Handling Disgruntled Clients and Reducing Claims



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Editor’s Note: Senior Broker at OREP, David Brauner, says that it is a best practice to report any complaint or claim to your carrier early on, before getting into a negotiation. “OREP’s E&O program is unique in the market in that frivolous complaints that don’t turn into claims do not result in increased premiums for OREP insureds,” Brauner says. “Most are handled at no cost in the pre-claims process. It is a good idea to report claims early on and let the experts support and guide you through any negotiation.” To learn more, see When to Report a Claim or Incident.

Handling Disgruntled Clients and Reducing Claims

by Jillian Shiflett, HomeBinder.com, Inc.

Have you ever noticed how an unhappy customer can transform a normal conversation into a shouting match? How a typically even-tempered, mostly happy person such as yourself can lose your temper when speaking with a disgruntled customer? What if you had the secret to diffusing even the angriest customer and turning the conversation around into a five-star review?

Best-selling author William Ury has traveled all over the world helping others with successful negotiation. The following is based on his book, Getting Past No, Negotiating in Difficult Situations. Whether you are negotiating with your boss, a customer or your teenager, some basic strategies can turn a disaster into an opportunity. They involve a bit of personal stretching to get there, but the techniques are so effective that if you can master them, you will see a decline in claims in your business and an increase in your five-star reviews. Most importantly, you will feel more satisfied with your business and how you treat each customer no matter how they behave.

According to David Brauner, Senior Broker at OREP, the vast majority of complaints they see have little or no merit and are diffused pre-claim. While this should give you a sense of relief, the customer complaint must still receive attention. Ignoring an unhappy customer is an option but you do so at your peril. That unhappy customer on social media can wreak havoc on your business reputation. Even those ridiculous claims must be handled.

To avoid the stress of negotiating, convert a process that is usually based on confrontation into a process grounded in joint problem-solving. Using this approach, both parties pay attention to the problem at hand without involving their ego. (Please see the Editor’s Note at the end of this article on best practices for reporting complaints and claims.)

The key to successfully winning over a disgruntled customer lies in how you react, how you disarm them and how you reframe the argument, making it easy for the customer to say, “Yes” and making it difficult for the customer to say, “No.” Each of these steps is strong individually, but together they make a solid plan for dealing with difficult situations.

Your reactions are vital, especially in the first few moments of the dialog. Most of us fall into one or more of these common behaviors: strike back, give in or break off. When confronted we all have our innate method of dealing with confrontation. Some people immediately have a comeback, while others either give in or cannot complete the conversation and have to break it off. None of these behaviors helps you resolve the conflict. By losing control of your emotions and reactions, you lose control of the negotiation. What is a better choice? Step back for a moment and evaluate.

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Go to the Balcony: The first step is to control your own behavior and not try to control your client’s. When the other person says no or launches an attack, it may feel natural to be stunned into giving in or counterattacking. So, suspend your reaction by naming the game, then buy yourself time to think. Use the time to reflect on your interests and your best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or BATNA. Throughout the negotiation, keep your eyes on the prize. Instead of getting mad or getting even, focus on getting what you want. Don’t react: go to the balcony. Once you have suspended your natural reactions, you can put yourself in the customer’s shoes more easily. One of the best ways to disarm a disgruntled customer is to agree with them or to acknowledge that they have a point.

Step to Their Side: Before you can negotiate, you need to create a favorable climate. You need to defuse the anger, fear, hostility, and suspicion on the other side. They expect you to attack or to resist. So do the opposite. Listen to them, acknowledge their points and agree wherever possible. Acknowledge their authority and competence too. Don’t argue: step to their side. When the customer is disarmed, you have an opportunity to change the context of the situation. You can reframe the argument into what you wish to discuss—pointing to language in your agreement, for instance, that excludes the issue at hand. You now are steering the situation and have a better opportunity to orchestrate the outcome.

