Feb 2021 6 Step Guide to Resolving Conflicts With Clients
Conflicts or disagreements occur with clients due to miscommunication, misaligned expectations, confusion, unexpected changes, varying priorities or when a client realises they can take advantage of a contractors’ poor documentation or procedures. Resolving conflicts with clients is a topic I am asked about often, so here is a quick guide in how to do so.
6 Step Guide
1. Call the client and address the issue.
Make contact as soon as you detect that your client is feeling uncomfortable, either by the tone of their voice changing or if they send an email expressing some concern. See either of these red flags as the first indication that an issue needs addressing and jump on the phone with the intention of putting them at ease. Sometimes they will face you or call you with a concern/complaint. Give your client time to speak their mind and explain their frustrations and listen to what they say. Do not interrupt them.
2. Acknowledge and show that you care.
When the client is done explaining the situation, take time to acknowledge their feelings. Then repeat back the key concerns they have to show that you have listened and understand. It is important to your client that you care about their concerns and the problem at hand. If you need to, ask non-judgmental questions to gather more information.
3. State the facts.
So far, the conversation has been focused on the client and their concerns, their needs, making them feel heard and understood. You have done so without defending yourself or arguing with the client. Now you need to objectively and clearly state the facts about the situation.
4. Communicate the solution/s in detail.
In some cases, you will have an obvious solution ready to present to them on the spot, and at other times, you will explain the process and what will happen next with an option/s. If they like and agree to a suggested solution, re-iterate it, explaining what, how, and when it will implemented, and if there is a cost or not. Email what is agreed.
5. Record all communications.
This can be crucial. Take notes of any conversations with the client. When you verbally agree to move forward with a compromise or otherwise, put it in writing and get agreement via email.
6. Remain Firm.
It is critical that you remain firm, fair, and friendly at all times, and once a solution is reached, you stick to it. Don’t waiver or let the client push you around if they later decide the solution isn’t good enough. If the client is still unhappy, be prepared to take the next steps, as outlined in your contract.
If the signed contract states that materials must be specific (i.e. Australian made and certified, specific size, shape, specific properties, etc) then make sure they are, by checking with your supplier. If otherwise, speak to the client and get their approval in writing if materials don’t comply.
Communicate with a third party.
If a third party is involved (like a designer), make sure they inspect the site regularly, and ensure their design and your construction is aligned. Don’t continue building until they do.
Stop building if the payment plan is not adhered to.
Do not allow variation payments to build up so they are owed with the final payment. Have a payment plan for all variations.
If you need third party advice:
– Landscape Associations
Contact your association and seek their advice and guidance.
– Department of Fair Trading
If the dispute still cannot be resolved and a legal course of action is required then the Office of Fair Trading in your State is a good source.
– Legal Advice
If needed, contact your solicitor, or an association recommended solicitor.
Hopefully any disputes will be easily resolved, due to your detailed contracts and quotes, thorough procedures and professionalism, and open communication to keep the client and yourself amicable and in a win/win situation.