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Teaching Client Transparency

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One of the hardest Shareworthy Service techniques to master, much less teach, is the art of transparency. When done well, you can turn an unfavorable situation into a client who is a raving fan. When you think about the poor service events you’ve personally had where you’ve experienced true transparency, you realize how rare it is. This rarity is also what will make your company stand out amongst your competitors.

TOP-DOWN

Your company culture needs to make it ok for client-facing team members to be transparent with your clients. Chances are good that wherever your employees came from prior to joining your team, transparency was not an acceptable means of communicating with clients. Many may initially feel uncomfortable with this philosophy shift.

Top-down transparency starts with leadership role modeling internally. “Lead by example” is an overused phrase but not one without merit.
• Admit when you make a mistake.
• Communicate to your team poor decisions you have made that had ancillary effects and what you learned from them.
• Be vulnerable. If you show the human side of you it will make it easier for team members to do the same.
• Keep a two-way open line of communication that mistakes will happen and what you do after the mistake is made is what is important.

While not always easy, this will set the groundwork for client transparency. Provide your team with examples of how you were transparent when working with an adverse client situation. Once your team sees that it is not only acceptable but encouraged they will be more comfortable modeling your actions.

FINDING THE BALANCE WITH CLIENT TRANSPARENCY

The reason the art of client transparency is difficult is that there is a fine line between being transparent and making excuses. Finding the balance is tricky. First and foremost, situations that require you to be transparent should be handled with a conversation and not an email. A conversation affords you three advantages that email does not.
• You can more effectively convey genuineness.
• Taking the time to call the client reinforces that their satisfaction is important to you.
• You can gauge the client’s receptiveness (or lack thereof) and adjust your message accordingly.
• You can confirm closure.

An effective way to ensure your transparency isn’t coming across to the client as empty justifications is to role-play the conversation in your mind and think about how your client is going to perceive what you are communicating. If you have a clear plan for the message you are going to communicate you will be less likely to come across as making excuses or being defensive.

A transparent client conversation will have the following components:
• A sincere apology.
• An explanation as to what led up to the mistake.
• The mistake that was made.
• How you are going to rectify the mistake for them.
• What you will be doing to prevent the mistake from happening again.
• Confirmation that they are satisfied with the resolution.
• Another sincere apology.

Let’s look at a common situation that often arises with clients, billing errors. Last week a client’s invoice was incorrect, and they were overcharged on the bill rate for one of the employees you sent them. When they brought it to your attention last week you corrected the bill rate in your system and communicated to your client that a new invoice would be sent, and the bill rate had been corrected in your system. This week the same error occurred, and they sent you an angry email questioning their decision to continue their relationship. After investigating the situation, you discover that at the time you updated the bill rate, invoices had already been created.

The conversation with the client should go something like this:
Hi Jackie, this is Susan from XYZ Staffing. I just received your email and first I want to sincerely apologize that this happened again. I feel awful and I appreciate you letting me know about it. I’m afraid what started out as a simple data entry error was compounded by my misunderstanding of the timing of when our invoices are created. Last week when I told you I had corrected the error moving forward, I should have double-checked with our accounting team to make sure they hadn’t already processed the next week’s invoices. This was all on me and I don’t want my mistake to reflect poorly on my amazing accounting team. Before calling you I double-checked that the bill rate is correct in our systems for the next billing cycle. I also asked our accounting team to manually check your invoice before it goes out next week, not only for this one employee but for all the employees who started new assignments this week. I know how busy you are, and I don’t want you to be concerned moving forward that we are billing you correctly.

At this point in the conversation PAUSE AND WAIT FOR A RESPONSE. It is easy in uncomfortable conversations to unnecessarily keep talking. In doing so you have no way to gauge the client’s reaction to your message and you run the risk of either sounding like you are making excuses or annoying them further. If you receive positive confirmation from the client, apologize again, ask if there is anything additional you can help them with, and end the conversation. If you do not receive positive confirmation from the client, your next step is to ask them what you can do to make them comfortable moving forward.

RELAY THE INFORMATION TO YOUR TEAM

Use the situation as a teaching opportunity for your team. In your next meeting, inform your team of the situation and explain how you handled not only the resolution but also the communication to the client. What you did to prepare for the conversation, why you chose to conduct the conversation as you did, and what the client’s reaction was. Better yet, have a team member sit in on the call to the client and then discuss the call afterward explaining the reasoning behind your approach. Have that team member in your next meeting talk about the experience and what they learned. With either teaching method, you will make it clear to your team that it is not only acceptable but encouraged to be transparent with each other and your clients.

Before long the old habits of hiding errors and making excuses will be a thing of the past. Your team members will provide shareworthy customer service and your clients will become raving fans.

For more client service tips read about how a waitress named Deliah provided me with 6 customer service tips on providing Shareworthy Service.

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