Reframe: The next challenge, should a complaint go this far, is to change the game. When the other side takes a hardline position, you may be tempted to reject it, but this usually only leads them to dig in further. If you have insurance, this is probably the time to get it on the record with your agent/carrier. Try to direct their attention to the challenge of meeting each other’s interests. Take whatever they say and reframe it as an attempt to deal with the problem. Ask problem-solving questions, such as, “Why is it that you want that?” or “What would you do if you were in my shoes?” or “What if we were to…?” Rather than trying to teach the other side directly, let the problem be their teacher. Reframe their tactics, too, by going around their stone walls, deflecting their attacks, and exposing their tricks. Don’t reject: Reframe.

Build them a Golden Bridge: At last, you’re ready to negotiate. The other side may stall, not yet convinced of the benefits of agreement. You may be tempted to push and insist, but this will probably lead them to harden and resist. Instead, do the opposite—draw them in the direction you would like them to go. Think of yourself as a mediator whose job is to make it easy for them to say yes. Involve them in the process, incorporating their ideas. Try to identify and satisfy their unmet interests, particularly their basic human needs. Help them save face and make the outcome appear as a victory for them. Go slow to go fast. Don’t push: build them a golden bridge. Make it easy for the customer to say “Yes” to your offer or your solution to the problem.

Use Power to Educate: If the other side still resists and thinks they can win without negotiating, you need to educate them to the contrary. You need to make it hard for them to say no. You could use threats and force but these often backfire. If you push them into a corner, they will likely lash out, throwing even more resources into the fight against you. Instead, educate them about the costs of not agreeing. Ask reality-testing questions, warn rather than threaten, and demonstrate your best alternative to a negotiated agreement or BATNA. Use it only if necessary and minimize their resistance by exercising restraint and reassuring them that your goal is mutual satisfaction, not victory. Make sure they know the golden bridge is always open. Don’t escalate: use power to educate.

In other words, what often happens in difficult conflicts is that when we’ve got an idea, we tend to push the other side. We tend to try and put pressure on them. Of course, the more pressure you put on someone, what do they instinctively do? They resist. So, unless you’re much more powerful than them, you’re in a standoff. What you find successful negotiators do is attract. Instead of making it harder for the other side, they try to make it easier for the other side to make the decision that they would like them to make. Make it more difficult to say “no” than to agree with your offer. In a difficult conversation with a customer, you want them to understand things like your limits of liability, the warnings included in your report, the scope of the inspection and perhaps all the items that they were able to negotiate on the purchase of a home because of your excellent inspection report. You’re here and you’re saying to them, “Come on over to my position. Come over to where I am.” But if you put yourself in their shoes for a moment, it’s not so easy for them to go where you’d like them to go. It’s almost like there’s a canyon or chasm—a Grand Canyon perhaps—of dissatisfaction and anxiety. Am I going to look like a fool? Am I going to look weak? What am I going to say to my spouse, friends or agent? It’s not easy for a disgruntled client to move where you’d like them to, so it’s incumbent upon us to leave where our minds are for a moment, begin the conversation over where they are, and build them a golden bridge over that chasm. Make it as easy as possible for them to move in the direction you’d like them to move.

When you actively listen to them, you create a favorable climate for negotiation. You can then reframe the argument and change the complaint into an opportunity. When your aim is mutual satisfaction, you are more likely to use your power constructively than trying to “win.” Then you have an opportunity to reaffirm the relationship and turn a disgruntled customer into a favored client. That client will feel valued and heard. In return for your patience and restraint, you will often find a relieved customer who will happily leave you positive feedback.

Free Risk Management Online Course Claims and Complaints: How to Stay Out of Trouble
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Presenter: David Brauner, Senior Insurance Broker OREP
David Brauner, Senior Broker at OREP, shares insights and advice gained over 25+ years of providing E&O insurance for inspectors, showing you how to protect yourself and your business. Watch Now!


About the Author
  Jillian Shiflett is the VP of Customer Success at Home- Binder.com, Inc. She has over 10 years of experience in customer support and satisfaction in both service-oriented business as well as SaaS environments.

Note: The Fall 2019 issue of Working RE Inspector is mailing now to over 25,000 home inspectors nationwide. OREP Insureds enjoy guaranteed delivery of each print magazine and many more benefits.


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