Maintaining Civility in Business: Agreeing to Disagree

I was hanging out with four business owners the other day, just sitting on a lanai and sharing thoughts about the challenges of doing business in Hawaii. One topic we discussed was clients and customers with whom we have conflict.
We all readily admitted that our employees and we do make mistakes and it our responsibility to remedy those situations quickly.
We then discussed what we do with clients with whom we have significant and what appear to be intractable issues. We all agreed that the adage that the “customer is always right” is an over-simplistic and often misguided way to deal with customer service issues. It might work in a fast food restaurant, but it not a great policy for more complex situations.
Dialogue is important, and it can almost always result in a satisfactory resolution. That said if you find yourself saying the same thing over and over and you hear the customer saying the same thing over and over, you have reached a point of impasse.
At Kona Impact, we have a simple way of dealing with the clients that we have reached a point where further talk is not productive.
Here’s what we do:

  1. Maintain civility at all times. No name calling or threats. Just focus on the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. No need to get personal. It is, after all, only business.
  2. Seek a constructive end. If there is a way to split the differences (even if we take a loss), we’ll take it.
  3. Follow the law, even if the client doesn’t. We have MBA coursework on business law and have a very good understand of contract law. Unfortunately, many novice entrepreneurs lack this understanding. A client disregarding contract law does not make it right for us to do the same.
  4. Keep a naughty and nice list—just like Santa. Kona Impact has a list of five past clients that are to be denied services or products. These past clients have been egregious in their conduct, and we see no value in helping them in the future. One very well-known restaurateur we know in Kona said his life and business got much better when he told a handful of curmudgeons they should find a new place to eat. You have no legal, moral or ethical responsibility to keep bad clients or customers.
  5. No retaliation! We find fake and disingenuous online reviews to be very distasteful (and probably libelous). We do not want to feel better by trying to bring someone or their business down. If a client does us bad, we need to move on, not look back and behave professionally.
  6. Move on. There is no need to dwell on what was. Business is about creating a future.

We accept that we can see the same thing and disagree with a client about the outcome and meaning. Just as much as we feel we are right, our client probably feels the same way, with equal fervor. We do not have to have the client see our point of view, and he or she is welcome to disagree. That’s fine. That life.
We like to say: “We disagree. We accept that you disagree, too. That doesn’t mean we need to be disagreeable.” Simple. Civil. Forward-looking.

Kona Impact | 329-6077