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Marketing Through Good Business Practices

During a recent visit to the manicurist, a customer approached the owner after her manicure.  She said she was not happy with the result, and she wanted her money back.  The owner said the service had already been provided, and refused to reimburse her.  The customer stormed away, never to return.

As a retailer or provider of services, your reputation and the good will you generate are instrumental in creating and maintaining business.  And yet, all businesses experience conflicts with customers from time to time.  The manner in which you handle them encourages loyalty.

Networking seminars tell us that it takes five contacts in order to generate new business.  Given the amount of time and effort required in order to attract customers, maintaining current relationships has become an important aspect of marketing.  Using the skills required for the mediation process is an excellent way of resolving disputes with clients or customers, while further marketing your services.  The following are the steps generally followed during mediation:

Give the person an opportunity to tell his or her story
Summarize his/her version of the story.
Discuss what he/she would like to see happen to resolve the disagreement.
Generate further ideas for possible solutions.
Cooperatively choose amongst these solutions.
If necessary, write up an agreement, and have both parties sign the agreement.  

One would apply these principles to a problem with a customer or client by first calmly listening.  The tendency of most people in these situations is to become defensive.  No one likes to be accused of wrongdoing.  However, in a business setting, a defensive response is shortsighted.  When people feel “heard,” problems are more easily resolved.  In fact, giving someone a chance to tell his or her story goes a long way towards resolving the dispute in many cases.  

The next important step is to apologize. Even if you believe that you are in the right, you can still express regret that your client has had a problem.  I am constantly amazed in mediations by the effect that an apology has on the “wronged” party.  You, as the provider of the product or service, lose nothing by apologizing, but it generally carries a great deal of weight with the customer.

Ask your client how he or she would like to see the matter resolved.  You might be surprised to find that his/her solution can be easily implemented.  If the solution is impossible, offer another alternative, but explain your reasons for refusing.    In addition, enlisting the customer's help in creating alternatives makes him/ her feel like an active participant in the process, and he/she will feel acknowledged as a result.

If the possible resolution is not accepted, it is time to think about a compromise.  Sellers must keep the big picture in mind.  A small loss now will buy you good will and potential for more business in the future.  Keep in mind that brainstorming and coming up with creative options may result in additional business.  A discount on future services, a free item to go along with something that is bought, etc. will be mutually beneficial.

When applying this approach to the situation with the manicure, the owner of the shop had a number of more positive answers to propose to the disgruntled client.  She could have offered to re-do the job immediately, or an even better marketing tool would have been to give the client a coupon for a free manicure for the next time.  Even if the woman did not use the coupon, she might tell others about the fair treatment she received.

In the second part of this article, I will address what to do when a dispute cannot be resolved, and how to prepare for a lawsuit.

Andrea Goldman, Esq.

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