How Account Managers Can Master Difficult Conversations

Customer engagement is a high-stakes venture. Account managers are tasked with protecting and growing revenue while driving customer outcomes and maximizing customer lifetime value.
That’s a tall order, especially when you consider the various roles and personality types involved. As market and economic conditions create the demand for businesses to do more with less. This puts both customers and account managers under pressure to continue meeting prior goals with fewer resources.

Under these circumstances, difficult situations are bound to arise even with your most satisfied clients. As tensions rise, you may find that issues customers would typically overlook take on greater significance. Things, like missed deadlines, product glitches, or a single poor experience, can cause tempers to flare or create discord.

Navigating these exchanges can potentially influence the longevity of client relationships. Successfully handling these highly charged conversations is an opportunity to build trust and deepen bonds with clients.

What does it take to effectively work through intense customer interactions? Read on to learn how account managers can master difficult conversations for positive customer outcomes.

Don’t Delay

If you are aware of the issue, don’t wait to hear from the client to contact you. Reach out to them to schedule a time to discuss the matter immediately. The longer you wait the worse the situation will become, so don’t put it off.

Although it may be an unpleasant conversation, pull the band-aid off quickly to get it over with. Doing so builds trust and accelerates resolution. Clients will appreciate your attentive response to problems.

Proactively Prepare

If you know about the issue before speaking with the client, prepare some potential solutions to propose to the customer during your meeting. You can also proactively think through possible issues that may arise and create a playbook of solutions to each so you’re ready for almost any scenario as it crops up.

Then if a customer throws you a curve ball out of left field, you won’t be distracted by thoughts of how to address the situation. You’ll be able to focus on the conversation at hand. Being prepared will also help you remain calm and professional during the exchange.

Meet Face-to-Face

Ideally, you should plan to have difficult conversations face-to-face. You can do this either in person or over Zoom. This enables everyone to read facial expressions and avoid misinterpreting the tone of voice.

However, if these two options are not possible for whatever reason, at least try to engage the client over the phone to discuss the matter. It’s best to avoid having heated exchanges with customers through email or text messages.

Remain Calm and Professional

Don’t raise your voice or use foul language. When a customer is angry, frustrated, or disappointed, it isn’t personal. They’re simply expressing their displeasure and may be responding to the resulting pressures they’re experiencing internally.

Don’t fight back, this will only aggravate the situation. This is when it is most important to seek to understand the problem and identify the best solution.

Practice Active Listening

Active listening helps you gain a clear picture of the issue at hand. Listen intently to what the client has to say without thinking about what you plan to say next. This allows you to focus completely on what the customer is saying, how they are saying it, and their body language or facial expressions as they explain the situation.

Then dig deeper by asking clarifying questions, enabling you to gather additional relevant details. Understanding not only what happened, but the ramifications for both the individual and the company, provides additional context and helps determine the best next steps.

Confirm Understanding and Display Empathy

Reiterate what you heard your client say to confirm your understanding of the issue. Make the effort to empathetically describe what you heard from their standpoint including how they are being affected by the situation. Then apologize for the poor experience, inconvenience, or issue.

Collaboratively Negotiate a Solution

Don’t move forward with a plan of action without gaining the client’s agreement. Although you may have potential solutions prepared, the customer may also have ideas about how to correct the situation. It’s important to get their input and ensure that they are satisfied with the course of action to resolve the issue.

Follow Through

Provide updates and confirm that the problem has been resolved to your client’s satisfaction. Then routinely gather feedback from the customer to stay abreast of changes within the account. Continuously monitoring the situation enables you to proactively stay ahead of further issues as they arise.

A great way to ensure this happens is to implement a cyclical account management process, like our KAM Process™. KAM means Know, Act, Measure. Establishing a recurring process acts as a roadmap, helping account managers remain continually engaged and up to date on client accounts. This minimizes risk, drives customer outcomes, and strengthens customer relationships for greater customer longevity and lifetime value.

Resolve Issues for Stronger Partnerships

Account managers engage with a wide variety of roles and personalities. Challenges are bound to arise when we’re all pushed to maintain performance levels while doing more with less. Therefore, mastering difficult conversations can greatly influence customer retention and lifetime value.

When issues occur, act without delay. Proactively prepare solutions to potential scenarios so you’re ready as they crop up. Meet face-to-face if possible. Then remain calm and professional while practicing active listening. Confirm understanding, display empathy, and collaboratively negotiate a solution to the issue.

Follow through with updates and confirm that the issue has been satisfactorily resolved in the eyes of the customer. Then watch for account changes and issues by remaining routinely engaged with the client. You’ll build trust and strengthen customer partnerships by taking these steps.  

Learn additional ways to enhance customer partnerships. Register for KAMCon today.

CEO at Kapta
Alex Raymond is the CEO of Kapta.