following the steps listed below will help minimize the blaze and focus on putting out the flames.

Set up a communication cadence…

When there’s an issue. Once a fire drill has set off and the issue has escalated, its important to LISTEN and know how often your client needs you to update them on the issue at hand. They may want every 10 minutes, or every hour or they may want to stay on the phone with you until it’s resolved. You can set the boundary by asking them if X amount of time is sufficient for you to update them.

Follow up with them…

You’d be surprised how many fire drills I’ve seen where people forget to follow up with clients and key counterparts to inform them that the issue has been resolved.  There have even been times where I’ve seen emails from clients asking for an update and because the issue hasn’t been resolved yet, no one responds to them. If you receive an email such as that one, it’s best practice to follow up (!!!) with them and let them know you’re still working on the issue and as soon as a resolution takes place you’ll inform them.

Listen and allow them to vent and empty out…

Then empathize with them. Often times, what their most upset about is how the issue is impacting their role to the organization and how difficult it is to rely on another person or team to fix the issue due to their lack of control on it. Never try and make them feel like they are in the wrong or tell them they shouldn’t be upset. Once they empty out, wait for the pause, and simply ask them if there is anything else they’d like to share? Then follow up with:

“I will do whatever I can to help you resolve this.”

Focus on the solution…

Versus the problem at hand. Sometimes teams dive right into making the problem bigger by backtracking, wasting time, and not asking the right questions to direct a solution. To execute the fire drill, keep your focus on solving the issue quickly, then go back and provide a root analysis of the cause of the problem.

Once the solution…

Is resolved take the extra time to follow up with the customer in a timely manner. If possible, share the finding of why there was an issue in the first place and the learnings and new processes that will be put in place in order to prevent it from happening in the future. Customers can be VERY forgiving as they know challenges will come up in the workplace, but it’s how things get resolved.

If you do these core steps you’ll have a customer who will become loyal to you. If you’re having fire drills for the same issues over and over… don’t use insanity as a solution (applying the same solution expecting a different result), instead make the effort to close the gaps and be open with your client when doing so.  

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